Gene transfers from diverse bacteria compensate for reductive genome evolution in the chromatophore of Paulinella chromatophora

Eva C.M. Nowack, Dana C. Price, Debashish Bhattacharya, Anna Singer, Michael Melkonian, Arthur R. Grossman

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75 Scopus citations


Plastids, the photosynthetic organelles, originated >1 billion y ago via the endosymbiosis of a cyanobacterium. The resulting proliferation of primary producers fundamentally changed global ecology. Endosymbiotic gene transfer (EGT) from the intracellular cyanobacterium to the nucleus is widely recognized as a critical factor in the evolution of photosynthetic eukaryotes. The contribution of horizontal gene transfers (HGTs) from other bacteria to plastid establishment remains more controversial. A novel perspective on this issue is provided by the amoeba Paulinella chromatophora, which contains photosynthetic organelles (chromatophores) that are only 60-200 million years old. Chromatophore genome reduction entailed the loss of many biosynthetic pathways including those for numerous amino acids and cofactors. How the host cell compensates for these losses remains unknown, because the presence of bacteria in all available P. chromatophora cultures excluded elucidation of the full metabolic capacity and occurrence of HGT in this species. Here we generated a high-quality transcriptome and draft genome assembly from the first bacteria-free P. chromatophora culture to deduce rules that govern organelle integration into cellular metabolism. Our analyses revealed that nuclear and chromatophore gene inventories provide highly complementary functions. At least 229 nuclear genes were acquired via HGT from various bacteria, of which only 25% putatively arose through EGT from the chromatophore genome. Many HGT-derived bacterial genes encode proteins that fill gaps in critical chromatophore pathways/processes. Our results demonstrate a dominant role for HGT in compensating for organelle genome reduction and suggest that phagotrophy may be a major driver of HGT.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12214-12219
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number43
StatePublished - Oct 25 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Coevolution
  • Endosymbiosis
  • Genome evolution
  • Horizontal gene transfer
  • Organellogenesis


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