The smallest collection of genes ever found for a cellular organism comes from tiny symbiotic bacteria that live inside special cells inside a small insect.
The bacteria Carsonella ruddii has the fewest genes of any cell. The bacteria's newly sequenced genome, the complete set of DNA for the organism, is only one-third the size of the previously reported "smallest" cellular genome.
"It's the smallest genome -- not by a bit but by a long way," said co-author Nancy A. Moran, UA Regents' Professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. "It's very surprising. It's unbelievable, really. We would not have predicted such a small size. It's believed that more genes are required for a cell to work."
Carsonella ruddii has only 159,662 base-pairs of DNA, which translates to only 182 protein-coding genes, reports a team of scientists from The University of Arizona in Tucson and from Japan.
The finding provides new insights into bacterial evolution, the scientists write in the Oct. 13 issue of the journal Science.
Atsushi Nakabachi, a postdoctoral research associate in UA's department of ecology and evolutionary biology and a visiting scientist at RIKEN in Wako, Japan, is the first author on the research report, "The 160-kilobase genome of the bacterial endosymbiont Carsonella." The research was conducted in senior author Masahira Hattori's laboratory in Japan and in Moran's lab at the UA.
A complete list of authors is at the bottom of this release. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan funded the work.
Many insects feed on plant sap, a nutrient-poor diet. To get a balanced diet, some sap-feeders rely on resident bacteria. The bacteria manufacture essential nutrients, particularly amino acids, and share the goodies with their hosts.