Transitional genomes and nutritional role reversals identified for dual symbionts of adelgids (Aphidoidea: Adelgidae)

ISME J. 2022 Mar;16(3):642-654. doi: 10.1038/s41396-021-01102-w. Epub 2021 Sep 10.


Many plant-sap-feeding insects have maintained a single, obligate, nutritional symbiont over the long history of their lineage. This senior symbiont may be joined by one or more junior symbionts that compensate for gaps in function incurred through genome-degradative forces. Adelgids are sap-sucking insects that feed solely on conifer trees and follow complex life cycles in which the diet fluctuates in nutrient levels. Adelgids are unusual in that both senior and junior symbionts appear to have been replaced repeatedly over their evolutionary history. Genomes can provide clues to understanding symbiont replacements, but only the dual symbionts of hemlock adelgids have been examined thus far. Here, we sequence and compare genomes of four additional dual-symbiont pairs in adelgids. We show that these symbionts are nutritional partners originating from diverse bacterial lineages and exhibiting wide variation in general genome characteristics. Although dual symbionts cooperate to produce nutrients, the balance of contributions varies widely across pairs, and total genome contents reflect a range of ages and degrees of degradation. Most symbionts appear to be in transitional states of genome reduction. Our findings support a hypothesis of periodic symbiont turnover driven by fluctuating selection for nutritional provisioning related to gains and losses of complex life cycles in their hosts.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Hemiptera* / microbiology
  • Insecta
  • Phylogeny
  • Symbiosis* / genetics