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The ISME Journal
4, No. xx, 2010; Pages: 862 - 871

The obligate endobacteria of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi are ancient heritable components related to the Mollicutes

Maria Naumann, Arthur SchuBler and Paola Bonfante

Department of Plant Biology, University of Turin and IPP-CNR, Turin, Italy.


Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) have been symbionts of land plants for at least 450 Myr. It is known that some AMF host in their cytoplasm Gram-positive endobacteria called bacterium-like organisms (BLOs), of unknown phylogenetic origin. In this study, an extensive inventory of 28 cultured AMF, from diverse evolutionary lineages and four continents, indicated that most of the AMF species investigated possess BLOs. Analyzing the 16S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) as a phylogenetic marker revealed that BLO sequences from divergent lineages all clustered in a well-supported monophyletic clade. Unexpectedly, the cell-walled BLOs were shown to likely represent a sister clade of the Mycoplasmatales and Entomoplasmatales, within the Mollicutes, whose members are lacking cell walls and show symbiotic or parasitic lifestyles. Perhaps BLOs maintained the Gram-positive trait whereas the sister groups lost it. The intracellular location of BLOs was revealed by fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH), and confirmed by pyrosequencing. BLO DNA could only be amplified from AMF spores and not from spore washings. As highly divergent BLO sequences were found within individual fungal spores, amplicon libraries derived from Glomus etunicatum isolates from different geographic regions were pyrosequenced; they revealed distinct sequence compositions in different isolates. Our results show a vertically inherited, monophyletic and globally distributed lineage of endobacteria thriving in AMF cytoplasm. These bacteria split from their sister groups more than 400 Myr ago, colonizing their fungal hosts already before main AMF lineages separated. The BLO–AMF symbiosis can, therefore, be dated back at least to the time when AMF formed the ancestral symbiosis with emergent land plants.

Keywords: arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi; endobacteria; interphylum interactions; Mollicutes; pyrosequencing; vertical transmission



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