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PLoS Genet. 2014 Sep 11;10(9):e1004596. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1004596. eCollection 2014 Sep.

Hidden diversity in honey bee gut symbionts detected by single-cell genomics.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America.
Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, East Boothbay, Maine, United States of America.


Microbial communities in animal guts are composed of diverse, specialized bacterial species, but little is known about how gut bacteria diversify to produce genetically and ecologically distinct entities. The gut microbiota of the honey bee, Apis mellifera, presents a useful model, because it consists of a small number of characteristic bacterial species, each showing signs of diversification. Here, we used single-cell genomics to study the variation within two species of the bee gut microbiota: Gilliamella apicola and Snodgrassella alvi. For both species, our analyses revealed extensive variation in intraspecific divergence of protein-coding genes but uniformly high levels of 16S rRNA similarity. In both species, the divergence of 16S rRNA loci appears to have been curtailed by frequent recombination within populations, while other genomic regions have continuously diverged. Furthermore, gene repertoires differ markedly among strains in both species, implying distinct metabolic capabilities. Our results show that, despite minimal divergence at 16S rRNA genes, in situ diversification occurs within gut communities and generates bacterial lineages with distinct ecological niches. Therefore, important dimensions of microbial diversity are not evident from analyses of 16S rRNA, and single cell genomics has potential to elucidate processes of bacterial diversification.

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