Genomic characterization of a fructophilic bee symbiont Lactobacillus kunkeei reveals its niche-specific adaptation

Shintaro Maeno, Yasuhiro Tanizawa, Yu Kanesaki, Eri Kubota, Himanshu Kumar, Leon Dicks, Seppo Salminen, Junichi Nakagawa, Masanori Arita, Akihito Endo

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47 Citations (Scopus)


Lactobacillus kunkeei is classified as a sole obligate fructophilic lactic acid bacterium that is found in fructose-rich niches, including the guts of honeybees. The species is differentiated from other lactobacilli based on its poor growth with glucose, enhanced growth in the presence of oxygen and other electron acceptors, and production of high concentrations of acetate from the metabolism of glucose. These characteristics are similar to phylogenetically distant Fructobacillus spp. In the present study, the genomic structure of L. kunkeei was characterized by using 16 different strains, and it had significantly less genes and smaller genomes when compared with other lactobacilli. Functional gene classification revealed that L. kunkeei had lost genes specifically involved in carbohydrate transport and metabolism. The species also lacked most of the genes for respiration, although growth was enhanced in the presence of oxygen. The adhE gene of L. kunkeei, encoding a bifunctional alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH)/aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) protein, lacked the part encoding the ADH domain, which is reported here for the first time in lactic acid bacteria. The deletion resulted in the lack of ADH activity, implying a requirement for electron acceptors in glucose assimilation. These results clearly indicated that L. kunkeei had undergone a specific reductive evolution in order to adapt to fructose-rich environments. The reduction characteristics were similar to those of Fructobacillus spp., but distinct from other lactobacilli with small genomes, such as Lactobacillus gasseri and Lactobacillus vaginalis. Fructose-richness thus induced an environment-specific gene reduction in phylogenetically distant microorganisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)516-526
Number of pages11
JournalSystematic and Applied Microbiology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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