Genome analyses of a placozoan rickettsial endosymbiont show a combination of mutualistic and parasitic traits
Symbiotic relationships between eukaryotic hosts and bacteria range from parasitism to mutualism and may deeply influence both partners' fitness. The presence of intracellular bacteria in the metazoan phylum Placozoa has been reported several times, but without any knowledge about the nature of this relationship and possible implications for the placozoan holobiont. This information may be of crucial significance since little is known about placozoan ecology and how different species adapt to different environmental conditions, despite being almost invariable at the morphological level. We here report on the novel genome of the rickettsial endosymbiont of Trichoplax sp. H2 (strain "Panama"). The combination of eliminated and retained metabolic pathways of the bacterium indicates a potential for a mutualistic as well as for a parasitic relationship, whose outcome could depend on the environmental context. In particular we show that the endosymbiont is dependent on the host for growth and reproduction and that the latter could benefit from a supply with essential amino acids and important cofactors. These findings call for further studies to clarify the actual benefit for the placozoan host and to investigate a possible role of the endosymbiont for ecological separation between placozoan species.