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A lasting symbiosis: how Vibrio fischeri finds a squid partner and persists within its natural host

Abstract

As our understanding of the human microbiome progresses, so does the need for natural experimental animal models that promote a mechanistic understanding of beneficial microorganism–host interactions. Years of research into the exclusive symbiosis between the Hawaiian bobtail squid, Euprymna scolopes, and the bioluminescent bacterium Vibrio fischeri have permitted a detailed understanding of those bacterial genes underlying signal exchange and rhythmic activities that result in a persistent, beneficial association, as well as glimpses into the evolution of symbiotic competence. Migrating from the ambient seawater to regions deep inside the light-emitting organ of the squid, V. fischeri experiences, recognizes and adjusts to the changing environmental conditions. Here, we review key advances over the past 15 years that are deepening our understanding of these events.

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Fig. 1: The juvenile Euprymna scolopes light organ.
Fig. 2: Regulatory pathways controlling the production of Syp-PS, leading to biofilm formation and colonization.
Fig. 3: Genetics and biochemistry of bioluminescence in Vibrio fischeri.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank M. McFall-Ngai and S. V. Nyholm for helpful comments about the manuscript. Work in the authors’ laboratories is supported by US National Institutes of Health grants R37 AI050661 (E.G.R.), R01 GM135254 (E.G.R.), R01 OD011024 (E.G.R.) and R35 GM130355 (K.L.V.) and by US National Science Foundation grant MCB-1716232 (E.V.S.).

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Glossary

Light organ

Symbiotic bioluminescence organ inside the squid Euprymna scolopes where Vibrio fischeri resides.

Chemoattractant

Nutrient or other molecule to which a bacterium migrates, typically using flagellum-driven motility.

Mantle cavity

The cavity inside Euprymna scolopes containing organs, including the light organ, loosely covered by a hood-like mantle and exposed to seawater.

Biofilm matrix

The collection of secreted polysaccharides, proteins and other substances produced by and surrounding a group of bacteria that functions to promote attachment and provide protection.

Oxidative redox

Chemical conditions that create an oxidative stress on bacteria.

Auxotrophs

Bacteria that lack the ability to synthesize one or more essential biomolecules.

Cellobiose

Disaccharide composed of glucose.

Siderophores

Iron-binding molecules secreted by and taken up by bacteria, thereby providing iron to the cell.

Extracellular polymeric substance

Polysaccharides, proteins and other substances produced and secreted by a bacterium, many of which facilitate cell–cell and/or cell-surface attachment, and that contribute to the biofilm matrix.

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Visick, K.L., Stabb, E.V. & Ruby, E.G. A lasting symbiosis: how Vibrio fischeri finds a squid partner and persists within its natural host. Nat Rev Microbiol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41579-021-00557-0

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