Symbiotic microbes from the genus 'Candidatus Megaira' (
) are known to be common associates of algae and ciliates. However, genomic resources for these bacteria are scarce, limiting our understanding of their diversity and biology. We therefore utilize Sequence Read Archive and metagenomic assemblies to explore the diversity of this genus. We successfully extract four draft 'Ca. Megaira' genomes including one complete scaffold for a 'Ca. Megaira' and identify an additional 14 draft genomes from uncategorized environmental metagenome-assembled genomes. We use this information to resolve the phylogeny for the hyper-diverse 'Ca. Megaira', with hosts broadly spanning ciliates, and micro- and macro-algae, and find that the current single genus designation 'Ca. Megaira' significantly underestimates their diversity. We also evaluate the metabolic potential and diversity of ''Ca. Megaira' from this new genomic data and find no clear evidence of nutritional symbiosis. In contrast, we hypothesize a potential for defensive symbiosis in 'Ca. Megaira'. Intriguingly, one symbiont genome revealed a proliferation of ORFs with ankyrin, tetratricopeptide and leucine-rich repeats such as those observed in the genus
where they are considered important for host–symbiont protein–protein interactions. Onward research should investigate the phenotypic interactions between 'Ca. Megaira' and their various potential hosts, including the economically important Nemacystus decipiens, and target acquisition of genomic information to reflect the diversity of this massively variable group.
Comparing obligate endosymbionts with their free-living relatives is a powerful approach to investigate the evolution of symbioses, and it has led to the identification of several genomic traits consistently associated with the establishment of symbiosis. ‘Candidatus Nebulobacter yamunensis’ is an obligate bacterial endosymbiont of the ciliate Euplotes that seemingly depends on its host for survival. A subsequently characterized bacterial strain with an identical 16S rRNA gene sequence, named
, can instead be maintained in pure culture. We analysed the genomes of ‘Candidatus Nebulobacter’ and
seeking to identify key differences between their functional traits and genomic structure that might shed light on a recent transition to obligate endosymbiosis. Surprisingly, we found almost no such differences: the two genomes share a high level of sequence identity, the same overall structure, and largely overlapping sets of genes. The similarities between the genomes of the two strains are at odds with their different ecological niches, confirmed here with a parallel growth experiment. Although other pairs of closely related symbiotic/free-living bacteria have been compared in the past, ‘Candidatus Nebulobacter’ and
represent an extreme example proving that a small number of (unknown) factors might play a pivotal role in the earliest stages of obligate endosymbiosis establishment.