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Correlated SEM, FIB-SEM, TEM, and NanoSIMS Imaging of Microbes from the Hindgut of a Lower Termite: Methods for In Situ Functional and Ecological Studies of Uncultivable Microbes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 October 2013

Kevin J. Carpenter*
Physical and Life Sciences Directorate, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, P.O. Box 808, L-231, Livermore, CA 94551, USA
Peter K. Weber*
Physical and Life Sciences Directorate, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, P.O. Box 808, L-231, Livermore, CA 94551, USA
M. Lee Davisson
Physical and Life Sciences Directorate, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, P.O. Box 808, L-231, Livermore, CA 94551, USA
Jennifer Pett-Ridge
Physical and Life Sciences Directorate, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, P.O. Box 808, L-231, Livermore, CA 94551, USA
Michael I. Haverty
Division of Organisms and the Environment, Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California at Berkeley, 1301 South 46th Street, Building 478, Richmond, CA 94804-4698, USA
Patrick J. Keeling
Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Department of Botany, University of British Columbia, 3529-6270 University Boulevard, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada
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The hindguts of lower termites harbor highly diverse, endemic communities of symbiotic protists, bacteria, and archaea essential to the termite's ability to digest wood. Despite over a century of experimental studies, ecological roles of many of these microbes are unknown, partly because almost none can be cultivated. Many of the protists associate with bacterial symbionts, but hypotheses for their respective roles in nutrient exchange are based on genomes of only two such bacteria. To show how the ecological roles of protists and nutrient transfer with symbiotic bacteria can be elucidated by direct imaging, we combined stable isotope labeling (13C-cellulose) of live termites with analysis of fixed hindgut microbes using correlated scanning electron microscopy, focused ion beam-scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM), transmission electron microscopy, and high resolution imaging mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS). We developed methods to prepare whole labeled cells on solid substrates, whole labeled cells milled with a FIB-SEM instrument to reveal cell interiors, and ultramicrotome sections of labeled cells for NanoSIMS imaging of 13C enrichment in protists and associated bacteria. Our results show these methods have the potential to provide direct evidence for nutrient flow and suggest the oxymonad protist Oxymonas dimorpha phagocytoses and enzymatically degrades ingested wood fragments, and may transfer carbon derived from this to its surface bacterial symbionts.

Biomedical and Biological Applications
Copyright © Microscopy Society of America 2013 

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Current address: Life Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 1 Cyclotron Road, Mail Stop Donner, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA


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