A complex journey: transmission of microbial symbionts

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2010 Mar;8(3):218-30. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro2262.


The perpetuation of symbioses through host generations relies on symbiont transmission. Horizontally transmitted symbionts are taken up from the environment anew by each host generation, and vertically transmitted symbionts are most often transferred through the female germ line. Mixed modes also exist. In this Review we describe the journey of symbionts from the initial contact to their final residence. We provide an overview of the molecular mechanisms that mediate symbiont attraction and accumulation, interpartner recognition and selection, as well as symbiont confrontation with the host immune system. We also discuss how the two main transmission modes shape the evolution of the symbiotic partners.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Plants / microbiology
  • Symbiosis*