Evolutionary origin of a streamlined marine bacterioplankton lineage

ISME J. 2015 Jun;9(6):1423-33. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2014.227. Epub 2014 Nov 28.


Planktonic bacterial lineages with streamlined genomes are prevalent in the ocean. The base composition of their DNA is often highly biased towards low G+C content, a possible source of systematic error in phylogenetic reconstruction. A total of 228 orthologous protein families were sampled that are shared among major lineages of Alphaproteobacteria, including the marine free-living SAR11 clade and the obligate endosymbiotic Rickettsiales. These two ecologically distinct lineages share genome sizes of <1.5 Mbp and genomic G+C content of <30%. Statistical analyses showed that only 28 protein families are composition-homogeneous, whereas the other 200 families significantly violate the composition-homogeneous assumption included in most phylogenetic methods. RAxML analysis based on the concatenation of 24 ribosomal proteins that fall into the heterogeneous protein category clustered the SAR11 and Rickettsiales lineages at the base of the Alphaproteobacteria tree, whereas that based on the concatenation of 28 homogeneous proteins (including 19 ribosomal proteins) disassociated the lineages and placed SAR11 at the base of the non-endosymbiotic lineages. When the two data sets were concatenated, only a model that accounted for compositional bias yielded a tree identical to the tree built with composition-homogeneous proteins. Ancestral genome analysis suggests that the first evolved SAR11 cell had a small genome streamlined from its ancestor by a factor of two and coinciding with an ecological transition, followed by further gradual streamlining towards the extant SAR11 populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alphaproteobacteria / genetics*
  • Base Composition
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Computational Biology
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Phylogeny
  • Plankton / genetics*
  • Ribosomal Proteins / chemistry*
  • Seawater / microbiology
  • Water Microbiology


  • Ribosomal Proteins