Functional diversity enables multiple symbiont strains to coexist in deep-sea mussels

Nat Microbiol. 2019 Dec;4(12):2487-2497. doi: 10.1038/s41564-019-0572-9. Epub 2019 Oct 14.


Genetic diversity of closely related free-living microorganisms is widespread and underpins ecosystem functioning, but most evolutionary theories predict that it destabilizes intimate mutualisms. Accordingly, strain diversity is assumed to be highly restricted in intracellular bacteria associated with animals. Here, we sequenced metagenomes and metatranscriptomes of 18 Bathymodiolus mussel individuals from four species, covering their known distribution range at deep-sea hydrothermal vents in the Atlantic. We show that as many as 16 strains of intracellular, sulfur-oxidizing symbionts coexist in individual Bathymodiolus mussels. Co-occurring symbiont strains differed extensively in key functions, such as the use of energy and nutrient sources, electron acceptors and viral defence mechanisms. Most strain-specific genes were expressed, highlighting their potential to affect fitness. We show that fine-scale diversity is pervasive in Bathymodiolus sulfur-oxidizing symbionts, and hypothesize that it may be widespread in low-cost symbioses where the environment, rather than the host, feeds the symbionts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Base Sequence
  • Biodiversity
  • Bivalvia / metabolism
  • Bivalvia / microbiology*
  • Ecosystem
  • Genetic Heterogeneity
  • Hydrogenase / genetics
  • Hydrothermal Vents
  • Metagenome
  • Microbiota / genetics
  • Mytilidae / metabolism
  • Mytilidae / microbiology
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Seawater / microbiology*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Symbiosis*
  • Transcriptome


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Hydrogenase