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ISME J. 2016 Feb;10(2):376-88. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2015.119. Epub 2015 Jul 14.

A novel intracellular mutualistic bacterium in the invasive ant Cardiocondyla obscurior.

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Institut für Zoologie, Universität Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany.
Institut Canvanilles de Biodiversitat i Biologia Evolutiva (ICBiBE), Parc Cientific de la Universitat de Valencia, Paterna (Valencia), Spain.
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Jena, Germany.
Institute of Fundamental Sciences, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Department of Biology, University Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA.
Área de Genómica y Salud de la Fundación para el Fomento de la Investigación Sanitaria y Biomédica de la Comunitat Valenciana (FISABIO)-Salud Pública, Valencia, Spain.
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Institute for Zoology, Department for Evolutionary Ecology, Mainz, Germany.


The evolution of eukaryotic organisms is often strongly influenced by microbial symbionts that confer novel traits to their hosts. Here we describe the intracellular Enterobacteriaceae symbiont of the invasive ant Cardiocondyla obscurior, 'Candidatus Westeberhardia cardiocondylae'. Upon metamorphosis, Westeberhardia is found in gut-associated bacteriomes that deteriorate following eclosion. Only queens maintain Westeberhardia in the ovarian nurse cells from where the symbionts are transmitted to late-stage oocytes during nurse cell depletion. Functional analyses of the streamlined genome of Westeberhardia (533 kb, 23.41% GC content) indicate that neither vitamins nor essential amino acids are provided for the host. However, the genome encodes for an almost complete shikimate pathway leading to 4-hydroxyphenylpyruvate, which could be converted into tyrosine by the host. Taken together with increasing titers of Westeberhardia during pupal stage, this suggests a contribution of Westeberhardia to cuticle formation. Despite a widespread occurrence of Westeberhardia across host populations, one ant lineage was found to be naturally symbiont-free, pointing to the loss of an otherwise prevalent endosymbiont. This study yields insights into a novel intracellular mutualist that could play a role in the invasive success of C. obscurior.

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