Distinctive genome reduction rates revealed by genomic analyses of two Coxiella-like endosymbionts in ticks

Yuval Gottlieb, Itai Lalzar, Lisa Klasson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


Genome reduction is a hallmark of symbiotic genomes, and the rate and patterns of gene loss associated with this process have been investigated in several different symbiotic systems. However, in long-term host-associated coevolving symbiont clades, the genome size differences between strains are normally quite small and hence patterns of large-scale genome reduction can only be inferred from distant relatives. Here we present the complete genome of a Coxiella-like symbiont from Rhipicephalus turanicus ticks (CRt), and compare it with other genomes from the genus Coxiella in order to investigate the process of genome reduction in a genus consisting of intracellular host-associated bacteria with variable genome sizes. The 1.7-Mb CRt genome is larger than the genomes of most obligate mutualists but has a very low protein-coding content (48.5%) and an extremely high number of identifiable pseudogenes, indicating that it is currently undergoing genome reduction. Analysis of encoded functions suggests that CRt is an obligate tick mutualist, as indicated by the possible provisioning of the tick with biotin (B7), riboflavin (B2) and other cofactors, and by the loss of most genes involved in host cell interactions, such as secretion systems. Comparative analyses between CRt and the 2.5 times smaller genome of Coxiella from the lone star tick Amblyommaamericanum (CLEAA) show that many of the same gene functions are lost and suggest that the large size difference might be due to a higher rate of genome evolution in CLEAA generated by the loss of the mismatch repair genes mutSL. Finally, sequence polymorphisms in the CRt population sampled from field collected ticks reveal up to one distinct strain variant per tick, and analyses of mutational patterns within the population suggest that selection might be acting on synonymous sites. The CRt genome is an extreme example of a symbiont genome caught in the act of genome reduction, and the comparison between CLEAA and CRt indicates that losses of particular genes early on in this process can potentially greatly influence the speed of this process.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1779-1796
Number of pages18
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The Author(s).


  • Coxiella
  • Genome reduction
  • Symbiosis


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