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1.  Acromyrmex Leaf-Cutting Ants Have Simple Gut Microbiota with Nitrogen-Fixing Potential 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2015;81(16):5527-5537.
Ants and termites have independently evolved obligate fungus-farming mutualisms, but their gardening procedures are fundamentally different, as the termites predigest their plant substrate whereas the ants deposit it directly on the fungus garden. Fungus-growing termites retained diverse gut microbiota, but bacterial gut communities in fungus-growing leaf-cutting ants have not been investigated, so it is unknown whether and how they are specialized on an exclusively fungal diet. Here we characterized the gut bacterial community of Panamanian Acromyrmex species, which are dominated by only four bacterial taxa: Wolbachia, Rhizobiales, and two Entomoplasmatales taxa. We show that the Entomoplasmatales can be both intracellular and extracellular across different gut tissues, Wolbachia is mainly but not exclusively intracellular, and the Rhizobiales species is strictly extracellular and confined to the gut lumen, where it forms biofilms along the hindgut cuticle supported by an adhesive matrix of polysaccharides. Tetracycline diets eliminated the Entomoplasmatales symbionts but hardly affected Wolbachia and only moderately reduced the Rhizobiales, suggesting that the latter are protected by the biofilm matrix. We show that the Rhizobiales symbiont produces bacterial NifH proteins that have been associated with the fixation of nitrogen, suggesting that these compartmentalized hindgut symbionts alleviate nutritional constraints emanating from an exclusive fungus garden diet reared on a substrate of leaves.
PMCID: PMC4510174  PMID: 26048932
2.  The fungus-growing termite Macrotermes natalensis harbors bacillaene-producing Bacillus sp. that inhibit potentially antagonistic fungi 
Scientific Reports  2013;3:3250.
The ancient fungus-growing termite (Mactrotermitinae) symbiosis involves the obligate association between a lineage of higher termites and basidiomycete Termitomyces cultivar fungi. Our investigation of the fungus-growing termite Macrotermes natalensis shows that Bacillus strains from M. natalensis colonies produce a single major antibiotic, bacillaene A (1), which selectively inhibits known and putatively antagonistic fungi of Termitomyces. Comparative analyses of the genomes of symbiotic Bacillus strains revealed that they are phylogenetically closely related to Bacillus subtilis, their genomes have high homology with more than 90% of ORFs being 100% identical, and the sequence identities across the biosynthetic gene cluster for bacillaene are higher between termite-associated strains than to the cluster previously reported in B. subtilis. Our findings suggest that this lineage of antibiotic-producing Bacillus may be a defensive symbiont involved in the protection of the fungus-growing termite cultivar.
PMCID: PMC3832938  PMID: 24248063
3.  Tyrosine pathway regulation is host-mediated in the pea aphid symbiosis during late embryonic and early larval development 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:235.
Nutritional symbioses play a central role in insects’ adaptation to specialized diets and in their evolutionary success. The obligatory symbiosis between the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum, and the bacterium, Buchnera aphidicola, is no exception as it enables this important agricultural pest insect to develop on a diet exclusively based on plant phloem sap. The symbiotic bacteria provide the host with essential amino acids lacking in its diet but necessary for the rapid embryonic growth seen in the parthenogenetic viviparous reproduction of aphids. The aphid furnishes, in exchange, non-essential amino acids and other important metabolites. Understanding the regulations acting on this integrated metabolic system during the development of this insect is essential in elucidating aphid biology.
We used a microarray-based approach to analyse gene expression in the late embryonic and the early larval stages of the pea aphid, characterizing, for the first time, the transcriptional profiles in these developmental phases. Our analyses allowed us to identify key genes in the phenylalanine, tyrosine and dopamine pathways and we identified ACYPI004243, one of the four genes encoding for the aspartate transaminase (E.C., as specifically regulated during development. Indeed, the tyrosine biosynthetic pathway is crucial for the symbiotic metabolism as it is shared between the two partners, all the precursors being produced by B. aphidicola. Our microarray data are supported by HPLC amino acid analyses demonstrating an accumulation of tyrosine at the same developmental stages, with an up-regulation of the tyrosine biosynthetic genes. Tyrosine is also essential for the synthesis of cuticular proteins and it is an important precursor for cuticle maturation: together with the up-regulation of tyrosine biosynthesis, we observed an up-regulation of cuticular genes expression. We were also able to identify some amino acid transporter genes which are essential for the switch over to the late embryonic stages in pea aphid development.
