Genome evolution in an insect cell: Distinct features of an ant-bacterial partnership

Jennifer J. Wernegreen, Patrick H. Degnan, Adam B. Lazarus, Carmen Palacios, Seth R. Bordenstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacteria that live exclusively within eukaryotic host cells include not only well-known pathogens, but also obligate mutualists, many of which occur in diverse insect groups such as aphids, psyllids, tsetse flies, and the ant genus Camponotus (Buchner, 1965; Douglas, 1998; Moran and Telang, 1998; Baumann et al., 2000; Moran and Baumann, 2000). In contrast to intracellular pathogens, these primary (P) endosymbionts of insects are required for the survival and reproduction of the host, exist within specialized host cells called bacteriocytes, and undergo stable maternal transmission through host lineages (Buchner, 1965; McLean and Houk, 1973). Due to their long-term host associations and close phylogenetic relationship with well-characterized enterobacteria (Fig. 1), P-endosymbionts of insects are ideal model systems to examine changes in genome content and architecture that occur in the context of beneficial, intracellular associations. Since these bacteria have not been cultured outside of the host cell, they are difficult to study with traditional genetic or physiological approaches. However, in recent years, molecular and computational approaches have provided important insights into their genetic diversity and ecological significance. This review describes some recent insights into the evolutionary genetics of obligate insect-bacteria symbioses, with a Particular focus on an intriguing association between the bacterial endosymbiont Blochmannia and its ant hosts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-231
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Bulletin
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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