Editor's Summary

18 May 2006

Symbiosis can be infectious


The adult forms of Riftia pachyptila, the giant gutless tubeworm found near hydrothermal vents, would be lost without the symbiotic bacteria that provide them with nutrients. Yet the larvae of these worms are symbiont-free, and must be colonized anew each generation. It has been proposed that bacteria are acquired through ingestion, but a new study suggests a very different and unique colonization process. The bacteria reach their symbiotic niche through infection of, and migration through the skin, a process that is accompanied by massive apoptosis of host tissue. This remarkable interaction between species is of interest as a novel mechanism of symbiosis initiation that resembles pathogenic infection.

LetterHorizontal endosymbiont transmission in hydrothermal vent tubeworms

Andrea D. Nussbaumer, Charles R. Fisher & Monika Bright

doi:10.1038/nature04793