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Evidence for Cascades of Perturbation and Adaptation in the Metabolic Genes of Higher Termite Gut Symbionts

Author(s): Zhang, Xinning; Leadbetter, Jared R

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Abstract: Termites and their gut microbes engage in fascinating dietary mutualisms. Less is known about how these complex symbioses have evolved after first emerging in an insect ancestor over 120 million years ago. Here we examined a bacterial gene, formate dehydrogenase (fdhF), that is key to the mutualism in 8 species of “higher” termite (members of the Termitidae, the youngest and most biomass-abundant and species-rich termite family). Patterns of fdhF diversity in the gut communities of higher termites contrasted strongly with patterns in less-derived (more-primitive) insect relatives (wood-feeding “lower” termites and roaches). We observed phylogenetic evidence for (i) the sweeping loss of several clades of fdhF that may reflect extinctions of symbiotic protozoa and, importantly, bacteria dependent on them in the last common ancestor of all higher termites and (ii) a radiation of genes from the (possibly) single allele that survived. Sweeping gene loss also resulted in (iii) the elimination of an entire clade of genes encoding selenium (Se)-independent enzymes from higher termite gut communities, perhaps reflecting behavioral or morphological innovations in higher termites that relaxed preexisting environmental limitations of Se, a dietary trace element. Curiously, several higher termite gut communities may have subsequently reencountered Se limitation, reinventing genes for Se-independent proteins via convergent evolution. Lastly, the presence of a novel fdhF lineage within litter-feeding and subterranean higher (but not other) termites may indicate recent gene “invasion” events. These results imply that cascades of perturbation and adaptation by distinct evolutionary mechanisms have impacted the evolution of complex microbial communities in a highly successful lineage of insects.
Publication Date: Jan-2012
Citation: Zhang, Xinning, and Jared R. Leadbetter. "Evidence for cascades of perturbation and adaptation in the metabolic genes of higher termite gut symbionts." MBio 3, no. 4 (2012). doi:10.1128/mbio.00223-12.
DOI: doi:10.1128/mbio.00223-12
EISSN: 2150-7511
Language: eng
Type of Material: Journal Article
Journal/Proceeding Title: mBio
Version: Final published version. This is an open access article.

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