The nephridia (excretory organs) of lumbricid earthworms generally harbor symbiotic bacteria. In the compost worms Eisenia fetida and E. andrei, these comprise Verminephrobacter, Ca. Nephrothrix and an Agromyces-like symbiont. While diversity, transmission, and function of the first two symbionts has been unraveled in recent years, little is known about the biology of the uncultured Agromyces-like symbiont or about its distribution within lumbricid earthworms.
In this study, we sequenced a cocoon metagenome of E. andrei and assembled a 96.3% complete genome of the Agromyces-like symbiont, which indicates a heterotrophic and potentially microaerophilic lifestyle. A 16S rRNA gene based survey showed that the Agromyces-like symbiont has a narrow host range (present in 10 out of 51 investigated lumbricid earthworm species) and is likely species-specific or at least specific for groups of closely related host species. The Agromyces-like symbionts form a monophyletic group and feature a reduced genome with AT-bias and very low genome-wide similarity to closely related Agromyces spp. (average amino acid identity of 64%); therefore, we suggest establishing a novel genus for the Agromyces-like symbionts of earthworms, for which we propose the name Candidatus Lumbricidophila, with the specific symbiont of Eisenia andrei as novel species Ca. L. eiseniae.