Genome Evolution and Niche Differentiation of Bacterial Endosymbionts

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Most animals contain chronic microbial infections that inflict no harm on their hosts. Recently, the gut microflora of humans and other animals have been characterized. However, little is known about the forces that shape the diversity of these bacterial communities. In this work, comparative genomics was used to investigate the evolutionary dynamics of host-adapted bacterial communities, using Wolbachia infecting arthropods and Lactobacteria infecting bees as the main model systems.Wolbachia are maternally inherited bacteria that cause reproductive disorders in arthropods, such as feminization, male killing and parthenogenesis. These bacteria are difficult to study because they cannot be cultivated outside their hosts. We have developed a novel protocol employing multiple displacement amplification to isolate and sequence their genomes. Taxonomically, Wolbachia is classified into different supergroups. We have sequenced the genomes of Wolbachia strain wHa and wNo that belong to supergroup A and B, respectively, and are present as a double-infection in the fruit-fly Drosophila simulans. Together with previously published genomes, a supergroup comparison of strains belonging to supergroups A and B indicated rampant homologous recombination between strains that belong to the same supergroup but were isolated from different hosts. In contrast, we observed little recombination between strains of different supergroups that infect the same host.Likewise, phylogenetically distinct members of Lactic acid bacteria co-exist in the gut of the honeybee, Apis mellifera, without transfer of genes between phylotypes. Nor did we find any evidence of co-diversification between symbionts and hosts, as inferred from a study of 13 genomes of Lactobacillus kunkeei isolated from diverse bee species and different geographic origins. Although Lactobacillus kunkeii is the most frequently isolated strain from the honey stomach, we hypothesize that the primary niche is the beebread where the bacteria are likely to contribute to the fermentation process.In the human gut, the microbial community has been shown to interact with the immune system, and likewise the microbial communities associated with insects are thought to affect the health of their host. Therefore, a better understanding of the role and evolution of endosymbiotic communities is important for developing strategies to control the health of their hosts.