Uncultured Euryarchaeota in lower termite guts

The gut wall was the only site where methanogens could be found in R.flavipes (Brune, 1998; Leadbetter and Breznak, 1996), although this was not true in other lower termites (Table 3.1). Using epifluorescence microscopy, Lee et al. (1987) showed that several gut protists from Zootermopsis angusticollis have exo- and endosymbiotic methanogens that were morphologically similar to Methanobrevibacter. Further to this, Messer and Lee (1989) demonstrated that the protozoan Trichonympha produced most of the hydrogen in the termite's gut, and methanogenic symbionts in Tricho-mitopsis produced most of the methane in Z. angusticollis guts. Interestingly, Z. angusticollis appears to produce far more methane than any other wood-feeding termites (Brauman et al., 1992), which may be related to the number of protists that have associated methanogens in their guts which are therefore close to a hydrogen source. Tokura et al. (2000) reported that, in R. speratus and Hodotermopsis sjoestedti, 4-42% of the gut protists had methanogens associated with them. Shinzato et al. (1999) cloned a 16S rRNA gene sequence related to Methanocorpusculum parvum from the hindgut of R. speratus. This is the only report of this genus in termite guts and as M. parvum has been detected in anaerobic ciliates (Embley et al., 1992; Finlay et al., 1993), it may also be associated with a protozoa. Thus, it appears that methanogens in lower termites are associated either with the gut epithelium or with protists within the gut. However, it is still unclear what role methanogens play in lower termite nutrition and digestion or how much of the methane derived from lower termites is generated by the protist-associated or the gut wall-associated methanogens.

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