Ultrastructural, biochemical, and immunological characterization of two populations of the mytilid mussel Bathymodiolus azoricus from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge: evidence for a dual symbiosis
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A recently described species of mytilid mussel, Bathymodiolus azoricus Von Cosel et al., 1999, was observed to be the dominant organism at the hydrothermal vents off the Azores, at both the Lucky Strike and Menez Gwen sites. Evidence suggests this species of Bathymodiolus represents yet another example of the intriguing dual symbiosis known in three other species of deep-sea mytilid mussels. Transmission electron micrographs (TEM) show the majority of gill bacteriocytes in mussels sampled from both populations to contain two distinct symbiont morphotypes. One morphotype is characterized by large size (mean diameter, 1.25 µm), coccoid shape, and stacked intracytoplasmic membranes that are consistent with the morphology of type I methanotrophs. The second morphotype is smaller (mean diameter, 0.35 µm) and was observed in coccoid or rod shapes. Immunoblots revealed the presence of ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RubisCO) and methanol dehydrogenase (MeDH) in both populations of mussels. Activities of these enzymes, as well as sulfate adenylyl transferase (ATP sulfurylase) and adenylyl sulfate reductase (APS reductase), were detected in gill extracts. The activities measured for the two populations were highly variable, though the population sampled from Lucky Strike showed higher RubisCO activity. Stable carbon isotope values (Lucky Strike, δ13C=–32.6±0.3‰; Menez Gwen, δ13C=–22.8±0.4‰) are in the range of previously reported stable carbon isotope measurements for mytilid mussels hosting a dual symbiosis. Collectively, these results provide evidence for the activity of both sulfur-oxidizing and methane-oxidizing metabolic pathways in B. azoricus. Furthermore, evidence for a greater dependence on methanotrophy in the Menez Gwen mussel population is offered by analysis of cell counts from TEMs. Higher methanotroph numbers, and putatively activity, in this population of mussels are further supported by published geochemical data indicating higher methane concentrations in the vent fluids at Menez Gwen. This finding suggests that environmental conditions may regulate a balance between the physiological activities of different symbiont populations associated with these mussels. The existence of a dual symbiosis could thus confer greater environmental tolerance and increased niche space to the mytilid host in the stochastic hydrothermal vent habitat.
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