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Mol Biol Evol. 2014 Apr;31(4):857-71. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msu004. Epub 2014 Jan 6.

Parallel histories of horizontal gene transfer facilitated extreme reduction of endosymbiont genomes in sap-feeding insects.

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Department of Biology, Colorado State University.


Bacteria confined to intracellular environments experience extensive genome reduction. In extreme cases, insect endosymbionts have evolved genomes that are so gene-poor that they blur the distinction between bacteria and endosymbiotically derived organelles such as mitochondria and plastids. To understand the host's role in this extreme gene loss, we analyzed gene content and expression in the nuclear genome of the psyllid Pachypsylla venusta, a sap-feeding insect that harbors an ancient endosymbiont (Carsonella) with one of the most reduced bacterial genomes ever identified. Carsonella retains many genes required for synthesis of essential amino acids that are scarce in plant sap, but most of these biosynthetic pathways have been disrupted by gene loss. Host genes that are upregulated in psyllid cells housing Carsonella appear to compensate for endosymbiont gene losses, resulting in highly integrated metabolic pathways that mirror those observed in other sap-feeding insects. The host contribution to these pathways is mediated by a combination of native eukaryotic genes and bacterial genes that were horizontally transferred from multiple donor lineages early in the evolution of psyllids, including one gene that appears to have been directly acquired from Carsonella. By comparing the psyllid genome to a recent analysis of mealybugs, we found that a remarkably similar set of functional pathways have been shaped by independent transfers of bacterial genes to the two hosts. These results show that horizontal gene transfer is an important and recurring mechanism driving coevolution between insects and their bacterial endosymbionts and highlight interesting similarities and contrasts with the evolutionary history of mitochondria and plastids.


Pachypsylla venusta; amino acid biosynthesis; endosymbionts; lateral gene transfer; psyllids

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