Genome deterioration: loss of repeated sequences and accumulation of junk DNA.
A global survey of microbial genomes reveals a correlation between genome size, repeat content and lifestyle. Free-living bacteria have large genomes with a high content of repeated sequences and self-propagating DNA, such as transposons and bacteriophages. In contrast, obligate intracellular bacteria have small genomes with a low content of repeated sequences and no or few genetic parasites. In extreme cases, such as in the 650 kb-genomes of aphid endosymbionts of the genus Buchnera all repeated sequences above 200bp have been eliminated. We speculate that the initial downsizing of the genomes of obligate symbionts and parasites occurred by homologous recombination at repeated genes, leading to the loss of large blocks of DNA as well as to the consumption of repeated sequences. Further sequence elimination in these small genomes seems primarily to result from the accumulation of short deletions within genic sequences. This process may lead to temporary increases in the genomic content of pseudogenes and 'junk' DNA. We discuss causes and long-term consequences of extreme genome size reductions in obligate intracellular bacteria.