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Genome Biol. 2001;2(12):RESEARCH0054. Epub 2001 Nov 14.

The process of genome shrinkage in the obligate symbiont Buchnera aphidicola.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA.



Very small genomes have evolved repeatedly in eubacterial lineages that have adopted obligate associations with eukaryotic hosts. Complete genome sequences have revealed that small genomes retain very different gene sets, raising the question of how final genome content is determined. To examine the process of genome reduction, the tiny genome of the endosymbiont Buchnera aphidicola was compared to the larger ancestral genome, reconstructed on the basis of the phylogenetic distribution of gene orthologs among fully sequenced relatives of Escherichia coli and Buchnera.


The reconstructed ancestral genome contained 2,425 open reading frames (ORFs). The Buchnera genome, containing 564 ORFs, consists of 153 fragments of 1-34 genes that are syntenic with reconstructed ancestral regions. On the basis of this reconstruction, 503 genes were eliminated within syntenic fragments, and 1,403 genes were lost from the gaps between syntenic fragments, probably in connection with genome rearrangements. Lost regions are sometimes large, and often span functionally unrelated genes. In addition, individual genes and regulatory regions have been lost or eroded. For the categories of DNA repair genes and rRNA genes, most lost loci fall in regions between syntenic fragments. This history of gene loss is reflected in the sequences of intergenic spacers at positions where genes were once present.


The most plausible interpretation of this reconstruction is that Buchnera lost many genes through the fixation of large deletions soon after the acquisition of an obligate endosymbiotic lifestyle. An implication is that final genome composition may be partly the chance outcome of initial deletions and that neighboring genes influence the likelihood of loss of particular genes and pathways.

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