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Symbiotic microbes induce profound genetic changes in their hosts
Date:7/28/2008

antage of a relatively simple host-bacterium relationship: the Hawaiian bobtail squid, a colorful critter less than two inches long that nurtures a single type of light-producing bacteria, called Vibrio fischeri. The bacteria take up residence in a specialized pouch on the squid's belly and produce light that the squid uses as anti-predator camouflage. In return, the bacteria receive easy access to nutrients from the squid.

In the new study, a team led by former UW-Madison graduate student Carlene Chun dissected the genetics of the squid host response, including a comparison with mutant bacteria unable to successfully colonize their host. They identified hundreds of genes affected by the establishment of a stable bacterial partnership, including some known to play a role in human responses to bacteria.

The involvement of several genes typically associated with responses to bacterial infection, such as members of common immune signaling pathways, suggests we may need to rethink our understanding of the main purpose of the immune system, McFall-Ngai says.

"We have thousands of bacteria that live with us, and yet there are only around 100 bacterial pathogens," she says. Given the numbers, "it seems like these pathways and these molecules are likely to be 'symbiosis' pathways more than 'anti-pathogen.'"

Her team also highlighted several genes corresponding to those previously implicated in establishing symbiotic relationships with gut bacteria in fish and mice, suggesting that the animal-bacteria conversation may be basically the same across evolution.

"All animals and plants evolved in the background of the presence of huge numbers of environmental bacteria These genes might be considered the core conserved responses of animals to interactions with bacteria" along tissue surfaces like intestine walls and skin, McFall-Ngai says. "The language is ancient and highly conserved."


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Contact: Margaret McFall-Ngai
mjmcfallngai@wisc.edu
608-262-2393
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Source:Eurekalert

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