Evidence for Homologous Recombination in Intracellular Chemosynthetic Clam Symbionts

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Homologous recombination is a fundamental mechanism for the genetic diversification of free-living bacteria. However, recombination may be limited in endosymbiotic bacteria, as these taxa are locked into an intracellular niche and may rarely encounter sources of foreign DNA. This study tested the hypothesis that vertically transmitted endosymbionts of deep-sea clams (Bivalvia: Vesicomyidae) show little or no evidence of recombination. Phylogenetic analysis of 13 loci distributed across the genomes of 14 vesicomyid symbionts revealed multiple, well-supported inconsistencies among gene tree topologies, and maximum likelihood–based tests rejected a hypothesis of shared evolutionary history (linkage) among loci. Further, multiple statistical methods confirmed the presence of recombination by detecting intragenic breakpoints in two symbiont loci. Recombination may be confined to a subset of vesicomyid symbionts, as some clades showed high levels of genomic stability, whereas others showed clear patterns of homologous exchange. Notably, a mosaic genome is present in symB, a symbiont lineage shown to have been acquired laterally (i.e., nonvertically) by Vesicomya sp. JdF clams. The majority of loci analyzed here supported a tight sister clustering of symB with the symbiont of a host species from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, whereas others placed symB in a clade with symA, the dominant phylotype of V. sp. JdF clams. This result raises the hypothesis that lateral symbiont transfer between hosts may facilitate recombination by bringing divergent symbiont lineages into contact. Together, the data show that homologous recombination contributes to the diversification of vesicomyid clam symbionts, despite the intracellular lifestyle of these bacteria.

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