Loss of genetic redundancy in reductive genome evolution

PLoS Comput Biol. 2011 Feb;7(2):e1001082. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1001082. Epub 2011 Feb 17.


Biological systems evolved to be functionally robust in uncertain environments, but also highly adaptable. Such robustness is partly achieved by genetic redundancy, where the failure of a specific component through mutation or environmental challenge can be compensated by duplicate components capable of performing, to a limited extent, the same function. Highly variable environments require very robust systems. Conversely, predictable environments should not place a high selective value on robustness. Here we test this hypothesis by investigating the evolutionary dynamics of genetic redundancy in extremely reduced genomes, found mostly in intracellular parasites and endosymbionts. By combining data analysis with simulations of genome evolution we show that in the extensive gene loss suffered by reduced genomes there is a selective drive to keep the diversity of protein families while sacrificing paralogy. We show that this is not a by-product of the known drivers of genome reduction and that there is very limited convergence to a common core of families, indicating that the repertoire of protein families in reduced genomes is the result of historical contingency and niche-specific adaptations. We propose that our observations reflect a loss of genetic redundancy due to a decreased selection for robustness in a predictable environment.

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / physiology
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Bacterial*
  • Genomics / methods*
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Sequence Deletion
  • Symbiosis / genetics


  • Bacterial Proteins