A bacterial endosymbiont of the fungus Rhizopus microsporus drives phagocyte evasion and opportunistic virulence

Herbert Itabangi, Poppy C S Sephton-Clark, Diana P Tamayo, Xin Zhou, Georgina P Starling, Zamzam Mahamoud, Ignacio Insua, Mark Probert, Joao Correia, Patrick J Moynihan, Teclegiorgis Gebremariam, Yiyou Gu, Ashraf S Ibrahim, Gordon D Brown, Jason S King, Elizabeth R Ballou, Kerstin Voelz

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Opportunistic infections by environmental fungi are a growing clinical problem, driven by an increasing population of people with immunocompromising conditions. Spores of the Mucorales order are ubiquitous in the environment but can also cause acute invasive infections in humans through germination and evasion of the mammalian host immune system. How they achieve this and the evolutionary drivers underlying the acquisition of virulence mechanisms are poorly understood. Here, we show that a clinical isolate of Rhizopus microsporus contains a Ralstonia pickettii bacterial endosymbiont required for virulence in both zebrafish and mice and that this endosymbiosis enables the secretion of factors that potently suppress growth of the soil amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum, as well as their ability to engulf and kill other microbes. As amoebas are natural environmental predators of both bacteria and fungi, we propose that this tri-kingdom interaction contributes to establishing endosymbiosis and the acquisition of anti-phagocyte activity. Importantly, we show that this activity also protects fungal spores from phagocytosis and clearance by human macrophages, and endosymbiont removal renders the fungal spores avirulent in vivo. Together, these findings describe a new role for a bacterial endosymbiont in Rhizopus microsporus pathogenesis in animals and suggest a mechanism of virulence acquisition through environmental interactions with amoebas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1115-1130.e6
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number5
Early online date7 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2022 The Author(s)


  • Amoeba
  • Animals
  • Bacteria
  • Dictyostelium
  • Fungi
  • Humans
  • Mammals
  • Mice
  • Phagocytes
  • Rhizopus
  • Virulence
  • Zebrafish


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