Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
Microbial transmission through mucosal-mediated mechanisms is widespread throughout the animal kingdom. One example of this occurs with Hirudo verbana, the medicinal leech, where host attraction to shed conspecific mucus facilitates horizontal transmission of a predominant gut symbiont, the Gammaproteobacterium Aeromonas veronii. However, whether this mucus may harbor other bacteria has not been examined. Here, we characterize the microbiota of shed leech mucus through Illumina deep sequencing of the V3-V4 hypervariable region of the 16S rRNA gene. Additionally, Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP) typing with subsequent Sanger Sequencing of a 16S rRNA gene clone library provided qualitative confirmation of the microbial composition. Phylogenetic analyses of full-length 16S rRNA sequences were performed to examine microbial taxonomic distribution. Analyses using both technologies indicate the dominance of the Bacteroidetes and Proteobacteria phyla within the mucus microbiota. We determined the presence of other previously described leech symbionts, in addition to a number of putative novel leech-associated bacteria. A second predominant gut symbiont, the Rikenella-like bacteria, was also identified within mucus and exhibited similar population dynamics to A. veronii, suggesting persistence in syntrophy beyond the gut. Interestingly, the most abundant bacterial genus belonged to Pedobacter, which includes members capable of producing heparinase, an enzyme that degrades the anticoagulant, heparin. Additionally, bacteria associated with denitrification and sulfate cycling were observed, indicating an abundance of these anions within mucus, likely originating from the leech excretory system. A diverse microbiota harbored within shed mucus has significant potential implications for the evolution of microbiomes, including opportunities for gene transfer and utility in host capture of a diverse group of symbionts.
Digital Commons Citation
Ott, Brittany M.; Rickards, Allen; Gehrke, Lauren; and Rio, Rita V M, "Characterization of shed medicinal leech mucus reveals a diverse microbiota" (2015). Faculty & Staff Scholarship. 2303.
Ott, B. M., Rickards, A., Gehrke, L., & Rio, R. V. M. (2015). Characterization of shed medicinal leech mucus reveals a diverse microbiota. Frontiers in Microbiology, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2014.00757