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FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2000 Oct 1;34(1):17-26.

Symbiotic spirochetes in the termite hindgut: phylogenetic identification of ectosymbiotic spirochetes of oxymonad protists.


Some species of protists inhabiting the hindgut of lower-termites have a large number of ectosymbiotic spirochetes on the cell surface. The phylogenetic positions of the ectosymbiotic spirochetes of three oxymonad protists, Dinenympha porteri in the gut of Reticulitermes speratus, and Pyrsonympha sp. and Dinenympha sp. in Hodotermopsis sjoestedti, were investigated without cultivation of these organisms. Protist fractions carefully collected with a micromanipulator were used as templates for the amplification of small subunit ribosomal RNA genes (SSU rDNA). The phylogenetic tree inferred from the nucleotide sequences of the SSU rDNA showed that they were affiliated with the Treponema cluster of spirochetes and they were divided into two clusters. One was grouped together with the spirochetal sequences reported previously from the gut of termites and the other was related to the Treponema bryantii subgroup of treponemes (denoted as termite Treponema clusters I and II, respectively). Whole-cell in situ hybridization using a fluorescent-labeled oligonucleotide probe specific for the group of sequences in cluster II identified most of the ectosymbiotic spirochetes of the oxymonad protists in the gut of R. speratus and H. sjoestedti. However, not all of the ectosymbiotic spirochetes could be detected by means of this cluster II group-specific probe and the population of ectosymbiotic spirochetes of cluster II was different among the oxymonad species. In the case of D. porteri, an oligonucleotide probe specific for one member of cluster II recognized a portion of the ectosymbiotic spirochetes of cluster II, and their population was also different depending on the cell-type of D. porteri in terms of the attachment of ectosymbiotic spirochetes. The results indicate that the spirochetes of cluster II and probably those of a part of cluster I can be assigned to ectosymbiotic species of oxymonad protists and that the population of ectosymbiotic spirochetes associated with a single protist consists of at least three species of phylogenetically distinct spirochetes.

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