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Nature. 2016 Jun 9;534(7606):254-8. doi: 10.1038/nature18297. Epub 2016 Jun 1.

Environmental Breviatea harbour mutualistic Arcobacter epibionts.

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Microbial Fitness Group, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Celsiusstraße 1, 28359 Bremen, Germany.
Department of Geoscience, University of Calgary, Calgary, 2500 University Drive Northwest, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada.
Symbiosis Department, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Celsiusstraße 1, 28359 Bremen, Germany.
Institute for Genome Research and Systems Biology, Center for Biotechnology, University of Bielefeld, Universitätsstraße 25, 3615 Bielefeld, Germany.
Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Am Faßberg 11, 37077 Göttingen, Germany.
Biogeochemistry Department, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Celsiusstraße 1, 28359 Bremen, Germany.
MARUM Centre for Marine Environmental Sciences, Bibliothekstraße 1, University of Bremen, 28359 Bremen, Germany.
Centre for Comparative Genomics and Evolutionary Bioinformatics, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 6299 South Street, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4R2, Canada.
Department of Biological Sciences, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, Mississippi 39762, USA.


Breviatea form a lineage of free living, unicellular protists, distantly related to animals and fungi. This lineage emerged almost one billion years ago, when the oceanic oxygen content was low, and extant Breviatea have evolved or retained an anaerobic lifestyle. Here we report the cultivation of Lenisia limosa, gen. et sp. nov., a newly discovered breviate colonized by relatives of animal-associated Arcobacter. Physiological experiments show that the association of L. limosa with Arcobacter is driven by the transfer of hydrogen and is mutualistic, providing benefits to both partners. With whole-genome sequencing and differential proteomics, we show that an experimentally observed fitness gain of L. limosa could be explained by the activity of a so far unknown type of NAD(P)H-accepting hydrogenase, which is expressed in the presence, but not in the absence, of Arcobacter. Differential proteomics further reveal that the presence of Lenisia stimulates expression of known 'virulence' factors by Arcobacter. These proteins typically enable colonization of animal cells during infection, but may in the present case act for mutual benefit. Finally, re-investigation of two currently available transcriptomic data sets of other Breviatea reveals the presence and activity of related hydrogen-consuming Arcobacter, indicating that mutualistic interaction between these two groups of microbes might be pervasive. Our results support the notion that molecular mechanisms involved in virulence can also support mutualism, as shown here for Arcobacter and Breviatea.

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