Mycetocyte symbiosis in insects

Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 1989 Nov;64(4):409-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-185x.1989.tb00682.x.


1. Non-pathogenic microorganisms, known as mycetocyte symbionts, are located in specialized 'mycetocyte' cells of many insects that feed on nutritionally unbalanced or poor diets. The insects include cockroaches, Cimicidae and Lygaeidae (Heteroptera), the Homoptera, Anoplura, the Diptera Pupiparia, some formicine ants and many beetles. 2. Most mycetocyte symbionts are prokaryotes and a great diversity of forms has been described. None has been cultured in vitro and their taxonomic position is obscure. Yeasts have been reported in Cerambycidae and Anobiidae (Coleoptera) and a few planthoppers. They are culturable and those in anobiids have been assigned to the genus Torulopsis. 3. The mycetocyte cells may be associated with the gut, lie free in the abdominal haemocoel or be embedded in the fat body of the insect. The mycetocytes are large polyploid cells which rarely divide and the symbionts are restricted to their cytoplasm. 4. The mycetocyte symbionts are transmitted maternally from one insect generation to the next. In many beetles (Anobiidae, Cerambycidae, Chrysomelidae and cleonine Curculionidae), the microoganisms are smeared onto the eggs and consumed by the hatching larvae. In other insects, they are transferred from mycetocytes to oocytes in the ovary, a process known as transovarial transmission. The details of transmission in the different insect groups vary with the age of the mother (adult, larva or embryo) at which symbiont transfer to the ovary is initiated; whether isolated symbionts or intact mycetocytes are transferred; and the site of entry of symbionts to the egg (anterior, posterior or apolar). 5. Within an individual insect, the biomass of symbionts varies in a regular fashion with age, weight and sex of the insect. Suppression of symbiont growth rate and lysis of 'excess' microorganisms may contribute to the regulation of symbionts (including freshly-isolated preparations of unculturable forms) are used to investigate interactions between the partners. However, some methods to obtain aposymbiotic insects (e.g. antibiotics and lysozyme) deleteriously affect certain insects and aposymbionts may differ from the symbiont-containing stocks from which they were derived. 7. The mycetocyte symbionts have been proposed to synthesize various nutrients required by the insect. The symbionts of beetles and haematophagous insects may provide B vitamins and those in cockroaches and the Homoptera essential amino acids. The role of symbionts in the sterol nutrition of insects is equivocal. 8. Mycetocyte symbionts may have evolved from gut symbionts or guest microorganisms. The association is monophyletic in cockroaches but polyphyletic in many groups, including the sucking lice, beetles and scale insects.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Symbiosis*
  • Yeasts / physiology*