Our data show that, in the development of A. pisum, a specific host gene set regulates the biosynthetic pathways of amino acids, demonstrating how the regulation of gene expression enables an insect to control the production of metabolites crucial for its own development and symbiotic metabolism.
PMCID: PMC3660198  PMID: 23575215
Symbiosis; Pea aphid; Metabolism; Development; Viviparous parthenogenesis; Amino acids; Tyrosine pathway; Cuticle formation; Microarrays transcriptome analysis
4.  Wolbachia Prophage DNA Adenine Methyltransferase Genes in Different Drosophila-Wolbachia Associations 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e19708.
Wolbachia is an obligatory intracellular bacterium which often manipulates the reproduction of its insect and isopod hosts. In contrast, Wolbachia is an essential symbiont in filarial nematodes. Lately, Wolbachia has been implicated in genomic imprinting of host DNA through cytosine methylation. The importance of DNA methylation in cell fate and biology calls for in depth studing of putative methylation-related genes. We present a molecular and phylogenetic analysis of a putative DNA adenine methyltransferase encoded by a prophage in the Wolbachia genome. Two slightly different copies of the gene, met1 and met2, exhibit a different distribution over various Wolbachia strains. The met2 gene is present in the majority of strains, in wAu, however, it contains a frameshift caused by a 2 bp deletion. Phylogenetic analysis of the met2 DNA sequences suggests a long association of the gene with the Wolbachia host strains. In addition, our analysis provides evidence for previously unnoticed multiple infections, the detection of which is critical for the molecular elucidation of modification and/or rescue mechanism of cytoplasmic incompatibility.
PMCID: PMC3089641  PMID: 21573076
5.  A comparison of fMRI adaptation and multivariate pattern classification analysis in visual cortex 
Neuroimage  2010;49(2):1632-1640.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has become a ubiquitous tool in cognitive neuroscience. The technique allows noninvasive measurements of cortical responses in the human brain, but only on the millimeter scale. Because a typical voxel contains many thousands of neurons with varied properties, establishing the selectivity of their responses directly is impossible. In recent years, two methods using fMRI aimed at studying the selectivity of neuronal populations on a ‘subvoxel’ scale have been heavily used. The first technique, fMRI adaptation, relies on the observation that the blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) response in a given voxel is reduced after prolonged presentation of a stimulus, and that this reduction is selective to the characteristics of the repeated stimuli (adapters). The second technique, multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA), makes use of multivariate statistics to recover small biases in individual voxels in their responses to different stimuli. It is thought that these biases arise due to the uneven distribution of neurons (with different properties) sampled by the many voxels in the imaged volume. These two techniques have not been compared explicitly, however, and little is known about their relative sensitivities. Here, we compared fMRI results from orientation-specific visual adaptation and orientation–classification by MVPA, using optimized experimental designs for each, and found that the multivariate pattern classification approach was more sensitive to small differences in stimulus orientation than the adaptation paradigm. Estimates of orientation selectivity obtained with the two methods were, however, very highly correlated across visual areas.
PMCID: PMC2793370  PMID: 19815081
6.  Parasitism and Mutualism in Wolbachia: What the Phylogenomic Trees Can and Cannot Say 
Molecular Biology and Evolution  2008;26(1):231-241.
