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Genome Biol Evol. 2016 Aug 3;8(7):2203-13. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evw161.

Genome Evolution in the Obligate but Environmentally Active Luminous Symbionts of Flashlight Fish.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan Department of Microbiology, Cornell University
Department of Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics, University of Michigan Medical School.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan Present address: Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, Miami, FL.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan.


The luminous bacterial symbionts of anomalopid flashlight fish are thought to be obligately dependent on their hosts for growth and share several aspects of genome evolution with unrelated obligate symbionts, including genome reduction. However, in contrast to most obligate bacteria, anomalopid symbionts have an active environmental phase that may be important for symbiont transmission. Here we investigated patterns of evolution between anomalopid symbionts compared with patterns in free-living relatives and unrelated obligate symbionts to determine if trends common to obligate symbionts are also found in anomalopid symbionts. Two symbionts, "Candidatus Photodesmus katoptron" and "Candidatus Photodesmus blepharus," have genomes that are highly similar in gene content and order, suggesting genome stasis similar to ancient obligate symbionts present in insect lineages. This genome stasis exists in spite of the symbiont's inferred ability to recombine, which is frequently lacking in obligate symbionts with stable genomes. Additionally, we used genome comparisons and tests of selection to infer which genes may be particularly important for the symbiont's ecology compared with relatives. In keeping with obligate dependence, substitution patterns suggest that most symbiont genes are experiencing relaxed purifying selection compared with relatives. However, genes involved in motility and carbon storage, which are likely to be used outside the host, appear to be under increased purifying selection. Two chemoreceptor chemotaxis genes are retained by both species and show high conservation with amino acid sensing genes, suggesting that the bacteria may actively seek out hosts using chemotaxis toward amino acids, which the symbionts are not able to synthesize.


Photodesmus; bioluminescent symbiosis; genome reduction; genome stability; symbiont transmission

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