Background: Genome reduction is a common evolutionary process affecting bacterial lineages that establish symbiotic or pathogenic associations with eukaryotic hosts. Such associations yield highly reduced genomes with greatly streamlined metabolic abilities shaped by the type of ecological association with the host. Sodalis glossinidius, the secondary endosymbiont of tsetse flies, represents one of the few complete genomes available of a bacterium at the initial stages of this process. In the present study, genome reduction is studied from a systems biology perspective through the reconstruction and functional analysis of genome-scale metabolic networks of S. glossinidius.
Results: The functional profile of ancestral and extant metabolic networks sheds light on the evolutionary events underlying transition to a host-dependent lifestyle. Meanwhile, reductive evolution simulations on the extant metabolic network can predict possible future evolution of S. glossinidius in the context of genome reduction. Finally, knockout simulations in different metabolic systems reveal a gradual decrease in network robustness to different mutational events for bacterial endosymbionts at different stages of the symbiotic association.
Conclusions: Stoichiometric analysis reveals few gene inactivation events whose effects on the functionality of S. glossinidius metabolic systems are drastic enough to account for the ecological transition from a free-living to host-dependent lifestyle. The decrease in network robustness across different metabolic systems may be associated with the progressive integration in the more stable environment provided by the insect host. Finally, reductive evolution simulations reveal the strong influence that external conditions exert on the evolvability of metabolic systems.