Ecological and evolutionary theories predict that parasitism and mutualism are not fixed endpoints of the symbiotic spectrum. Rather, parasitism and mutualism may be host or environment dependent, induced by the same genetic machinery, and shifted due to selection. These models presume the existence of genetic or environmental variation that can spur incipient changes in symbiotic lifestyle. However, for obligate intracellular bacteria whose genomes are highly reduced, studies specify that discrete symbiotic associations can be evolutionarily stable for hundreds of millions of years. Wolbachia is an inherited obligate, intracellular infection of invertebrates containing taxa that act broadly as both parasites in arthropods and mutualists in certain roundworms. Here, we analyze the ancestry of mutualism and parasitism in Wolbachia and the evolutionary trajectory of this variation in symbiotic lifestyle with a comprehensive, phylogenomic analysis. Contrary to previous claims, we show unequivocally that the transition in lifestyle cannot be reconstructed with current methods due to long-branch attraction (LBA) artifacts of the distant Anaplasma and Ehrlichia outgroups. Despite the use of 1) site-heterogenous phylogenomic methods that can overcome systematic error, 2) a taxonomically rich set of taxa, and 3) statistical assessments of the genes, tree topologies, and models of evolution, we conclude that the LBA artifact is serious enough to afflict past and recent claims including the root lies in the middle of the Wolbachia mutualists and parasites. We show that different inference methods yield different results and high bootstrap support did not equal phylogenetic accuracy. Recombination was rare among this taxonomically diverse data set, indicating that elevated levels of recombination in Wolbachia are restricted to specific coinfecting groups. In conclusion, we attribute the inability to root the tree to rate heterogeneity between the ingroup and outgroup. Site-heterogenous models of evolution did improve the placement of aberrant taxa in the ingroup phylogeny. Finally, in the unrooted topology, the distribution of parasitism and mutualism across the tree suggests that at least two interphylum transfers shaped the origins of nematode mutualism and arthropod parasitism. We suggest that the ancestry of mutualism and parasitism is not resolvable without more suitable outgroups or complete genome sequences from all Wolbachia supergroups.
PMCID: PMC2721558  PMID: 18974066
endosymbiosis; phylogenomics; parasitism; mutualism; Wolbachia; PhyloBayes
7.  Acetobacter tropicalis Is a Major Symbiont of the Olive Fruit Fly (Bactrocera oleae)▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2009;75(10):3281-3288.
Following cultivation-dependent and -independent techniques, we investigated the microbiota associated with Bactrocera oleae, one of the major agricultural pests in olive-producing countries. Bacterial 16S rRNA gene libraries and ultrastructural analyses revealed the presence of several bacterial taxa associated with this insect, among which Acetobacter tropicalis was predominant. The recent increased detection of acetic acid bacteria as symbionts of other insect model organisms, such as Anopheles stephensi (G. Favia et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 104:9047-9051, 2007) or Drosophila melanogaster (C. R. Cox and M. S. Gilmore, Infect. Immun. 75:1565-1576, 2007), prompted us to investigate the association established between A. tropicalis and B. oleae. Using an A. tropicalis-specific PCR assay, the symbiont was detected in all insects tested originating from laboratory stocks or field-collected from different locations in Greece. This acetic acid bacterium was successfully established in cell-free medium, and typing analyses, carried out on a collection of isolates, revealed that different A. tropicalis strains are present in fly populations. The capability to colonize and lodge in the digestive system of both larvae and adults and in Malpighian tubules of adults was demonstrated by using a strain labeled with a green fluorescent protein.
PMCID: PMC2681620  PMID: 19304818
8.  New criteria for selecting the origin of DNA replication in Wolbachia and closely related bacteria 
BMC Genomics  2007;8:182.
The annotated genomes of two closely related strains of the intracellular bacterium Wolbachia pipientis have been reported without the identifications of the putative origin of replication (ori). Identifying the ori of these bacteria and related alpha-Proteobacteria as well as their patterns of sequence evolution will aid studies of cell replication and cell density, as well as the potential genetic manipulation of these widespread intracellular bacteria.
Using features that have been previously experimentally verified in the alpha-Proteobacterium Caulobacter crescentus, the origin of DNA replication (ori) regions were identified in silico for Wolbachia strains and eleven other related bacteria belonging to Ehrlichia, Anaplasma, and Rickettsia genera. These features include DnaA-, CtrA- and IHF-binding sites as well as the flanking genes in C. crescentus. The Wolbachia ori boundary genes were found to be hemE and COG1253 protein (CBS domain protein). Comparisons of the putative ori region among related Wolbachia strains showed higher conservation of bases within binding sites.
The sequences of the ori regions described here are only similar among closely related bacteria while fundamental characteristics like presence of DnaA and IHF binding sites as well as the boundary genes are more widely conserved. The relative paucity of CtrA binding sites in the ori regions, as well as the absence of key enzymes associated with DNA replication in the respective genomes, suggest that several of these obligate intracellular bacteria may have altered replication mechanisms. Based on these analyses, criteria are set forth for identifying the ori region in genome sequencing projects.
PMCID: PMC1914354  PMID: 17584494

Results 1-8 (8)