A genomic investigation of ecological differentiation between free-living and Drosophila-associated bacteria

Mol Ecol. 2017 Sep;26(17):4536-4550. doi: 10.1111/mec.14232. Epub 2017 Jul 24.


Various bacterial taxa have been identified both in association with animals and in the external environment, but the extent to which related bacteria from the two habitat types are ecologically and evolutionarily distinct is largely unknown. This study investigated the scale and pattern of genetic differentiation between bacteria of the family Acetobacteraceae isolated from the guts of Drosophila fruit flies, plant material and industrial fermentations. Genome-scale analysis of the phylogenetic relationships and predicted functions was conducted on 44 Acetobacteraceae isolates, including newly sequenced genomes from 18 isolates from wild and laboratory Drosophila. Isolates from the external environment and Drosophila could not be assigned to distinct phylogenetic groups, nor are their genomes enriched for any different sets of genes or category of predicted gene functions. In contrast, analysis of bacteria from laboratory Drosophila showed they were genetically distinct in their universal capacity to degrade uric acid (a major nitrogenous waste product of Drosophila) and absence of flagellar motility, while these traits vary among wild Drosophila isolates. Analysis of the competitive fitness of Acetobacter discordant for these traits revealed a significant fitness deficit for bacteria that cannot degrade uric acid in culture with Drosophila. We propose that, for wild populations, frequent cycling of Acetobacter between Drosophila and the external environment prevents genetic differentiation by maintaining selection for traits adaptive in both the gut and external habitats. However, laboratory isolates bear the signs of adaptation to persistent association with the Drosophila host under tightly defined environmental conditions.

Keywords: Acetobacter; Drosophila; gut microbiota; symbiosis; uric acid.

MeSH terms

  • Acetobacteraceae / genetics*
  • Adaptation, Biological / genetics
  • Animals
  • Drosophila / microbiology*
  • Ecology
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Genome, Bacterial*
  • Phylogeny