Subcuticular Bacteria Associated With Two Common New Zealand Echinoderms: Characterization Using 16S rRNA Sequence Analysis and Fluorescence in situ Hybridization Academic Article uri icon


  • Many echinoderms contain subcuticular bacteria (SCB), symbionts which reside in the lumen between the host's epidermal cells and outer cuticle. This relationship is common, existing in about 60% of echinoderms studied so far, yet the function of SCB remains largely unknown. In this study, phylogenetic analysis was carried out on 16S rRNA sequences obtained from echinoderm-associated bacteria, resulting in the identification of four species of putative SCB. All four bacteria were identified from the holothurian Stichopus mollis, and two of the four were also found in the asteroid Patiriella sp. Two of these bacteria belong to the Alphaproteobacteria, and two to the Gammaproteobacteria. In addition to phylogenetic analysis, fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) assays were carried out on Patiriella sp., S. mollis, and the asteroid Astrostole scabra. Results showed that Patiriella sp. and S. mollis contain SCB, in agreement with the phylogenetic analysis, while SCB were not detected in A. scabra. Of the bacteria detected using FISH, more than 80% were recognized as belonging to the Alphaproteobacteria in both host species. However, in S. mollis about 20% of the detected SCB successfully hybridized with the Gammaproteobacteria-specific probe, whereas bacteria belonging to this class were never observed in Patiriella sp. This is only the second study to characterize SCB by molecular means, and is the first to identify SCB in situ using FISH.

publication date

  • February 2010