Genomic decay is a common feature of intracellular bacteria that have entered into symbiosis with plant sap-feeding insects. This study of the whitefly Bemisia tabaci and two bacteria (Portiera aleyrodidarum and Hamiltonella defensa) cohoused in each host cell investigated whether the decay of Portiera metabolism genes is complemented by host and Hamiltonella genes, and compared the metabolic traits of the whitefly symbiosis with other sap-feeding insects (aphids, psyllids, and mealybugs). Parallel genomic and transcriptomic analysis revealed that the host genome contributes multiple metabolic reactions that complement or duplicate Portiera function, and that Hamiltonella may contribute multiple cofactors and one essential amino acid, lysine. Homologs of the Bemisia metabolism genes of insect origin have also been implicated in essential amino acid synthesis in other sap-feeding insect hosts, indicative of parallel coevolution of shared metabolic pathways across multiple symbioses. Further metabolism genes coded in the Bemisia genome are of bacterial origin, but phylogenetically distinct from Portiera, Hamiltonella and horizontally transferred genes identified in other sap-feeding insects. Overall, 75% of the metabolism genes of bacterial origin are functionally unique to one symbiosis, indicating that the evolutionary history of metabolic integration in these symbioses is strongly contingent on the pattern of horizontally acquired genes. Our analysis, further, shows that bacteria with genomic decay enable host acquisition of complex metabolic pathways by multiple independent horizontal gene transfers from exogenous bacteria. Specifically, each horizontally acquired gene can function with other genes in the pathway coded by the symbiont, while facilitating the decay of the symbiont gene coding the same reaction.
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