Insights into the metabolic functioning of a multipartner ciliate symbiosis from oxygen-depleted sediments. Academic Article uri icon


  • Symbioses between anaerobic or microaerophilic protists and prokaryotes are common in anoxic and oxygen-depleted habitats ranging from marine sediments to gastrointestinal tracts. Nevertheless, little is known about the mechanisms of metabolic interaction between partners. In these putatively syntrophic associations, consumption of fermentative end products (e.g., hydrogen) by the prokaryotic symbionts is thought to facilitate protistan anaerobic metabolism. Here, we employed metagenomic and metatranscriptomic sequencing of a microaerophilic or anaerobic karyorelictid ciliate and its prokaryotic symbionts from oxygen-depleted Santa Barbara Basin (CA, USA) sediments to assess metabolic coupling within this consortium. This sequencing confirmed the predominance of deltaproteobacterial symbionts from the Families Desulfobacteraceae and Desulfobulbaceae and suggested active symbiont reduction of host-provided sulphate, transfer of small organic molecules from host to symbionts and hydrogen cycling among the symbionts. In addition, patterns of gene expression indicated active cell division by the symbionts, their growth via autotrophic processes and nitrogen exchange with the ciliate host. Altogether, this research underscores the importance of symbiont metabolism to host fermentative metabolism and, thus, likely its success in anoxic and low-oxygen habitats, but also suggests ciliate-associated prokaryotes play a role in important biogeochemical processes.

publication date

  • April 2018