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Genetics. May 2003; 164(1): 13–21.
PMCID: PMC1462543

Horizontal acquisition of divergent chromosomal DNA in bacteria: effects of mutator phenotypes.


We examine the potential beneficial effects of the expanded access to environmental DNA offered by mutators on the adaptive potential of bacterial populations. Using parameters from published studies of recombination in E. coli, we find that the presence of mutators has the potential to greatly enhance bacterial population adaptation when compared to populations without mutators. In one specific example, for which three specific amino acid substitutions are required for adaptation to occur in a 300-amino-acid protein, we found a 3500-fold increase in the rate of adaptation. The probability of a beneficial acquisition decreased if more amino acid changes, or integration of longer DNA fragments, were required for adaptation. The model also predicts that mutators are more likely than nonmutator phenotypes to acquire genetic variability from a more diverged set of donor bacteria. Bacterial populations harboring mutators in a sequence heterogeneous environment are predicted to acquire most of their DNA conferring adaptation in the range of 13-30% divergence, whereas nonmutator phenotypes become adapted after recombining with more homogeneous sequences of 7-21% divergence. We conclude that mutators can accelerate bacterial adaptation when desired genetic variability is present within DNA fragments of up to approximately 30% divergence.

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Selected References

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