Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

, Volume 64, Issue 3–4, pp 261–271 | Cite as

Systematic and morphological diversity of endosymbiotic methanogens in anaerobic ciliates

  • T. Martin Embley
  • Bland J. Finlay


The identities and taxonomic diversity of the endosymbiotic methanogens from the anaerobic protozoaMetopus contortus, Metopus striatus, Metopus palaeformis, Trimyema sp. andPelomyxa palustris were determined by comparative analysis of their 16S ribosomal RNA sequences. Fluorescent oligonucleotide probes were designed to bind to the symbiont rRNA sequences and to provide direct visual evidence of their origins from methanogenic archaea contained within the host cells. Confocal microscopy was used to analyze the morphology of the endosymbionts in whole cells ofMetopus palaeformis, Metopus contortus, Trimyema sp. andCyclidium porcatum. The endosymbionts are taxonomically diverse and are drawn from three different genera;Methanobacterium, Methanocorpusculum andMethanoplanus. In every case the symbionts are closely related to, but different from, free-living methanogens for which sequences are available. It is thus apparent that symbioses have been formed repeatedly and independently. Ciliates which are unrelated to each other (Trimyema sp. andMetopus contortus) may contain symbionts which are closely related, and congeneric ciliates (Metopus palaeformis andM. contortus) may contain symbionts which are distantly related to each other. This suggests that some of the symbiotic associations must be relatively recent. For example, at least one of the symbioses inMetopus must postdate the speciation ofM. palaeformis andM. contortus. Despite this,Metopus contortus, Trimyema sp., Cyclidium porcatum and their respective endosymbionts show sophisticated morphological interactions which probably facilitate the exchange of materials between the partners.

Key words

endosymbionts anaerobic protozoa methanogens 16S rRNA coadaptation 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. Martin Embley
    • 1
  • Bland J. Finlay
    • 2
  1. 1.Microbiology GroupThe Natural History MuseumLondonUK
  2. 2.Windermere Laboratory, Far SawreyInstitute of Freshwater EcologyAmblesideUK

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