Roughly 10% to 15% of insect species host heritable symbiotic bacteria known as endosymbionts. The lice parasitizing mammals rely on endosymbionts to provide essential vitamins absent in their blood meals. Here, we describe two bacterial associates from a louse, Proechinophthirus fluctus, which is an obligate ectoparasite of a marine mammal. One of these is a heritable endosymbiont that is not closely related to endosymbionts of other mammalian lice. Rather, it is more closely related to endosymbionts of the genus Sodalis associated with spittlebugs and feather-chewing bird lice. Localization and vertical transmission of this endosymbiont are also more similar to those of bird lice than to those of other mammalian lice. The endosymbiont genome appears to be degrading in symbiosis; however, it is considerably larger than the genomes of other mammalian louse endosymbionts. These patterns suggest the possibility that this Sodalis endosymbiont might be recently acquired, replacing a now-extinct, ancient endosymbiont. From the same lice, we also identified an abundant bacterium belonging to the genus Rickettsia that is closely related to Rickettsia ricketsii, a human pathogen vectored by ticks. No obvious masses of the Rickettsia bacterium were observed in louse tissues, nor did we find any evidence of vertical transmission, so the nature of its association remains unclear.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Food Science
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology