Symbiotic associations between animals and microbes are ubiquitous in nature, with an estimated 15% of all insect species harboring intracellular bacterial symbionts. Most bacterial symbionts share many genomic features including small genomes, nucleotide composition bias, high coding density, and a paucity of mobile DNA, consistent with long-term host association. In this study, we focus on the early stages of genome degeneration in a recently derived insect-bacterial mutualistic intracellular association. We present the complete genome sequence and annotation of Sitophilus oryzae primary endosymbiont (SOPE). We also present the finished genome sequence and annotation of strain HS, a close free-living relative of SOPE and other insect symbionts of the Sodalis-allied clade, whose gene inventory is expected to closely resemble the putative ancestor of this group. Structural, functional, and evolutionary analyses indicate that SOPE has undergone extensive adaptation toward an insect-associated lifestyle in a very short time period. The genome of SOPE is large in size when compared with many ancient bacterial symbionts; however, almost half of the protein-coding genes in SOPE are pseudogenes. There is also evidence for relaxed selection on the remaining intact protein-coding genes. Comparative analyses of the whole-genome sequence of strain HS and SOPE highlight numerous genomic rearrangements, duplications, and deletions facilitated by a recent expansion of insertions sequence elements, some of which appear to have catalyzed adaptive changes. Functional metabolic predictions suggest that SOPE has lost the ability to synthesize several essential amino acids and vitamins. Analyses of the bacterial cell envelope and genes encoding secretion systems suggest that these structures and elements have become simplified in the transition to a mutualistic association.
Keywords: IS elements; comparative genomics; degenerative genome evolution; pseudogenes; recent symbiont.