Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

Carol D. von Dohlen


Carol D. von Dohlen


Becky L. Williams


Claudia Nischwitz


Jeanette Norton


Gaelen R. Burke


Insects form close partnerships, or symbioses, with bacteria. These partnerships allow the insects to use resources that would be unavailable to them otherwise. Certain insects, hemipterans, are able to feed on nutrient-poor plant-sap because these bacteria supplement their diets. While this association is beneficial for both the insect and bacteria, it also comes with consequences: the genomes of bacterial symbionts typically undergo extreme degradation, becoming small and lacking many genes necessary for typical bacterial functioning. In the Hemiptera, aphids, mealybugs, cicadas, true bugs, and their relatives, these bacterial partnerships tend to be stable over millions of years. However, adelgids (Aphidoidea: Adelgidae) are highly unusual in that their symbiotic bacteria have been frequently replaced. These replacements offer a unique opportunity to explore the effects of symbiont role and age on symbiont genome degradation. My dissertation uses the pattern of adelgid symbiont gains and losses to understand the process of symbiont replacements and co-symbiont gain. I accomplished this by sequencing and annotating the genomes of adelgid symbionts from across the family, first focusing on the symbionts from a pest species, then expanding to representatives from across the family, and finally conducting an in-depth exploration of how the genomes of a symbiont found in two branches of the adelgids varies between species. Through this work I demonstrate that adelgid symbionts are nutritional providers, they have a unique pattern for distributing the work of providing nutrients between the symbiont pairs, and that a symbiont’s precedence, whether it was there first or whether it joined another symbiont, has an impact on genome degradation.



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