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      Repeated, Selection-Driven Genome Reduction of Accessory Genes in Experimental Populations

      1 , 1 , 2 , *

      PLoS Genetics

      Public Library of Science

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          Genome reduction has been observed in many bacterial lineages that have adapted to specialized environments. The extreme genome degradation seen for obligate pathogens and symbionts appears to be dominated by genetic drift. In contrast, for free-living organisms with reduced genomes, the dominant force is proposed to be direct selection for smaller, streamlined genomes. Most variation in gene content for these free-living species is of “accessory” genes, which are commonly gained as large chromosomal islands that are adaptive for specialized traits such as pathogenicity. It is generally unclear, however, whether the process of accessory gene loss is largely driven by drift or selection. Here we demonstrate that selection for gene loss, and not a shortened genome, per se, drove massive, rapid reduction of accessory genes. In just 1,500 generations of experimental evolution, 80% of populations of Methylobacterium extorquens AM1 experienced nearly parallel deletions removing up to 10% of the genome from a megaplasmid present in this strain. The absence of these deletion events in a mutation accumulation experiment suggested that selection, rather than drift, has dominated the process. Reconstructing these deletions confirmed that they were beneficial in their selective regimes, but led to decreased performance in alternative environments. These results indicate that selection can be crucial in eliminating unnecessary genes during the early stages of adaptation to a specialized environment.

          Author Summary

          Many free-living bacteria are known to commonly lose large portions of their genomes, but it is unclear what evolutionary forces drive these changes. Is this due to random loss in small populations, as is thought to be the case for the extreme genome degradation of intracellular symbionts, or due to selection? And if it is beneficial, is it directly caused by replicating a shorter genome or advantageous loss of the genes themselves? We uncovered that most replicate populations of Methylobacterium extorquens AM1 evolved in the laboratory for 1,500 generations lost nearly 10% of their genome. Through reconstructing these deletions, we demonstrated that these losses were indeed beneficial, but the advantage did not scale with length of genome lost, and were even deleterious in alternative environments. These findings suggest that the initial stages of genome shrinkage may be driven by selection, ultimately leading to a more streamlined, specialized organism.

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          Most cited references 34

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          Genome evolution and adaptation in a long-term experiment with Escherichia coli.

          The relationship between rates of genomic evolution and organismal adaptation remains uncertain, despite considerable interest. The feasibility of obtaining genome sequences from experimentally evolving populations offers the opportunity to investigate this relationship with new precision. Here we sequence genomes sampled through 40,000 generations from a laboratory population of Escherichia coli. Although adaptation decelerated sharply, genomic evolution was nearly constant for 20,000 generations. Such clock-like regularity is usually viewed as the signature of neutral evolution, but several lines of evidence indicate that almost all of these mutations were beneficial. This same population later evolved an elevated mutation rate and accumulated hundreds of additional mutations dominated by a neutral signature. Thus, the coupling between genomic and adaptive evolution is complex and can be counterintuitive even in a constant environment. In particular, beneficial substitutions were surprisingly uniform over time, whereas neutral substitutions were highly variable.
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            Genetic adaptation by Pseudomonas aeruginosa to the airways of cystic fibrosis patients.

            In many human infections, hosts and pathogens coexist for years or decades. Important examples include HIV, herpes viruses, tuberculosis, leprosy, and malaria. With the exception of intensively studied viral infections such as HIV/AIDs, little is known about the extent to which the clonal expansion that occurs during long-term infection by pathogens involves important genetic adaptations. We report here a detailed, whole-genome analysis of one such infection, that of a cystic fibrosis (CF) patient by the opportunistic bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The bacteria underwent numerous genetic adaptations during 8 years of infection, as evidenced by a positive-selection signal across the genome and an overwhelming signal in specific genes, several of which are mutated during the course of most CF infections. Of particular interest is our finding that virulence factors that are required for the initiation of acute infections are often selected against during chronic infections. It is apparent that the genotypes of the P. aeruginosa strains present in advanced CF infections differ systematically from those of "wild-type" P. aeruginosa and that these differences may offer new opportunities for treatment of this chronic disease.
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              Extreme genome reduction in symbiotic bacteria.

              Since 2006, numerous cases of bacterial symbionts with extraordinarily small genomes have been reported. These organisms represent independent lineages from diverse bacterial groups. They have diminutive gene sets that rival some mitochondria and chloroplasts in terms of gene numbers and lack genes that are considered to be essential in other bacteria. These symbionts have numerous features in common, such as extraordinarily fast protein evolution and a high abundance of chaperones. Together, these features point to highly degenerate genomes that retain only the most essential functions, often including a considerable fraction of genes that serve the hosts. These discoveries have implications for the concept of minimal genomes, the origins of cellular organelles, and studies of symbiosis and host-associated microbiota.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS Genet
                PLoS Genet
                PLoS Genetics
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                May 2012
                May 2012
                10 May 2012
                : 8
                : 5
                [1 ]Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America
                [2 ]Faculty of Arts and Sciences Center for Systems Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America
                Yale University, United States of America
                Author notes

                ¤: Current address: Department of Biochemistry, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong

                Conceived and designed the experiments: M-CL CJM. Performed the experiments: M-CL CJM. Analyzed the data: M-CL CJM. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: M-CL CJM. Wrote the paper: M-CL CJM.

                Lee, Marx. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                Page count
                Pages: 8
                Research Article
                Evolutionary Biology
                Evolutionary Processes
                Genetic Drift
                Population Genetics
                Genetic Drift
                Natural Selection
                Evolutionary Genetics
                Genomic Evolution
                Genetic Mutation
                Mutation Types
                Genome Evolution
                Bacterial Evolution
                Microbial Evolution
                Microbial Physiology



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