Leeches and their microbiota: naturally simple symbiosis models

Trends Microbiol. 2006 Aug;14(8):365-71. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2006.06.009. Epub 2006 Jul 14.


Strictly blood-feeding leeches and their limited microbiota provide natural and powerful model systems to examine symbiosis. Blood is devoid of essential nutrients and it is thought that symbiotic bacteria synthesize these for the host. In this review, three distinct leech-microbe associations are described: (i) the mycetome, which is the large symbiont-containing organ associated with the esophagus; (ii) the nephridia and bladders that form the excretory system; and (iii) the digestive tract, where two bacterial species dominate the microbiota. The current knowledge and features of leech biology that promote the investigation of interspecific interactions (host-microbe and microbe-microbe) and their evolution are highlighted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Leeches / microbiology*
  • Leeches / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Symbiosis / physiology*


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S