Increased Mutation Rate Is Linked to Genome Reduction in Prokaryotes

Curr Biol. 2020 Oct 5;30(19):3848-3855.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.07.034. Epub 2020 Aug 6.


The evolutionary processes that drive variation in genome size across the tree of life remain unresolved. Effective population size (Ne) is thought to play an important role in shaping genome size [1-3]-a key example being the reduced genomes of insect endosymbionts, which undergo population bottlenecks during transmission [4]. However, the existence of reduced genomes in marine and terrestrial prokaryote species with large Ne indicate that genome reduction is influenced by multiple processes [3]. One candidate process is enhanced mutation rate, which can increase adaptive capacity but can also promote gene loss. To investigate evolutionary forces associated with prokaryotic genome reduction, we performed molecular evolutionary and phylogenomic analyses of nine lineages from five bacterial and archaeal phyla. We found that gene-loss rate strongly correlated with synonymous substitution rate (a proxy for mutation rate) in seven of the nine lineages. However, gene-loss rate showed weak or no correlation with the ratio of nonsynonymous/synonymous substitution rate (dN/dS). These results indicate that genome reduction is largely associated with increased mutation rate, while the association between gene loss and changes in Ne is less well defined. Lineages with relatively high dS and dN, as well as smaller genomes, lacked multiple DNA repair genes, providing a proximate cause for increased mutation rates. Our findings suggest that similar mechanisms drive genome reduction in both intracellular and free-living prokaryotes, with implications for developing a comprehensive theory of prokaryote genome size evolution.

Keywords: DNA repair; Muller’s Ratchet; endosymbionts; gene loss; genetic drift; genome evolution; genome size; mutation rate; phylogenetic tree.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Archaea / genetics*
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Drift
  • Genetic Variation / genetics
  • Genome / genetics
  • Genome, Bacterial / genetics
  • Genomic Instability / genetics*
  • Mutation
  • Mutation Rate
  • Phylogeny
  • Population Density
  • Prokaryotic Cells / metabolism
  • Selection, Genetic / genetics