Symbiotic Interactions between Spirochetes and Flagellates

One of the first detected symbioses between flagellates (Pseudodevescovina uniflagellata) and spirochetes was described by Kirby (1936). Pseudode-vescovina uniflagellata lives in the gut of the Australian dry wood termite

Table 5.2. Intestinal protozoa flora of Mastotermes darwiniensis. (cf. König et al. 2002)


1. Hypermastigotes 100-500 (Deltotrichonympha nana, Deltotrichonympha operculata,

Koruga bonita)

2. Trichomonads

Mixotricha paradoxa 300-500

Metadevescovina extranea 15-20

Pentatrichomonoides scroa 25

Titer (ml-1) 104-105


Neotermes insularis. Only three years earlier Sutherland (1933) published an article about Mixotricha paradoxa where the attached spirochetes were misconceived as cilia. A detailed description of the fine structure of Mixotri-cha paradoxa and the role of the ectosymbiotic bacteria in cell locomotion was provided by Cleveland and Grimstone (1964). Over the years, more and more examples of surface symbiosis between protists and prokaryotes from the termite gut appeared (Bloodgood and Fitzharris 1976; Smith et al. 1975; To et al. 1980; Dyer and Khalsa 1993), but examples of motility symbiosis in the termite gut could be rarely detected (Tamm 1982). Locomotory mechanisms of two larger flagellates from Mastotermes darwiniensis have been studied (Cleveland and Cleveland 1966; Tamm 1999).

Ectosymbiotic bacteria of flagellates can easily be detected by electron microscopy (Radek et al. 1992, 1996 ; Radek and Tischendorf 1999; Dyer and Khalsa 1993) or after staining the cells with ethidium bromide (Fröhlich and König 1999a). Ectosymbiotic spirochetes have been identified on the surface of flagellates (Iida et al. 2000; Noda et al. 2003; Wenzel et al. 2003). Mixotricha paradoxa, a large trichomonad from the hindgut of the Australian termite

Mastotermes darwiniensis Froggatt, is a rare example of a movement symbiosis between eukaryotic and prokaryotic microorganisms (Wenzel et al. 2003).

Cleveland and Grimstone (1964) found two spirochete morphotypes on the surface of Mixotricha paradoxa, a small one, which covered the surface of the flagellate as a dense carpet and a longer spirochete, which only appeared sporadically. This longer spirochete could also be seen on the anterior part of the cell (Fig. 5.3). It is only loosely bound to the spirochete carpet. Cleveland and Grimstone (1964) described the regular arrangement of the spirochetes and a rod-shaped bacterium attached to the so-called brackets on the cell surface. These brackets seem to be significant for the locomotory function of the spirochetes. They form a regularly posteriorly oriented attachment site for the spirochetes, which allows the spirochetes to propel the flagellate cells forward. The rod-shaped bacteria, which are attached to the anterior site of the brackets, have no part in the locomotion of Mixotricha paradoxa (Cleveland and Grimstone 1964; König and Breunig 1997).

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