The evolution of interdependence in a four-way mealybug symbiosis

Arkadiy I Garber, Maria Kupper, Dominik R Laetsch, Stephanie R Weldon, Mark S Ladinsky, Pamela J Bjorkman, John P McCutcheon, Emmanuelle Lerat (Editor)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mealybugs are insects that maintain intracellular bacterial symbionts to supplement their nutrient-poor plant sap diets. Some mealybugs have a single betaproteobacterial endosymbiont, a Candidatus Tremblaya species (hereafter Tremblaya) that alone provides the insect with its required nutrients. Other mealybugs have two nutritional endosymbionts that together provision these same nutrients, where Tremblaya has gained a gammaproteobacterial partner that resides in its cytoplasm. Previous work had established that Pseudococcus longispinus mealybugs maintain not one but two species of gammaproteobacterial endosymbionts along with Tremblaya. Preliminary genomic analyses suggested that these two gammaproteobacterial endosymbionts have large genomes with features consistent with a relatively recent origin as insect endosymbionts, but the patterns of genomic complementarity between members of the symbiosis and their relative cellular locations were unknown. Here, using long-read sequencing and various types of microscopy, we show that the two gammaproteobacterial symbionts of Pseudococcus longispinus are mixed together within Tremblaya cells, and that their genomes are somewhat reduced in size compared to their closest non-endosymbiotic relatives. Both gammaproteobacterial genomes contain thousands of pseudogenes, consistent with a relatively recent shift from a free-living to an endosymbiotic lifestyle. Biosynthetic pathways of key metabolites are partitioned in complex interdependent patterns among the two gammaproteobacterial genomes, the Tremblaya genome, and horizontally acquired bacterial genes that are encoded on the mealybug nuclear genome. Although these two gammaproteobacterial endosymbionts have been acquired recently in evolutionary time, they have already evolved co-dependencies with each other, Tremblaya, and their insect host.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberevab123
Number of pages18
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number8
Early online date1 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021


  • pseudogenes
  • endosymbionts
  • mealybugs
  • genome reduction
  • transposases
  • metabolic interdependence


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