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Origin and examination of a leafhopper facultative endosymbiont.

  • Author(s): Degnan, Patrick H
  • Bittleston, Leonora S
  • Hansen, Allison K
  • Sabree, Zakee L
  • Moran, Nancy A
  • Almeida, Rodrigo PP
  • et al.

Eukaryotes engage in intimate interactions with microbes that range in age and type of association. Although many conspicuous examples of ancient insect associates are studied (e.g., Buchnera aphidicola), fewer examples of younger associations are known. Here, we further characterize a recently evolved bacterial endosymbiont of the leafhopper Euscelidius variegatus (Hemiptera, Cicadellidae), called BEV. We found that BEV, continuously maintained in E. variegatus hosts at UC Berkeley since 1984, is vertically transmitted with high fidelity. Unlike many vertically transmitted, ancient endosymbioses, the BEV-E. variegatus association is not obligate for either partner, and BEV can be cultivated axenically. Sufficient BEV colonies were grown and harvested to estimate its genome size and provide a partial survey of the genome sequence. The BEV chromosome is about 3.8 Mbp, and there is evidence for an extrachromosomal element roughly 53 kb in size (e.g., prophage or plasmid). We sequenced 438 kb of unique short-insert clones, representing about 12% of the BEV genome. Nearly half of the gene fragments were similar to mobile DNA, including 15 distinct types of insertion sequences (IS). Analyses revealed that BEV not only shares virulence genes with plant pathogens, but also is closely related to the plant pathogenic genera Dickeya, Pectobacterium, and Brenneria. However, the slightly reduced genome size, abundance of mobile DNA, fastidious growth in culture, and efficient vertical transmission suggest that symbiosis with E. variegatus has had a significant impact on genome evolution in BEV.

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