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Review article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

A Genomic Perspective Across Earth's Microbiomes Reveals That Genome Size in Archaea and Bacteria Is Linked to Ecosystem Type and Trophic Strategy

Rodriguez-Gijon, Alejandro; Nuy, Julia K.; Mehrshad, Maliheh; Buck, Moritz; Schulz, Frederik; Woyke, Tanja; Garcia, Sarahi L.


Our view of genome size in Archaea and Bacteria has remained skewed as the data has been dominated by genomes of microorganisms that have been cultivated under laboratory settings. However, the continuous effort to catalog Earth's microbiomes, specifically propelled by recent extensive work on uncultivated microorganisms, provides an opportunity to revise our perspective on genome size distribution. We present a meta-analysis that includes 26,101 representative genomes from 3 published genomic databases; metagenomic assembled genomes (MAGs) from GEMs and stratfreshDB, and isolates from GTDB. Aquatic and host-associated microbial genomes present on average the smallest estimated genome sizes (3.1 and 3.0 Mbp, respectively). These are followed by terrestrial microbial genomes (average 3.7 Mbp), and genomes from isolated microorganisms (average 4.3 Mbp). On the one hand, aquatic and host-associated ecosystems present smaller genomes sizes in genera of phyla with genome sizes above 3 Mbp. On the other hand, estimated genome size in phyla with genomes under 3 Mbp showed no difference between ecosystems. Moreover, we observed that when using 95% average nucleotide identity (ANI) as an estimator for genetic units, only 3% of MAGs cluster together with genomes from isolated microorganisms. Although there are potential methodological limitations when assembling and binning MAGs, we found that in genome clusters containing both environmental MAGs and isolate genomes, MAGs were estimated only an average 3.7% smaller than isolate genomes. Even when assembly and binning methods introduce biases, estimated genome size of MAGs and isolates are very similar. Finally, to better understand the ecological drivers of genome size, we discuss on the known and the overlooked factors that influence genome size in different ecosystems, phylogenetic groups, and trophic strategies.


microbial ecology; genome size; bacteria; archaea; genomics

Published in

Frontiers in Microbiology
2022, volume: 12, article number: 761869

Authors' information

Rodriguez-Gijon, Alejandro
Stockholm University
Nuy, Julia K.
Stockholm University
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Schulz, Frederik
United States Department of Energy (DOE)
Woyke, Tanja
United States Department of Energy (DOE)
Garcia, Sarahi L.
Stockholm University

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