Transmission strategies in a chemosynthetic symbiosis: detection and quantification of symbionts in host tissues and their environment. Academic Article uri icon


  • Transmission of bacteria vertically through host tissues ensures offspring acquire symbionts; however, horizontal transmission is an effective strategy for many associations and plays a role in some vertically transmitted symbioses. The bivalve Solemya velum and its gammaproteobacterial chemosynthetic symbionts exhibit evolutionary evidence of both transmission modes, but the dominant strategy on an ecological time scale is unknown. To address this, a specific primer set was developed and validated for the S. velum symbiont using a novel workflow called specific marker design (SMD). Symbionts were quantified in spawned eggs and sediment and seawater samples from S. velum habitats with qPCR. Each egg was estimated to contain 50-100 symbiont genomes. By contrast, symbiont DNA was found at low abundance/occurrence in sediment and seawater, often co-occurring with host mitochondrial DNA, obscuring its origin. To ascertain when eggs become infected, histological sections of S. velum tissues were labelled for symbiont 16S rRNA via in situ hybridization. This revealed symbionts in the ovary walls and mature oocytes, suggesting association in late oogenesis. These data support the hypothesis that S. velum symbionts are vertically transmitted every host generation, thus genetic signatures of horizontal transmission are driven by ecologically infrequent events. This knowledge furthers our understanding of vertical and horizontal mode integration and provides insights across animal-bacterial chemosynthetic symbioses.

publication date

  • October 31, 2018