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Extremophiles. 1998 Aug;2(3):155-61.

Molecular phylogenetic identification of the intestinal anaerobic microbial community in the hindgut of the termite, Reticulitermes speratus, without cultivation.

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Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN), Saitama, Japan.


A termite maintains an anaerobic microbial community in its hindgut, which seems to be the minimum size of an anaerobic habitat. This microbial community consists of bacteria and various anaerobic flagellates, and it is established that termites are totally dependent on the microbes for the utilization of their food. The molecular phylogenetic diversity of the intestinal microflora of a lower termite, Reticulitermes speratus, was examined by a strategy that does not rely on cultivation of the resident microorganisms. Small subunit ribosomal RNA (ssrRNA) genes were directly amplified from the mixed-population DNA of the termite gut by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and clonally isolated. Most sequenced clones were phylogenetically affiliated with the four major groups of the domain Bacteria: the Proteobacteria group, the Spirochete group, the Bacteroides group, and the Low G + C gram-positive bacteria. The 16S rRNA sequence data show that the majority of the intestinal microflora of the termite consists of new species that are yet to be cultured. The phylogeny of a symbiotic methanogen inhabiting the gut of a lower termite (R. speratus) was analyzed without cultivation. The nucleotide sequence of the ssrDNA and the predicted amino acid sequence of the mcrA product were compared with those of the known methanogens. Both comparisons indicated that the termite symbiotic methanogen belonged to the order Methanobacteriales but was distinct from the known members of this order. The diversity of nitrogen-fixing organisms was also investigated without culturing the resident microorganisms. Fragments of the nifH gene, which encodes the dinitrogenase reductase, were directly amplified from the mixed-population DNA of the termite gut and were clonally isolated. The phylogenetic analysis of the nifH amino acid sequences showed that there was a remarkable diversity of nitrogenase genes in the termite gut. The molecular phylogeny of a symbiotic hypermastigote Trichonympha agilis (class Parabasalia; order Hypermastigida) in the hindgut of R. speratus was also examined by the same strategy. The whole-cell hybridization experiments indicated that the sequence originated from a large hypermastigote in the termite hindgut, Trichonympha agilis. According to the phylogenetic trees constructed, the hypermastigote represented one of the deepest branches of eukaryotes. The hypermastigote along with members of the order Trichomonadida formed a monophyletic lineage, indicating that the hypermastigote and trichomonads shared a recent common ancestry.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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