Many insects harbor inherited bacterial endosymbionts. Although some of them are not strictly essential and are considered facultative, they can be a key to host survival under specific environmental conditions, such as parasitoid attacks, climate changes, or insecticide pressures. The whitefly Bemisia tabaci is at the top of the list of organisms inflicting agricultural damage and outbreaks, and changes in its distribution may be associated to global warming. In this work, we have sequenced and analyzed the genome of Cardinium cBtQ1, a facultative bacterial endosymbiont of B. tabaci and propose that it belongs to a new taxonomic family, which also includes Candidatus Amoebophilus asiaticus and Cardinium cEper1, endosymbionts of amoeba and wasps, respectively. Reconstruction of their last common ancestors' gene contents revealed an initial massive gene loss from the free-living ancestor. This was followed in Cardinium by smaller losses, associated with settlement in arthropods. Some of these losses, affecting cofactor and amino acid biosynthetic encoding genes, took place in Cardinium cBtQ1 after its divergence from the Cardinium cEper1 lineage and were related to its settlement in the whitefly and its endosymbionts. Furthermore, the Cardinium cBtQ1 genome displays a large proportion of transposable elements, which have recently inactivated genes and produced chromosomal rearrangements. The genome also contains a chromosomal duplication and a multicopy plasmid, which harbors several genes putatively associated with gliding motility, as well as two other genes encoding proteins with potential insecticidal activity. As gene amplification is very rare in endosymbionts, an important function of these genes cannot be ruled out.
Keywords: Amoebophilaceae; Candidatus Cardinium hertigii; IS elements; gliding motility; host–symbiont interaction.