Deep divergence and rapid evolutionary rates in gut-associated Acetobacteraceae of ants.
Symbiotic associations between gut microbiota and their animal hosts shape the evolutionary trajectories of both partners. The genomic consequences of these relationships are significantly influenced by a variety of factors, including niche localization, interaction potential, and symbiont transmission mode. In eusocial insect hosts, socially transmitted gut microbiota may represent an intermediate point between free living or environmentally acquired bacteria and those with strict host association and maternal transmission.
We characterized the bacterial communities associated with an abundant ant species, Camponotus chromaiodes. While many bacteria had sporadic distributions, some taxa were abundant and persistent within and across ant colonies. Specially, two Acetobacteraceae operational taxonomic units (OTUs; referred to as AAB1 and AAB2) were abundant and widespread across host samples. Dissection experiments confirmed that AAB1 and AAB2 occur in C. chromaiodes gut tracts. We explored the distribution and evolution of these Acetobacteraceae OTUs in more depth. We found that Camponotus hosts representing different species and geographical regions possess close relatives of the Acetobacteraceae OTUs detected in C. chromaiodes. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that AAB1 and AAB2 join other ant associates in a monophyletic clade. This clade consists of Acetobacteraceae from three ant tribes, including a third, basal lineage associated with Attine ants. This ant-specific AAB clade exhibits a significant acceleration of substitution rates at the 16S rDNA gene and elevated AT content. Substitutions along 16S rRNA in AAB1 and AAB2 result in ~10 % reduction in the predicted rRNA stability.
Combined, these patterns in Camponotus-associated Acetobacteraceae resemble those found in cospeciating gut associates that are both socially and maternally transmitted. These associates may represent an intermediate point along an evolutionary trajectory manifest most extremely in symbionts with strict maternal transmission. Collectively, these results suggest that Acetobacteraceae may be a frequent and persistent gut associate in Camponotus species and perhaps other ant groups, and that its evolution is strongly impacted by this host association.
Brown, BP; Wernegreen, JJ
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