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Comp Funct Genomics. 2001;2(1):44-8. doi: 10.1002/cfg.70.

Featured organism: reductive evolution in bacteria: Buchnera sp., Rickettsia prowazekii and Mycobacterium leprae.

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Bioinformatics Division, HGMP-RC Hinxton, Cambridge CB10 1SA, UK.


Obligate intracellular bacteria commonly have much reduced genome sizes compared to their nearest free-living relatives. One reason for this is reductive evolution: the loss of genes rendered non-essential due to the intracellular habitat. This can occur because of the presence of orthologous genes in the host, combined with the ability of the bacteria to import the protein or metabolite products of the host genes. In this article we take a look at three such bacteria whose genomes have been fully sequenced. Buchnera is an endosymbiont of the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum, the relationship between these two organisms being so essential that neither can reproduce in the absence of the other. Rickettsia prowazekii is the causative agent of louse-borne typhus in humans and Mycobacterium leprae infection of humans leads to leprosy. Both of these human pathogens have fastidious growth requirements, which has made them very difficult to study.

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