Emerging bacterial pathogens threaten global health and food security, and so it is important to ask whether these transitions to pathogenicity have any common features. We present a systematic study of the claim that pathogenicity is associated with genome reduction and gene loss. We compare broad-scale patterns across all bacteria, with detailed analyses of Streptococcus suis, an emerging zoonotic pathogen of pigs, which has undergone multiple transitions between disease and carriage forms. We find that pathogenicity is consistently associated with reduced genome size across three scales of divergence (between species within genera, and between and within genetic clusters of S. suis). Although genome reduction is also found in mutualist and commensal bacterial endosymbionts, genome reduction in pathogens cannot be solely attributed to the features of their ecology that they share with these species, that is, host restriction or intracellularity. Moreover, other typical correlates of genome reduction in endosymbionts (reduced metabolic capacity, reduced GC content, and the transient expansion of nonfunctional elements) are not consistently observed in pathogens. Together, our results indicate that genome reduction is a consistent correlate of pathogenicity in bacteria.

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