Wood ingestion by passalid beetles in the presence of xylose-fermenting gut yeasts

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During a survey of insect gut micro-organisms, we consistently isolated Pichia stipitis-like yeasts (Fungi: Ascomycota, Saccharomycetes) from the wood-ingesting beetles, Odontotaenius disjunctus and Verres sternbergianus (Coleoptera: Passalidae). The yeasts were isolated from passalid beetles over a wide area, including the eastern and midwestern USA and Panama. Phylogenetic analyses of the nuclear encoded small and large subunit rRNA gene (rDNA) sequences distinguished a well-supported clade consisting of the passalid yeasts and Pichia stipitis, P. segobiensis, Candida shehatae and C. ergatensis. Members of this clade have the ability to ferment and assimilate xylose or to hydrolyse xylan, major components of the polysaccharide, hemicellulose. Sexual reproduction was present in the passalid isolates but was rare among the gut yeasts of other beetles to which they were compared. Minor genetic and phenotypic variation among some of the passalid yeasts was detected using markers from the internal transcribed spacer region of the rDNA repeat unit, morphology, and in vitro metabolic tests. The consistent association of xylose-fermenting yeasts of almost identical genotypes with passalid beetles across a broad geographical distribution, suggests a significant symbiotic association.

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Molecular ecology

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