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Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek. 1993-1994;64(3-4):261-71.

Systematic and morphological diversity of endosymbiotic methanogens in anaerobic ciliates.

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Microbiology Group, Natural History Museum, London, UK.


The identities and taxonomic diversity of the endosymbiotic methanogens from the anaerobic protozoa Metopus contortus, Metopus striatus, Metopus palaeformis, Trimyema sp. and Pelomyxa palustris were determined by comparative analysis of their 16S ribosomal RNA sequences. Fluorescent oligonucleotide probes were designed to bind to the symbiont rRNA sequences and to provide direct visual evidence of their origins from methanogenic archaea contained within the host cells. Confocal microscopy was used to analyze the morphology of the endosymbionts in whole cells of Metopus palaeformis, Metopus contortus, Trimyema sp, and Cyclidium porcatum. The endosymbionts are taxonomically diverse and are drawn from three different genera; Methanobacterium, Methanocorpusculum and Methanoplanus. In every case the symbionts are closely related to, but different from, free-living methanogens for which sequences are available. It is thus apparent that symbioses have been formed repeatedly and independently. Ciliates which are unrelated to each other (Trimyema sp. and Metopus contortus) may contain symbionts which are closely related, and congeneric ciliates (Metopus palaeformis and M. contortus) may contain symbionts which are distantly related to each other. This suggests that some of the symbiotic associations must be relatively recent. For example, at least one of the symbioses in Metopus must postdate the speciation of M. palaeformis and M. contortus. Despite this, Metopus contortus, Trimyema sp., Cyclidium porcatum and their respective endosymbionts show sophisticated morphological interactions which probably facilitate the exchange of materials between the partners.

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