Convergent evolution of signal-structure interfaces for maintaining symbioses

Curr Opin Microbiol. 2019 Aug;50:71-78. doi: 10.1016/j.mib.2019.10.001. Epub 2019 Nov 7.


Symbiotic microbes are essential to the ecological success and evolutionary diversification of multicellular organisms. The establishment and stability of bipartite symbioses are shaped by mechanisms ensuring partner fidelity between host and symbiont. In this minireview, we demonstrate how the interface of chemical signals and host structures influences fidelity between legume root nodules and rhizobia, Hawaiian bobtail squid light organs and Allivibrio fischeri, and fungus-growing ant crypts and Pseudonocardia. Subsequently, we illustrate the morphological diversity and widespread phylogenetic distribution of specialized structures used by hosts to house microbial symbionts, indicating the importance of signal-structure interfaces across the history of multicellular life. These observations, and the insights garnered from well-studied bipartite associations, demonstrate the need to concentrate on the signal-structure interface in complex and multipartite systems, including the human microbiome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants / microbiology
  • Decapodiformes / microbiology
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Fabaceae / microbiology
  • Host Microbial Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Microbiota*
  • Symbiosis*