Published In

Scientific Reports

Document Type


Publication Date



Endosymbiosis, Pathogenic bacteria, Coxiella burnetii -- Genetic transcription, Ixodidae -- Genomics, Amblyomma


Ticks (order Ixodida) vector pathogenic bacteria that cause diseases in humans and other mammals. They also contain bacteria that are closely related to pathogens but function as endosymbionts that provide nutrients that are missing from mammalian blood—their sole food source. For instance, mammalian pathogens such as Coxiella burnetii and Francisella tularensis, as well as Coxiella-like and Francisella-like endosymbionts (CLEs and FLEs, respectively) occur in ticks worldwide. However, it is not clear whether the pathogens evolved from symbionts or symbionts from pathogens. Recent studies have indicated that C. burnetii likely originated from a tick-associated ancestor, but the origins of FLEs are not clear. In this study, we sequenced the genome of an FLE, termed FLE-Am, present in the Gulf Coast tick, Amblyomma maculatum. We show that FLE-Am likely evolved from a pathogenic strain of Francisella, indicating that tick endosymbionts can evolve from mammalian pathogens. Although the genome of FLE-Am is almost the same size as the genomes of pathogenic Francisella strains, about one-third of its protein-coding genes contain inactivating mutations. The relatively low coding capacity and extensive metabolic capabilities indicate that FLE-Am transitioned recently to its current endosymbiotic lifestyle and likely replaced an ancient endosymbiont with degraded functionality.


© The Author(s) 2016. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Supplementary information accompanies this paper at:



Persistent Identifier