Diverse organisms are associated with obligate microbial mutualists. How such essential symbionts have originated from free-living ancestors is of evolutionary interest. Here we report that, in natural populations of the stinkbug Plautia stali, obligate bacterial mutualists are evolving from environmental bacteria. Of six distinct bacterial lineages associated with insect populations, two are uncultivable with reduced genomes, four are cultivable with non-reduced genomes, one uncultivable symbiont is fixed in temperate populations, and the other uncultivable symbiont coexists with four cultivable symbionts in subtropical populations. Symbiont elimination resulted in host mortality for all symbionts, while re-infection with any of the symbionts restored normal host growth, indicating that all the symbionts are indispensable and almost equivalent functionally. Some aseptic newborns incubated with environmental soils acquired the cultivable symbionts and normal growth was restored, identifying them as environmental Pantoea spp. Our finding uncovers an evolutionary transition from a free-living lifestyle to obligate mutualism that is currently ongoing in nature.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
- Microbiology (medical)
- Cell Biology