Vibrio fischeri–Squid Symbiosis


The marine bacterium, Vibrio (Aliivibrio) fischeri, and the Hawaiian bobtail squid, Euprymna scolopes, are partners in an exclusive and mutualistic symbiosis. Environmental bacteria acquired by newly hatched squid undergo a winnowing process in which both symbiont and squid actively ensure mono‐colonisation by V. fischeri of the squid's symbiotic light organ. This process can be divided into three major stages: initiation, colonisation and persistence. During initiation, the squid recruit bacteria to the light organ and restrict nonsymbionts, while the symbiont forms biofilm‐like aggregates on the organ surface and uses chemotaxis and motility to enter the organ. In colonisation, symbionts use host‐provided nutrients to grow and produce light, protecting the squid from predation. The symbiosis persists throughout the squid's lifetime and undergoes dynamic daily cycling. The relationship between V. fischeri and E. scolopes provides an important model for investigating microbe–host interactions in a specific and beneficial environmental symbiosis.

Key Concepts

  • The V. fischeri–squid symbiosis is mutually beneficial and exclusive.
  • Initiation of symbiosis requires active participation by both V. fischeri and the squid.
  • Squid‐produced nitric oxide controls colonisation processes.
  • Colonisation requires bacterial motility, biofilm formation and bioluminescence.
  • V. fischeri bioluminescence provides protection to the squid.
  • Without symbiotic bacteria, the squid's symbiotic light organ does not fully develop.
  • The symbiosis is dynamic and cycles each day.
  • This natural association provides a model system in which genetics can be used to interrogate host–microbe interactions.

Keywords: symbiosis; luminescence; marine ecology; biofilm; motility; diel rhythm; nitric oxide; Vibrio fischeri ; Aliivibrio fischeri ; Euprymna scolopes

Figure 1. Anatomy of the Hawaiian bobtail squid, Euprymna scolopes . (a) Photograph of an adult E. scolopes. (b) Cartoon of the central body (mantle) cavity of an immature juvenile E. scolopes depicting the symbiotic light organ and the water flow that is important for V. fischeri to colonise the squid (inspired by Nyholm et al., ). Ciliated epithelial appendages present on both halves of the organ help direct bacteria in the seawater towards sheltered zones located near the pores. Each of the six pores (P) leads to a separate duct (D), antechamber (A) and deep crypt region (C).
Figure 2. Initiation of the Vibrio –squid symbiosis. Cartoon of the earliest stages of symbiotic colonisation of one lobe of the light organ. (a) Planktonic V. fischeri (purple ovals) are swept toward the light organ by the ciliary action of the appendage surface. The bacteria form a symbiotic aggregate, or a biofilm, at the entry pores leading into the light organ. Although bacterial flagella (represented by wavy purple lines) are not required for aggregate formation, motility is required for colonisation. (b) The cells disperse from the aggregate to enter a pore, traverse through the corresponding duct and antechamber, and ultimately reach the deep crypt region. The six crypts may be colonised by distinct strains of V. fischeri. (c) In the crypts, the V. fischeri population grows until a quorum is reached that induces bioluminescence (translucent blue oval).
Figure 3. Vibrio– squid symbiosis overview. The initiation, colonisation and persistence phases compose a life‐long symbiosis between V. fischeri and E. scolopes that includes many dynamic processes. These stages are described in the text.


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Further Reading

Dunn AK (2012) Vibrio fischeri metabolism: symbiosis and beyond. In: Poole RK (ed.) Advances in Microbial Physiology, pp. 37–68. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Heath‐Heckman EA (2016) The metronome of symbiosis: interactions between microbes and the host circadian clock. Integrative and Comparative Biology 56 (5): 776–783.

McAnulty SJ and Nyholm SV (2016) The role of hemocytes in the Hawaiian bobtail squid. Frontiers in Microbiology 7: 2013.

McFall‐Ngai MJ (2014) The importance of microbes in animal development: lessons from the squid‐Vibrio symbiosis. Annual Review of Microbiology 68: 177–194.

McFall‐Ngai MJ (2015) Giving microbes their due – animal life in a microbially dominant world. Journal of Experimental Biology 218: 1968–1973.

Schwartzman JA and Ruby EG (2016) Stress as a normal cue in the symbiotic environment. Trends in Microbiology 24: 414–424.

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Tischler, Alice H, Hodge‐Hanson, Kelsey M, and Visick, Karen L(Mar 2019) Vibrio fischeri–Squid Symbiosis. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0028395]