Strong Purifying Selection Is Associated with 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 acid residue side chains (N-ARSC), but the evolutionary drivers of these characteristics are unclear. Here, we compared the strength of purifying selection across the Marinimicrobia, a candidate phylum which encompasses a broad range of phylogenetic groups with disparate genomic features, by estimating the ratio of nonsynonymous and synonymous substitutions (dN/dS) in conserved marker genes. Our analysis reveals that epipelagic Marinimicrobia that exhibit features consistent with genome streamlining have significantly lower dN/dS values when compared with their mesopelagic counterparts. We also found a significant positive correlation between median dN/dS values and % G + C content, N-ARSC, and intergenic region length. We did not identify a significant correlation between dN/dS ratios and estimated genome size, suggesting the strength of selection is not a primary factor shaping genome size in this group. Our findings are generally consistent with genome streamlining theory, which postulates that many genomic features of abundant epipelagic bacteria are the result of adaptation to oligotrophic nutrient conditions. Our results are also in agreement with previous findings that genome streamlining is common in epipelagic waters, suggesting that microbes inhabiting this region of the ocean have been shaped by strong selection together with prevalent nutritional constraints characteristic of this environment.