Thioautotrophic ectosymbiosis in Pseudovorticella sp., a peritrich ciliate species colonizing wood falls in marine mangrove

Eur J Protistol. 2018 Feb:62:43-55. doi: 10.1016/j.ejop.2017.11.002. Epub 2017 Nov 22.


Ciliates represent a diversified group of protists known to establish symbioses with prokaryotic micro-organisms. They are mainly phagotrophs and symbiotic relationships with bacteria can give them an important advantage in chemosynthetic environments. The aim of this study is to describe the thiotrophic association that occurs between the peritrich ciliate Pseudovorticella sp. and potential sulfur-oxidizing bacteria. Investigations at microscopic scale (LM, SEM, TEM) showed ectosymbiotic bacteria covering the surface of the body of Pseudovorticella sp. According to 16S rDNA phylogenetic analysis, these ectosymbiotic bacteria belong to γ-proteobacteria and are phylogenetically close to the symbiont of the recently described Zoothamnium ignavum, which inhabits shallow-water wood falls. FISH experiments, using symbiont specific probes, clearly indicate that these ectosymbiotic bacteria are also ingested into food vacuoles. Electron lucent granules observed in TEM in the cytoplasm of the ectosymbiotic bacteria have been identified as sulfur granules by Raman microspectrometry analyses. Raman microspectrometry analyses confirmed the thiotrophic nature of this relationship already suggested by the results obtained by TEM and phylogeny. A complete sulfur map was then performed to investigate the sulfur distribution in the zooid. Results show that the relationship between this protist and its bacterial partner is a thiotrophic ectosymbiosis.

Keywords: Protist; Raman; Sulfidic environment; Symbiosis; Ultrastructural analysis.

MeSH terms

  • Aquatic Organisms / genetics
  • Aquatic Organisms / physiology*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / ultrastructure
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Oligohymenophorea / genetics
  • Oligohymenophorea / microbiology*
  • Oligohymenophorea / physiology
  • Oligohymenophorea / ultrastructure
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Symbiosis*
  • Wood / microbiology
  • Wood / parasitology


  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S