Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Vestimentiferan tubeworms thriving in sulfidic deep-sea hydrothermal vents and cold seeps are constrained by their nutritional reliance on chemoautotrophic endosymbionts. In a recent phylogenetic study using 16S ribosomal DNA, we found that endosymbionts from vent and seep habitats form two distinct clades,vith little variation within each clade. In the present study, we used two different approaches to assess the genetic variation among biogeographically distinct vestimentiferan symbionts, DNA sequences were obtained for the noncoding, internal transcribed spacer (ITS) regions of the rRNA operons of symbionts associated with six different genera of vestimentiferan tubeworms. ITS sequences from endosymbionts of host genera collected from different habitats and widely distributed vent sites were surprisingly conserved. Because the ITS region was not sufficient for distinguishing endosymbionts from different habitats or locations, we used a DNA fingerprinting technique, repetitive extragenic-palindrome PCR (REP-PCR), to reveal differences in the distribution of repetitive sequences in the genomes of the bacterial endosymbionts. Most of the endosymbionts displayed unique REP-PCR patterns. A cladogram generated from these fingerprints reflected relationships that may be influenced by a variety of factors, including host genera, geographic location, and bottom type.