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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2005 Sep;71(9):5219-24.

New gammaproteobacteria associated with blood-feeding leeches and a broad phylogenetic analysis of leech endosymbionts.

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Division of Invertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th St., New York, NY 10024, USA.


Many monophagous animals have coevolutionary relationships with bacteria that provide unavailable nutrients to the host. Frequently, these microbial partners are vertically inherited and reside in specialized structures or tissues. Here we report three new lineages of bacterial symbionts of blood-feeding leeches, one from the giant Amazonian leech, Haementeria ghilianii, and two others from Placobdelloides species. These hosts each possess a different mycetome or esophageal organ morphology where the bacterial cells are located. DNA sequencing of the bacterial 16S rRNA genes and fluorescent in situ hybridization placed these symbionts in two separate clades in the class Gammaproteobacteria. We also conducted a broad phylogenetic analysis of the herein-reported DNA sequences as well as others from bacterial symbionts reported elsewhere in the literature, including alphaproteobacterial symbionts from the leech genus Placobdella as well as Aeromonas veronii from the medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis, and a Rickettsia sp. detected in Hemiclepsis marginata. Combined, these results indicate that blood-feeding leeches have forged bacterial partnerships at least five times during their evolutionary history.

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