Bacteria of the genus Burkholderia establish an obligate symbiosis with plant species of the Rubiaceae and Primulaceae families. The bacteria, housed within the leaves, are transmitted hereditarily and have not yet been cultured. We have sequenced and compared the genomes of eight bacterial leaf nodule symbionts of the Rubiaceae plant family. All of the genomes exhibit features consistent with genome erosion. Genes potentially involved in the biosynthesis of kirkamide, an insecticidal C7N aminocyclitol, are conserved in most Rubiaceae symbionts. However, some have partially lost the kirkamide pathway due to genome erosion and are unable to synthesize the compound. Kirkamide synthesis is therefore not responsible for the obligate nature of the symbiosis. More importantly, we find evidence of intra-clade horizontal gene transfer (HGT) events affecting genes of the secondary metabolism. This indicates that substantial gene flow can occur at the early stages following host restriction in leaf nodule symbioses. We propose that host-switching events and plasmid conjugative transfers could have promoted these HGTs. This genomic analysis of leaf nodule symbionts gives, for the first time, new insights in the genome evolution of obligate symbionts in their early stages of the association with plants.
Journal: The ISME journal