Uncultivated microbial eukaryotic diversity: a method to link ssu rRNA gene sequences with morphology
Hirst MB, Kita KN, Dawson SC
Department of Microbiology, University of California Davis, Davis, California, United States of America.
Protists have traditionally been identified by cultivation and classified taxonomically based on their cellular morphologies and behavior. In the past decade, however, many novel protist taxa have been identified using cultivation independent ssu rRNA sequence surveys. New rRNA "phylotypes" from uncultivated eukaryotes have no connection to the wealth of prior morphological descriptions of protists. To link phylogenetically informative sequences with taxonomically informative morphological descriptions, we demonstrate several methods for combining whole cell rRNA-targeted fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) with cytoskeletal or organellar immunostaining. Either eukaryote or ciliate-specific ssu rRNA probes were combined with an anti-α-tubulin antibody or phalloidin, a common actin stain, to define cytoskeletal features of uncultivated protists in several environmental samples. The eukaryote ssu rRNA probe was also combined with Mitotracker® or a hydrogenosomal-specific anti-Hsp70 antibody to localize mitochondria and hydrogenosomes, respectively, in uncultivated protists from different environments. Using rRNA probes in combination with immunostaining, we linked ssu rRNA phylotypes with microtubule structure to describe flagellate and ciliate morphology in three diverse environments, and linked Naegleria spp. to their amoeboid morphology using actin staining in hay infusion samples. We also linked uncultivated ciliates to morphologically similar Colpoda-like ciliates using tubulin immunostaining with a ciliate-specific rRNA probe. Combining rRNA-targeted FISH with cytoskeletal immunostaining or stains targeting specific organelles provides a fast, efficient, high throughput method for linking genetic sequences with morphological features in uncultivated protists. When linked to phylotype, morphological descriptions of protists can both complement and vet the increasing number of sequences from uncultivated protists, including those of novel lineages, identified in diverse environments.