FEMS microbiology ecology

Census of bacterial microbiota associated with the glacier ice worm Mesenchytraeus solifugus.

PMID 25764456


The glacier ice worm, Mesenchytraeus solifugus, is a unique annelid, inhabiting only snow and ice in North American glaciers. Here, we analyzed the taxonomic composition of bacteria associated with M. solifugus based on the 16S rRNA gene. We analyzed four fixed-on-site and 10 starved ice worm individuals, along with glacier surface samples. In total, 1341 clones of 16S rRNA genes were analyzed for the ice worm samples, from which 65 bacterial phylotypes (99.0% cut-off) were identified. Of these, 35 phylotypes were closely related to sequences obtained from their habitat glacier and/or other components of cryosphere; whereas three dominant phylotypes were affiliated with animal-associated lineages of the class Mollicutes. Among the three, phylotype Ms-13 shared less than 89% similarity with database sequences and was closest to a gut symbiont of a terrestrial earthworm. Using fluorescence in situ hybridization, Ms-13 was located on the gut wall surface of the ice worms. We propose a novel genus and species, 'Candidatus Vermiplasma glacialis', for this bacterium. Our results raise the possibility that the ice worm has exploited indigenous glacier bacteria, while several symbiotic bacterial lineages have maintained their association with the ice worm during the course of adaptive evolution to the permanently cold environment.