Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 94, Issue 1, pp 1-10

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

On the evolutionary ecology of symbioses between chemosynthetic bacteria and bivalves

  • Guus RoeselersAffiliated withMicrobiology and Systems Biology Group, TNO Email author 
  • , Irene L. G. NewtonAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Indiana University


Mutualistic associations between bacteria and eukaryotes occur ubiquitously in nature, forming the basis for key ecological and evolutionary innovations. Some of the most prominent examples of these symbioses are chemosynthetic bacteria and marine invertebrates living in the absence of sunlight at deep-sea hydrothermal vents and in sediments rich in reduced sulfur compounds. Here, chemosynthetic bacteria living in close association with their hosts convert CO2 or CH4 into organic compounds and provide the host with necessary nutrients. The dominant macrofauna of hydrothermal vent and cold seep ecosystems all depend on the metabolic activity of chemosynthetic bacteria, which accounts for almost all primary production in these complex ecosystems. Many of these enigmatic mutualistic associations are found within the molluscan class Bivalvia. Currently, chemosynthetic symbioses have been reported from five distinct bivalve families (Lucinidae, Mytilidae, Solemyidae, Thyasiridae, and Vesicomyidae). This brief review aims to provide an overview of the diverse physiological and genetic adaptations of symbiotic chemosynthetic bacteria and their bivalve hosts.


Clams Hydrothermal vents Methane Sulfur Oxidizing bacterial symbionts Chemoautotrophy