Phototrophic consortia: model systems for symbiotic interrelations between prokaryotes
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Most symbiotic prokaryotes known to date have been found in association with eukaryotes, whereas only few (3.5%) bacteria or archaea are known that have established interactions with other prokaryotes. As revealed by direct microscopic investigations, however, multiple morphotypes of highly structured associations of different prokaryotes exist in nature. These so-called consortia appear to represent the most developed type of bacterial interaction. Phototrophic consortia are associations of green sulfur bacteria that surround a central chemotrophic bacterium. In some natural environments, almost all cells of green sulfur bacteria occur in the associated state, i.e. as epibionts of phototrophic consortia. In contrast to earlier speculations, the central bacterium belongs to the β-Proteobacteria. Within the consortia, the green sulfur bacterial epibionts grow photolithoautotrophically, utilizing exogenous sulfide as photosynthetic electron donor. The entire consortium does not appear to be independent of organic carbon compounds, since it exhibits chemotaxis towards 2-oxoglutarate and, as demonstrated by microautoradiography, can also incorporate this compound. Intact consortia exhibit a scotophobic response in which the bacteriochlorophylls of the epibionts function as light sensors, whereas the chemotrophic central bacterium confers motility upon the association. Hence, a signal exchange must occur between the different bacteria. Based on their 16S rRNA gene sequences, the epibionts represent distinct phylotypes that are often only distantly related to known species of green sulfur bacteria. Since phototrophic consortia have recently become available in enrichment cultures, they can now serve as suitable model systems for the investigation of the molecular mechanisms of cell-cell recognition and signal exchange, and for studies of the coevolution of nonrelated prokaryotes.
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