Background: Symbioses throughout the animal kingdom are known to extend physiological and ecological capabilities to hosts. Insect-microbe associations are extremely common and are often related to novel niche exploitation, fitness advantages, and even speciation events. These phenomena include expansions in host diet, detoxification of insecticides and toxins, and increased defense against pathogens. However, dissecting the contributions of individual groups of symbionts at the molecular level is often underexplored due to methodological and analytical limitations. Termites are one of the best studied systems for physiological collaborations between host and symbiota however, most work in lower termites (those with bacterial and protist symbionts) focuses on the eukaryotic members of this symbiotic consortium. Here we present a metatranscriptomic analysis which provides novel insights into bacterial contributions to the holobiont of the eastern subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes, in the presence and absence of a fungal pathogen. Results: Using a customized ribodepletion strategy, a metatranscriptome assembly was obtained representing the host termite as well as bacterial and protist symbiota. Sequence data provide new insights into biosynthesis, catabolism, and transport of major organic molecules and ions by the gut consortium, and corroborate previous findings suggesting that bacteria play direct roles in nitrogen fixation, amino acid biosynthesis, and lignocellulose digestion. With regard to fungal pathogen challenge, a total of 563 differentially expressed candidate host and symbiont contigs were identified (162 up- and 401 downregulated; α/FDR = 0.05) including an upregulated bacterial amidohydrolase. Conclusions: This study presents the most complete bacterial metatranscriptome from a lower termite and provides a framework on which to build a more complete model of termite-symbiont interactions including, but not limited to, digestion and pathogen defense. © 2016 The Author(s).


Peterson, B.F., Scharf, M.E. Metatranscriptome analysis reveals bacterial symbiont contributions to lower termite physiology and potential immune functions. BMC Genomics Volume 17, Issue 1, 1 October 2016, Article number 772


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