Estimates suggest that at least half of all extant insect genera harbor obligate bacterial mutualists. Whereas an endosymbiotic relationship imparts many benefits upon host and symbiont alike, the intracellular lifestyle has profound effects on the bacterial genome. The obligate endosymbiont genome is a product of opposing forces: genes important to host survival are maintained through physiological constraint, contrasted by the fixation of deleterious mutations and genome erosion through random genetic drift. The obligate cockroach endosymbiont, Blattabacterium – providing nutritional augmentation to its host in the form of amino acid synthesis – displays radical genome alterations when compared to its most recent free-living relative Flavobacterium. To date, eight Blattabacterium genomes have been published, affording an unparalleled opportunity to examine the direction and magnitude of selective forces acting upon this group of symbionts. Here, we find that the Blattabacterium genome is experiencing a 10-fold increase in selection rate compared to Flavobacteria. Additionally, the proportion of selection events is largely negative in direction, with only a handful of loci exhibiting signatures of positive selection. These findings suggest that the Blattabacterium genome will continue to erode, potentially resulting in an endosymbiont with an even further reduced genome, as seen in other insect groups such as Hemiptera.


This article was originally published in Nature, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/



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Alleman, A. L., Hertweck, K., & Kambhampati, S. (2018). Random Genetic Drift and Selective Pressures Shaping the Blattabacterium Genome. Scientific Reports, 8(1).

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