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Mol Biol Evol. 1999 Nov;16(11):1586-98.

Sequence evolution in bacterial endosymbionts having extreme base compositions.

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Microbiology Section, University of California, Davis, USA.


A major limitation on ability to reconstruct bacterial evolution is the lack of dated ancestors that might be used to evaluate and calibrate molecular clocks. Vertically transmitted symbionts that have cospeciated with animal hosts offer a firm basis for calibrating sequence evolution in bacteria, since fossils of the hosts can be used to date divergence events. Sequences for a functionally diverse set of genes have been obtained for bacterial endosymbionts (Buchnera) from two pairs of aphid host species, each pair diverging 50-70 MYA. Using these dates and estimated numbers of Buchnera generations per year, we calculated rates of base substitution for neutral and selected sites of protein-coding genes and overall rates for rRNA genes. Buchnera shows homogeneity among loci with regard to synonymous rate. The Buchnera synonymous rate is about twice that for low-codon-bias genes of Escherichia coli-Salmonella typhimurium on an absolute timescale, and fourfold higher on a generational timescale. Nonsynonymous substitutions show a greater rate disparity in favor of Buchnera, a result consistent with a genomewide decrease in selection efficiency in Buchnera. Ratios of synonymous to nonsynonymous substitutions differ for the two pairs of Buchnera, indicating that selection efficiency varies among lineages. Like numerous other intracellular bacteria, such as Rickettsia and Wolbachia, Buchnera has accumulated amino acids with codons rich in A or T. Phylogenetic reconstruction of amino acid replacements indicates that replacements yielding increased A + T predominated early in the evolution of Buchnera, with the trend slowing or stopping during the last 50 Myr. This suggests that base composition in Buchnera has approached a limit enforced by selective constraint acting on protein function.

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