Ectosymbiotic bacteria at the origin of magnetoreception in a marine protist
29th April 2019 - Nature Microbiology
Mutualistic symbioses are often a source of evolutionary innovation and drivers of biological diversification. Widely distributed in the microbial world, particularly in anoxic settings, they often rely on metabolic exchanges and syntrophy. Here, we report a mutualistic symbiosis observed in marine anoxic sediments between excavate protists (Symbiontida, Euglenozoa) and ectosymbiotic Deltaproteobacteria biomineralizing ferrimagnetic nanoparticles. Light and electron microscopy observations as well as genomic data support a multi-layered mutualism based on collective magnetotactic motility with division of labour and interspecies hydrogen-transfer-based syntrophy. The guided motility of the consortia along the geomagnetic field is allowed by the magnetic moment of the non-motile ectosymbiotic bacteria combined with the protist motor activity, which is a unique example of eukaryotic magnetoreception acquired by symbiosis. The nearly complete deltaproteobacterial genome assembled from a single consortium contains a full magnetosome gene set, but shows signs of reduction, with the probable loss of flagellar genes. Based on the metabolic gene content, the ectosymbiotic bacteria are anaerobic sulfate-reducing chemolithoautotrophs that likely reduce sulfate with hydrogen produced by hydrogenosome-like organelles underlying the plasma membrane of the protist. In addition to being necessary hydrogen sinks, ectosymbionts may provide organics to the protist by diffusion and predation, as shown by magnetosome-containing digestive vacuoles. Phylogenetic analyses of 16S and 18S ribosomal RNA genes from magnetotactic consortia in marine sediments across the Northern and Southern hemispheres indicate a host–ectosymbiont specificity and co-evolution. This suggests a historical acquisition of magnetoreception by a euglenozoan ancestor from Deltaproteobacteria followed by subsequent diversification. It also supports the cosmopolitan nature of this type of symbiosis in marine anoxic sediments.