Assessment of genetically engineered Trabulsiella odontotermitis as a 'Trojan Horse' for paratransgenesis in termites

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BACKGROUND: The Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus is an invasive urban pest in the Southeastern USA. Paratransgenesis using a microbe expressed lytic peptide that targets the termite gut protozoa is currently being developed for the control of Formosan subterranean termites. In this study, we evaluated Trabulsiella odontotermitis, a termite-specific bacterium, for its potential to serve as a 'Trojan Horse' for expression of gene products in termite colonies. RESULTS: We engineered two strains of T. odontotermitis, one transformed with a constitutively expressed GFP plasmid and the other engineered at the chromosome with a Kanamycin resistant gene using a non- disruptive Tn7 transposon. Both strains were fed to termites from three different colonies. Fluorescent microscopy confirmed that T. odontotermitis expressed GFP in the gut and formed a biofilm in the termite hindgut. However, GFP producing bacteria could not be isolated from the termite gut after 2 weeks. The feeding experiment with the chromosomally engineered strain demonstrated that T. odontotermitis was maintained in the termite gut for at least 21 days, irrespective of the termite colony. The bacteria persisted in two termite colonies for at least 36 days post feeding. The experiment also confirmed the horizontal transfer of T. odontotermitis amongst nest mates. CONCLUSION: Overall, we conclude that T. odontotermitis can serve as a 'Trojan Horse' for spreading gene products in termite colonies. This study provided proof of concept and laid the foundation for the future development of genetically engineered termite gut bacteria for paratransgenesis based termite control.

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BMC microbiology

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