Functional symbiosis and communication in microbial ecosystems. The case of wood-eating termites and cockroaches


  • Mercedes Berlanga Department of Microbiology and Parasitology, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain


holobiont, gut microbiota, ectosymbiosis, lower-termites, wood-eating cockroaches


Animal hosts typically have strong specificity for microbial symbionts and their functions. The symbiotic relationships have enhanced the limited metabolic networks of most eukaryotes by contributing several prokaryotic metabolic capabilities, such as methanogenesis, chemolithoautotrophy, nitrogen assimilation, etc. This review will examine the characteristics that determine bacterial “fidelity” to certain groups of animals (e.g., xylophagous insects, such as termites and cockroaches) over generations and throughout evolution. The hindgut bacteria of wood-feeding termites and cockroaches belong to several phyla, including Proteobacteria, especially Deltaproteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, Actinomycetes, Spirochetes, Verrucomicrobia, and Actinobacteria, as detected by 16S rRNA. Termites effectively feed on many types of lignocelluloses assisted by their gut microbial symbionts. Although the community structures differ between the hosts (termites and cockroaches), with changes in the relative abundances of particular bacterial taxa, the composition of the bacterial community could reflect at least in part the host evolution in that the microbiota may derive from the microbiota of a common ancestor. Therefore, factors other than host phylogeny, such as diet could have had strong influence in shaping the bacterial community structure. [Int Microbiol 18(3):159-169 (2015)]

Keywords: holobiont · gut microbiota · ectosymbiosis · lower-termites · wood-eating cockroaches




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