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Mol Microbiol. 2009 Sep;73(5):751-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2009.06820.x. Epub 2009 Jul 28.

Immunity and symbiosis.

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Department of Microbiology, Biocenter, University of Würzburg, Würzburg, Germany.


The invertebrate immune system, which has become a major research focus, shares basic features of innate immunity with vertebrates and men. A special feature apparently found only in invertebrates is their close association with vertically heritable symbiotic microorganisms. The validity of the simple view of symbiosis as a mutually beneficial interaction between two uneven partners mainly improving the nutritional state of the two companions has been challenged, however, as symbiotic interactions might involve more partners, and symbiotic functions of the microorganisms are much more diverse than previously assumed. Likewise, microorganisms considered to be mostly harmful to their hosts have been shown to enhance host fitness under some circumstances. The role of a symbiont itself might change between environments or life stages of the host and symbionts might have features previously thought to be specific for pathogens. Understanding symbiotic interactions requires the comprehension of the cross-talk between the symbiotic companions, and the dissection of how long-lasting infections are established without eliminating the symbiont by host immune responses. Fascinating new findings in this field revealed that symbiosis might contribute to defence against pathogens or natural enemies. New symbiont-based approaches to defeat agricultural pests or pathogen transmission by arthropod vectors are becoming conceivable.

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