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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2016 Apr 18;82(9):2644-55. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00185-16. Print 2016 May.

A Tale of Transmission: Aeromonas veronii Activity within Leech-Exuded Mucus.

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Department of Biology, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA.
Department of Statistics, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA.
Department of Biology, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA


Transmission, critical to the establishment and persistence of host-associated microbiotas, also exposes symbionts to new environmental conditions. With horizontal transmission, these different conditions represent major lifestyle shifts. Yet genome-wide analyses of how microbes adjust their transcriptomes toward these dramatic shifts remain understudied. Here, we provide a comprehensive and comparative analysis of the global transcriptional profiles of a symbiont as it shifts between lifestyles during transmission. The gammaproteobacterium Aeromonas veronii is transmitted from the gut of the medicinal leech to other hosts via host mucosal castings, yet A. veronii can also transition from mucosal habitancy to a free-living lifestyle. These three lifestyles are characterized by distinct physiological constraints and consequently lifestyle-specific changes in the expression of stress-response genes. Mucus-bound A. veronii had the greatest expression in terms of both the number of loci and levels of transcription of stress-response mechanisms. However, these bacteria are still capable of proliferating within the mucus, suggesting the availability of nutrients within this environment. We found that A. veronii alters transcription of loci in a synthetic pathway that obtains and incorporates N-acetylglucosamine (NAG; a major component of mucus) into the bacterial cell wall, enabling proliferation. Our results demonstrate that symbionts undergo dramatic local adaptation, demonstrated by widespread transcriptional changes, throughout the process of transmission that allows them to thrive while they encounter new environments which further shape their ecology and evolution.

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