2008 Volume 23 Issue 1 Pages 81-88
Beard worms (Siboglinidae, Polychaeta), which lack a mouth and a digestive tract, harbor thioautotrophic or methanotrophic bacteria in special cells called bacteriocytes. These endosymbionts have been considered to be trapped at a specific larval stage from the environment. Although many species of beard worms have been discovered in various abyssal seas, Oligobrachia mashikoi inhabits Tsukumo Bay which is only 25 m deep. At least seven types of endosymbionts (endosymbiont A-G) have been distinguished in O. mashikoi. In this study, we investigated the distribution pattern of free-living cells related to the major endosymbiont (endosymbiont A) in Tsukumo Bay by quantitative PCR targeting the 16S rRNA gene. The endosymbiont A-related phylotype was detected in almost all sediment samples collected from 23 points in Tsukumo Bay, ranging in copy number of the 16S rRNA gene from 2.22×104 to 1.42×106 copies per gram of dry-sediment. Furthermore, the free-living cells made up less than 9% of the total eubacterial population, suggesting that the O. mashikoi larvae precisely select candidates for their endosymbiont from bacterial flora in the environment. This is the first report on the ecological characterization of a free-living bacterium related to the endosymbiont of the siboglinid polychaete, O. mashikoi.