Genome Dynamics and Temperature Adaptation During Experimental Evolution of Obligate Intracellular Bacteria

Paul Herrera (Corresponding author), Lisa Schuster, Markus Zojer, Hyunsoo Na, Jasmin Schwarz, Florian Wascher, Thomas Kempinger, Andreas Regner, Thomas Rattei, Matthias Horn

Publications: Contribution to journalArticlePeer Reviewed


Evolution experiments with free-living microbes have radically improved our understanding of genome evolution and how microorganisms adapt. Yet there is a paucity of such research focusing on strictly host-associated bacteria, even though they are widespread in nature. Here, we used the Acanthamoeba symbiont Protochlamydia amoebophila, a distant relative of the human pathogen Chlamydia trachomatis and representative of a large group of protist-associated environmental chlamydiae, as a model to study how obligate intracellular symbionts evolve and adapt to elevated temperature, a prerequisite for the pivotal evolutionary leap from protist to endothermic animal hosts. We established 12 replicate populations under two temperatures (20 °C, 30 °C) for 510 bacterial generations (38 months). We then used infectivity assays and pooled whole-genome resequencing to identify any evolved phenotypes and the molecular basis of adaptation in these bacteria. We observed an overall reduction in infectivity of the symbionts evolved at 30 °C, and we identified numerous nonsynonymous mutations and small indels in these symbiont populations, with several variants persisting throughout multiple time points and reaching high frequencies. This suggests that many mutations may have been beneficial and played an adaptive role. Mutated genes within the same temperature regime were more similar than those between temperature regimes. Our results provide insights into the molecular evolution of intracellular bacteria under the constraints of strict host dependance and highly structured populations and suggest that for chlamydial symbionts of protists, temperature adaptation was facilitated through attenuation of symbiont infectivity as a tradeoff to reduce host cell burden.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberevad139
Number of pages16
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2023

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 106026 Ecosystem research
  • 106022 Microbiology


  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Temperature
  • Bacteria/genetics
  • Acanthamoeba/microbiology
  • Chlamydia/genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Symbiosis/genetics
  • evolution experiment
  • genome evolution
  • symbiont
  • environmental chlamydiae
  • temperature adaptation
  • amoeba
  • host-microbe relationship


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