Strong Purifying Selection Contributes to Genome Streamlining in Epipelagic Marinimicrobia
Marine microorganisms inhabiting nutrient-depleted waters play critical roles in global biogeochemical cycles due to their abundance and broad distribution. Many of these microbes share similar genomic features including small genome size, low % G+C content, short intergenic regions, and low nitrogen content in encoded amino acids, but the evolutionary drivers of these characteristics are unclear. Here we compared the strength of purifying selection across the Marinimicrobia, a candidate phylum
... a candidate phylum which encompasses a broad range of phylogenetic groups with disparate genomic features, by estimating the ratio of non-synonymous and synonymous substitutions (dN/dS) in conserved marker genes. Our analysis shows significantly lower dN/dS values in epipelagic Marinimicrobia that exhibit features consistent with genome streamlining when compared to their mesopelagic counterparts. We found a significant positive correlation between median dN/dS values and genomic traits associated to streamlined organisms, including % G+C content, genome size, and intergenic region length. Our findings are consistent with genome streamlining theory, which postulates that small, compact genomes with low G+C contents are adaptive and the product of strong purifying selection. Our results are also in agreement with previous findings that genome streamlining is common in epipelagic waters, suggesting that genomes inhabiting this region of the ocean have been shaped by strong selection together with prevalent nutritional constraints characteristic of this environment.