An ancient but promiscuous host-symbiont association between Burkholderia gut symbionts and their heteropteran hosts

Yoshitomo Kikuchi, Takahiro Hosokawa, Takema Fukatsu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

192 Citations (Scopus)


Here, we investigated 124 stinkbug species representing 20 families and 5 superfamilies for their Burkholderia gut symbionts, of which 39 species representing 6 families of the superfamilies Lygaeoidea and Coreoidea were Burkholderia-positive. Diagnostic PCR surveys revealed high frequencies of Burkholderia infection in natural populations of the stinkbugs, and substantial absence of vertical transmission of Burkholderia infection to their eggs. In situ hybridization confirmed localization of the Burkholderia in their midgut crypts. In the lygaeoid and coreoid stinkbugs, development of midgut crypts in their alimentary tract was coincident with the Burkholderia infection, suggesting that the specialized morphological configuration is pivotal for establishment and maintenance of the symbiotic association. The Burkholderia symbionts were easily isolated as pure culture on standard microbiological media, indicating the ability of the gut symbionts to survive outside the host insects. Molecular phylogenetic analysis showed that the gut symbionts of the lygaeoid and coreoid stinkbugs belong to a β-proteobacterial clade together with Burkholderia isolates from soil environments and Burkholderia species that induce plant galls. On the phylogeny, the stinkbug-associated, environmental and gall-forming Burkholderia strains did not form coherent groups, indicating host-symbiont promiscuity among these stinkbugs. Symbiont culturing revealed that slightly different Burkholderia genotypes often coexist in the same insects, which is also suggestive of host-symbiont promiscuity. All these results strongly suggest an ancient but promiscuous host-symbiont relationship between the lygaeoid/coreoid stinkbugs and the Burkholderia gut symbionts. Possible mechanisms as to how the environmentally transmitted promiscuous symbiotic association has been stably maintained in the evolutionary course are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)446-460
Number of pages15
JournalISME Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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