Metatranscriptomic analysis of sulfur oxidation genes in the endosymbiont of Solemya velum

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Stewart, Frank J.
Dmytrenko, Oleg
DeLong, Edward F.
Cavanaugh, Colleen M.
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Thioautotrophic endosymbionts in the Domain Bacteria mediate key sulfur transformations in marine reducing environments. However, the molecular pathways underlying symbiont metabolism and the extent to which these pathways are expressed in situ are poorly characterized for almost all symbioses. This is largely due to the difficulty of culturing symbionts apart from their hosts. Here, we use pyrosequencing of community RNA transcripts (i.e., the metatranscriptome) to characterize enzymes of dissimilatory sulfur metabolism in the model symbiosis between the coastal bivalve Solemya velum and its intracellular thioautotrophic symbionts. High-throughput sequencing of total RNA from the symbiont-containing gill of a single host individual generated 1.6 million sequence reads (500 Mbp). Of these, 43,735 matched Bacteria protein-coding genes in BLASTX searches of the NCBI database. The taxonomic identities of the matched genes indicated relatedness to diverse species of sulfur-oxidizing Gammaproteobacteria, including other thioautotrophic symbionts and the purple sulfur bacterium Allochromatium vinosum. Manual querying of these data identified 28 genes from diverse pathways of sulfur energy metabolism, including the dissimilatory sulfite reductase (Dsr) pathway for sulfur oxidation to sulfite, the APS pathway for sulfite oxidation, and the Sox pathway for thiosulfate oxidation. In total, reads matching sulfur energy metabolism genes represented 7% of the Bacteria mRNA pool. Together, these data highlight the dominance of thioautotrophy in the context of symbiont community metabolism, identify the likely pathways mediating sulfur oxidation, and illustrate the utility of metatranscriptome sequencing for characterizing community gene transcription of uncultured symbionts.
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