Tracing the evolution of gene loss in obligate bacterial symbionts.
The gamma-proteobacterial symbionts of insects are a model group for comparative studies of genome reduction. The phylogenetic proximity of these reduced genomes to the larger genomes of well-studied free-living bacteria has enabled reconstructions of the process by which genes and DNA are lost. Three genome sequences are now available for Buchnera aphidicola. Analyses of Buchnera genomes in comparison with those of related enteric bacteria suggest that extensive changes including large deletions, repetitive element proliferation and chromosomal rearrangements occurred initially, followed by extreme stasis in gene order and slow decay of additional genes. This pattern appears to be characteristic of symbiont evolution.