The tiniest tiny genomes

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2014;68:195-215. doi: 10.1146/annurev-micro-091213-112901. Epub 2014 Jun 2.


Starting in 2006, surprisingly tiny genomes have been discovered from numerous bacterial symbionts of insect hosts. Despite their size, each retains some genes that enable provisioning of limiting nutrients or other capabilities required by hosts. Genome sequence analyses show that genome reduction is an ongoing process, resulting in a continuum of sizes, with the smallest genome currently known at 112 kilobases. Genome reduction is typical in host-restricted symbionts and pathogens, but the tiniest genomes are restricted to symbionts required by hosts and restricted to specialized host cells, resulting from long coevolution with hosts. Genes are lost in all functional categories, but core genes for central informational processes, including genes encoding ribosomal proteins, are mostly retained, whereas genes underlying production of cell envelope components are especially depleted. Thus, these entities retain cell-like properties but are heavily dependent on coadaptation of hosts, which continuously evolve to support the symbionts upon which they depend.

Keywords: Buchnera; bacteriocyte; endosymbiont; genome reduction; symbiosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genome Size*
  • Genome, Bacterial*
  • Insecta / microbiology
  • Insecta / physiology
  • Phylogeny
  • Symbiosis