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Although several commensal alphaproteobacteria form close relationships with plant hosts where they aid in (e.g.,) nitrogen fixation and nodulation, only a few inhabit animal hosts. Among these, Reichenowia picta, R. ornata and R. parasitica, are currently the only known mutualistic, alphaproteobacterial endosymbionts to inhabit leeches. These bacteria are harbored in the epithelial cells of the mycetomal structures of their freshwater leech hosts, Placobdella spp., and these structures have no other obvious function than housing bacterial symbionts. However, the function of the bacterial symbionts has remained unclear. Here, we focused both on exploring the genomic makeup of R. parasitica and on performing a robust phylogenetic analysis, based on more data than previous hypotheses, to test its position among related bacteria. We sequenced a combined pool of host and symbiont DNA from 36 pairs of mycetomes and performed an in silico separation of the different DNA pools through subtractive scaffolding. The bacterial contigs were compared to 50 annotated bacterial genomes and the genome of the freshwater leech Helobdella robusta using a BLASTn protocol. Further, amino acid sequences inferred from the contigs were used as queries against the 50 bacterial genomes to establish orthology. A total of 358 orthologous genes were used for the phylogenetic analyses. In part, results suggest that R. parasitica possesses genes coding for proteins related to nitrogen fixation, iron/vitamin B translocation and plasmid survival. Our results also indicate that R. parasitica interacts with its host in part by transmembrane signaling and that several of its genes show orthology across Rhizobiaceae. The phylogenetic analyses support the nesting of R. parasitica within the Rhizobiaceae, as sister to a group containing Agrobacterium and Rhizobium species.


This article originally appeared in PLoS ONE, available at DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0028192

© 2011 Kvist et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.



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