Contribution of Maternal and Paternal Transmission to Bacterial Colonization in Nematostella vectensis

Laura Baldassarre, Shani Levy, Rinat Bar-Shalom, Laura Steindler, Tamar Lotan, Sebastian Fraune

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Microbial communities confer multiple beneficial effects to their multicellular hosts. To evaluate the evolutionary and ecological implications of the animal-microbe interactions, it is essential to understand how bacterial colonization is secured and maintained during the transition from one generation to the next. However, the mechanisms of symbiont transmission are poorly studied for many species, especially in marine environments, where the surrounding water constitutes an additional source of microbes. Nematostella vectensis, an estuarine cnidarian, has recently emerged as model organism for studies on host-microbes interactions. Here, we use this model organism to study the transmission of bacterial colonizers, evaluating the contribution of parental and environmental transmission to the establishment of bacterial communities of the offspring. We induced spawning in adult male and female polyps of N. vectensis and used their gametes for five individual fertilization experiments. While embryos developed into primary polyps, we sampled each developmental stage and its corresponding medium samples. By analyzing the microbial community compositions of all samples through 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing, we showed that all host tissues harbor microbiota significantly different from the surrounding medium. Interestingly, oocytes and sperms are associated with distinct bacterial communities, indicating the specific vertical transmission of bacterial colonizers by the gametes. These differences were consistent among all the five families analyzed. By overlapping the identified bacterial ASVs associated with gametes, offspring and parents, we identified specific bacterial ASVs that are well supported candidates for vertical transmission via mothers and fathers. This is the first study investigating bacteria transmission in N. vectensis, and among few on marine spawners that do not brood larvae. Our results shed light on the consistent yet distinct maternal and paternal transfer of bacterial symbionts along the different life stages and generations of an aquatic invertebrate.

Original languageEnglish
Article number726795
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
StatePublished - 11 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2021 Baldassarre, Levy, Bar-Shalom, Steindler, Lotan and Fraune.


  • anthozoa
  • cnidaria
  • horizontal transmission
  • marine symbioses
  • vertical transmission

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Microbiology


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