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ISME J. 2019 Jan 14. doi: 10.1038/s41396-018-0339-y. [Epub ahead of print]

Recombination contributes to population diversification in the polyploid intestinal symbiont Epulopiscium sp. type B.

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Department of Microbiology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.
School of Integrative Plant Science, Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.
School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD, 4811, Australia.
School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland, 1142, New Zealand.
Department of Microbiology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.


Epulopiscium sp. type B (Lachnospiraceae) is an exceptionally large, highly polyploid, intestinal symbiont of the coral reef dwelling surgeonfish Naso tonganus. These obligate anaerobes do not form mature endospores and reproduce solely through the production of multiple intracellular offspring. This likely makes them dependent on immediate transfer to a receptive host for dispersal. During reproduction, only a small proportion of Epulopiscium mother-cell DNA is inherited. To explore the impact of this unusual viviparous lifestyle on symbiont population dynamics, we investigated Epulopiscium sp. type B and their fish hosts collected over the course of two decades, at island and reef habitats near Lizard Island, Australia. Using multi-locus sequence analysis, we found that recombination plays an important role in maintaining diversity of these symbionts and yet populations exhibit linkage disequilibrium (LD). Symbiont populations showed spatial but not temporal partitioning. Surgeonfish are long-lived and capable of traveling long distances, yet the population structures of Epulopiscium suggest that adult fish tend to not roam beyond a limited locale. Codiversification analyses and traits of this partnership suggest that while symbionts are obligately dependent on their host, the host has a facultative association with Epulopiscium. We suggest that congression of unlinked markers contributes to LD estimates in this and other recombinant populations of bacteria. The findings here inform our understanding of evolutionary processes within intestinal Lachnospiraceae populations.


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