Bacterial DNA sifted from the Trichoplax adhaerens (Animalia: Placozoa) genome project reveals a putative rickettsial endosymbiont

Genome Biol Evol. 2013;5(4):621-45. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evt036.


Eukaryotic genome sequencing projects often yield bacterial DNA sequences, data typically considered as microbial contamination. However, these sequences may also indicate either symbiont genes or lateral gene transfer (LGT) to host genomes. These bacterial sequences can provide clues about eukaryote-microbe interactions. Here, we used the genome of the primitive animal Trichoplax adhaerens (Metazoa: Placozoa), which is known to harbor an uncharacterized Gram-negative endosymbiont, to search for the presence of bacterial DNA sequences. Bioinformatic and phylogenomic analyses of extracted data from the genome assembly (181 bacterial coding sequences [CDS]) and trace read archive (16S rDNA) revealed a dominant proteobacterial profile strongly skewed to Rickettsiales (Alphaproteobacteria) genomes. By way of phylogenetic analysis of 16S rDNA and 113 proteins conserved across proteobacterial genomes, as well as identification of 27 rickettsial signature genes, we propose a Rickettsiales endosymbiont of T. adhaerens (RETA). The majority (93%) of the identified bacterial CDS belongs to small scaffolds containing prokaryotic-like genes; however, 12 CDS were identified on large scaffolds comprised of eukaryotic-like genes, suggesting that T. adhaerens might have recently acquired bacterial genes. These putative LGTs may coincide with the placozoan's aquatic niche and symbiosis with RETA. This work underscores the rich, and relatively untapped, resource of eukaryotic genome projects for harboring data pertinent to host-microbial interactions. The nature of unknown (or poorly characterized) bacterial species may only emerge via analysis of host genome sequencing projects, particularly if these species are resistant to cell culturing, as are many obligate intracellular microbes. Our work provides methodological insight for such an approach.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal*
  • Genome
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / classification
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / genetics
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / physiology
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Open Reading Frames
  • Phylogeny
  • Placozoa / genetics*
  • Placozoa / microbiology*
  • Placozoa / physiology
  • Rickettsiaceae / classification
  • Rickettsiaceae / genetics*
  • Rickettsiaceae / isolation & purification
  • Rickettsiaceae / physiology
  • Symbiosis*


  • DNA, Bacterial