Strategies of genomic integration within insect-bacterial mutualisms.
Insects, the most diverse group of macroorganisms with 900,000 known species, have been a rich playground for the evolution of symbiotic associations. Symbionts of this enormous animal group include a range of microbial partners. Insects are prone to establishing relationships with intracellular bacteria, which include the most intimate, highly integrated mutualisms known in the biological world. In recent years, an explosion of genomic studies has offered new insights into the molecular, functional, and evolutionary consequences of these insect-bacterial partnerships. In this review, I highlight some insights from genome sequences of bacterial endosymbionts and select insect hosts. Notably, comparisons between facultative and obligate bacterial mutualists have revealed distinct genome features representing different stages along a shared trajectory of genome reduction. Bacteria associated with the cedar aphid offer a snapshot of a transition from facultative to obligate mutualism, illustrating the genomic basis of this key step along the symbiotic spectrum. In addition, genomes of stable, dual bacterial symbionts reflect independent instances of astonishing metabolic integration. In these systems, synthesis of key nutrients, and perhaps basic cellular processes, require collaboration among co-residing bacteria and their insect host. These findings provide a launching point for a new era of genomic explorations of bacterial-animal symbioses. Future studies promise to reveal symbiotic strategies across a broad ecological and phylogenetic range, to clarify key transitions along a spectrum of interaction types, and to fuel new experimental approaches to dissect the mechanistic basis of intimate host-symbiont associations.
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