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Environmental interactions with amoebae as drivers of bacterial-fungal endosymbiosis and pathogenicity

By Herbert Itabangi, Poppy C. S. Sephton-Clark, Xin Zhou, Georgina P Starling, Zamzam Mahamoud, Ignacio Insua, Mark Probert, Joao Correia, Patrick J. Moynihan, Teklegiorgis Gebremariam, Yiyou Gu, Ashraf S. Ibrahim, Gordon D Brown, Jason S. King, Elizabeth R. Ballou, Kerstin Voelz

Posted 21 Mar 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/584607

Opportunistic infections by environmental fungi are a growing clinical problem, driven by an increasing population of people with immunocompromising conditions. Spores of the Mucorales order are ubiquitious in the environment but can also cause acute invasive infections in humans through germination and evasion of the mammalian host immune system. How they achieve this, and the evolutionary drivers underlying the acquisition of virulence mechanisms, are poorly understood. Here we show that a clinical isolate of Rhizopus microsporus contains a Ralstonia pickettii bacterial endosymbiont required for virulence in both zebrafish and mice, and that this endosymbiosis enables secretion of factors that potently suppress growth of the soil amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum, as well as their ability to engulf and kill other microbes. As amoebae are natural environmental predators of both bacteria and fungi, we propose this tri-kingdom interaction contributes to establishing the endosymbiosis, and acquisition of anti-phagocyte activity. Importantly, we show this activity also protects fungal spores from phagocytosis and clearance by human macrophages, and endosymbiont removal renders the fungal spores avirulent in vivo. Together, these findings describe a novel role for a bacterial endosymbiont in Rhizopus microsporus pathogenesis in animals, and suggest a mechanism of virulence acquisition through environmental interactions with amoebae. In briefHow environmental fungi evolved the mechanisms that enable them to cause opportunistic infections in humans is unclear. Here, we identify a novel tri-kingdom interaction, whereby a bacterial endosymbiont, living within a clinical isolate of the ubiquitous environmental fungus Rhizopus microsporus, causes the generation of a secreted activity that blocks the growth and predatory activity of amoebae. We suggest this provides a new evolutionary driver for the establishment of bacterial/fungal endosymbiosis and demonstrate this is critical for fungal pathogenicity in vivo.

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