Lineage-Specific Patterns of Genome Deterioration in Obligate Symbionts of Sharpshooter Leafhoppers

Genome Biol Evol. 2015 Aug 10;8(1):296-301. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evv159.


Plant sap-feeding insects (Hemiptera) rely on obligate bacterial symbionts that provision nutrients. Some of these symbionts are ancient and have evolved tiny genomes, whereas others are younger and retain larger, dynamic genomes. Baumannia cicadellinicola, an obligate symbiont of sharpshooter leafhoppers, is derived from a relatively recent symbiont replacement. To better understand evolutionary decay of genomes, we compared Baumannia from three host species. A newly sequenced genome for Baumannia from the green sharpshooter (B-GSS) was compared with genomes of Baumannia from the blue-green sharpshooter (B-BGSS, 759 kilobases [kb]) and from the glassy-winged sharpshooter (B-GWSS, 680 kb). B-GSS has the smallest Baumannia genome sequenced to date (633 kb), with only three unique genes, all involved in membrane function. It has lost nearly all pathways involved in vitamin and cofactor synthesis, as well as amino acid biosynthetic pathways that are redundant with pathways of the host or the symbiotic partner, Sulcia muelleri. The entire biosynthetic pathway for methionine is eliminated, suggesting that methionine has become a dietary requirement for hosts. B-GSS and B-BGSS share 33 genes involved in bacterial functions (e.g., cell division, membrane synthesis, metabolite transport, etc.) that are lost from the more distantly related B-GWSS and most other tiny genome symbionts. Finally, pairwise divergence estimates indicate that B-GSS has experienced a lineage-specific increase in substitution rates. This increase correlates with accelerated protein-level changes and widespread gene loss. Thus, the mode and tempo of genome reduction vary widely among symbiont lineages and result in wide variation in metabolic capabilities across hosts.

Keywords: Baumannia cicadellinicola; DNA repair; GC content; methionine; selection; substitution rates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Coenzymes / genetics
  • Gammaproteobacteria / genetics*
  • Gammaproteobacteria / pathogenicity
  • Genome, Bacterial*
  • Genomic Instability
  • Hemiptera / microbiology
  • Host Specificity / genetics
  • Methionine / genetics
  • Symbiosis / genetics*
  • Vitamins / genetics


  • Coenzymes
  • Vitamins
  • Methionine