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Tick-bacteria mutualism depends on B vitamin synthesis pathways

Duron O., Morel O., Noel V., Buysse M., Binetruy F., Lancelot R., Loire E., Ménard C., Bouchez O., Vavre F., Vial L.. 2018. Current Biology, 28 (12) : p. 1896-1902.e5.

DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.04.038

Mutualistic interactions with microbes have facilitated the radiation of major eukaryotic lineages [1, 2]. Microbes can notably provide biochemical abilities, allowing eukaryotes to adapt to novel habitats or to specialize on particular feeding niches [2, 3, 4]. To investigate the importance of mutualisms for the exclusive blood feeding habits of ticks, we focused on a bacterial genus of medical interest, Francisella, which is known to include both virulent intracellular pathogens of vertebrates [5, 6] and maternally inherited symbionts of ticks [7, 8, 9]. Through a series of physiological experiments, we identified a Francisella type, F-Om, as an obligate nutritional mutualist in the life cycle of the African soft tick Ornithodoros moubata. Francisella F-Om mutualism synthesizes B vitamins that are deficient in the blood meal of ticks. Indeed, experimental elimination of Francisella F-Om resulted in alteration of tick life history traits and physical abnormalities, deficiencies which were fully restored with an oral supplement of B vitamins. We also show that Francisella F-Om is maternally transmitted to all maturing tick oocytes, suggesting that this heritable symbiont is an essential adaptive element in the life cycle of O. moubata. The Francisella F-Om genome further revealed a recent origin from a Francisella pathogenic life style, as observed in other Francisella symbionts [6, 7, 10]. Though half of its protein-coding sequences are now pseudogenized or lost, Francisella F-Om has kept several B vitamin synthesis pathways intact, confirming the importance of these genes in evolution of its nutritional mutualism with ticks.

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