The broad-headed bug Riptortus clavatus (Heteroptera: Alydidae) possesses a number of crypts at a posterior midgut region, which house a dense population of a bacterial symbiont belonging to the genus Burkholderia. Although the symbiont is highly prevalent (95 to 100%) in the host populations, the symbiont phylogeny did not reflect the host systematics at all. In order to understand the mechanisms underlying the promiscuous host-symbiont relationship despite the specific and prevalent association, we investigated the transmission mode and the fitness effects of the Burkholderia symbiont in R. clavatus. Inspection of eggs and a series of rearing experiments revealed that the symbiont is not vertically transmitted but is environmentally acquired by nymphal insects. The Burkholderia symbiont was present in the soil of the insect habitat, and a culture strain of the symbiont was successfully isolated from the insect midgut Rearing experiments by using sterilized soybean bottles demonstrated that the cultured symbiont is able to establish a normal and efficient infection in the host insect, and the symbiont infection significantly improves the host fitness. These results indicated that R. clavatus postnatally acquires symbiont of a beneficial nature from the environment every generation, uncovering a previously unknown pathway through which a highly specific insect-microbe association is maintained. We suggest that the stinkbug-Burkholderia relationship may be regarded as an insect analogue of the well-known symbioses between plants and soil-associated microbes, such as legume-Rhizobium and alder-Frankia relationships, and we discuss the evolutionary relevance of the mutualistic but promiscuous insect-microbe association.
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