A dynamic epibiont community associated with the bone-eating polychaete genus Osedax
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A dynamic epibiont community associated with the bone-eating polychaete genus Osedax

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    Osedax, the deep-sea annelid found at sunken whalefalls, is known to host Oceanospirillales bacterial endosymbionts intracellularly in specialized roots, which help it feed exclusively on vertebrate bones. Past studies, however, have also made mention of external bacteria on their trunks. During a 14-yr study, we reveal a dynamic, yet persistent, shift of Campylobacterales integrated into the epidermis of Osedax , which change over time as the whale carcass degrades on the sea floor. The Campylobacterales associated with seven species of Osedax , which comprise 67% of the bacterial community on the trunk, appear initially dominated by the genus Arcobacter (at early time points <24 mo), the Sulfurospirillum at intermediate stages (~50 mo), and the Sulfurimonas at later stages (>140 mo) of whale carcass decomposition. Metagenome analysis of the epibiont metabolic capabilities suggests potential for a transition from heterotrophy to autotrophy and differences in their capacity to metabolize oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur. Compared to free-living relatives, the Osedax epibiont genomes were enriched in transposable elements, implicating genetic exchange on the host surface, and contained numerous secretions systems with eukaryotic-like protein (ELP) domains, suggesting a long evolutionary history with these enigmatic, yet widely distributed deep-sea worms. IMPORTANCE Symbiotic associations are widespread in nature and we can expect to find them in every type of ecological niche. In the last twenty years, the myriad of functions, interactions and species comprising microbe-host associations has fueled a surge of interest and appreciation for symbiosis. During this 14-year study, we reveal a dynamic population of bacterial epibionts, integrated into the epidermis of 7 species of a deep-sea worm group that feeds exclusively on the remains of marine mammals. The bacterial genomes provide clues of a long evolutionary history with these enigmatic worms. On the host surface, they exchange genes and appear to undergo ecological succession, as the whale carcass habitat degrades over time, similar to what is observed for some free-living communities. These, and other annelid worms are important keystone species for diverse deep-sea environments, yet the role of attached external bacteria in supporting host health has received relatively little attention.
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    mBio (2023)
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    CC BY
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