The distinct lifestyle of obligately intracellular bacteria can alter fundamental forces that drive and constrain genome change. In this study, sequencing the 792-kb genome of Blochmannia pennsylvanicus, an obligate endosymbiont of Camponotus pennsylvanicus, enabled us to trace evolutionary changes that occurred in the context of a bacterial-ant association. Comparison to the genome of Blochmannia floridanus reveals differential loss of genes involved in cofactor biosynthesis, the composition and structure of the cell wall and membrane, gene regulation, and DNA replication. However, the two Blochmannia species show complete conservation in the order and strand orientation of shared genes. This finding of extreme stasis in genome architecture, also reported previously for the aphid endosymbiont Buchnera, suggests that genome stability characterizes long-term bacterial mutualists of insects and constrains their evolutionary potential. Genome-wide analyses of protein divergences reveal 10- to 50-fold faster amino acid substitution rates in Blochmannia compared to related bacteria. Despite these varying features of genome evolution, a striking correlation in the relative divergences of proteins indicates parallel functional constraints on gene functions across ecologically distinct bacterial groups. Furthermore, the increased rates of amino acid substitution and gene loss in Blochmannia have occurred in a lineage-specific fashion, which may reflect life history differences of their ant hosts.
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