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J Mol Evol. 2000 Dec;51(6):607-22.

The quality of merC, a module of the mer mosaic.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-2605, USA.


We examined a region of high variability in the mosaic mercury resistance (mer) operon of natural bacterial isolates from the primate intestinal microbiota. The region between the merP and merA genes of nine mer loci was sequenced and either the merC, the merF, or no gene was present. Two novel merC genes were identified. Overall nucleotide diversity, pi (per 100 sites), of the merC gene was greater (49.63) than adjacent merP (35.82) and merA (32.58) genes. However, the consequences of this variability for the predicted structure of the MerC protein are limited and putative functional elements (metal-binding ligands and transmembrane domains) are strongly conserved. Comparison of codon usage of the merTP, merC, and merA genes suggests that several merC genes are not coeval with their flanking sequences. Although evidence of homologous recombination within the very variable merC genes is not apparent, the flanking regions have higher homologies than merC, and recombination appears to be driving their overall sequence identities higher. The synonymous codon usage bias (EN(C)) values suggest greater variability in expression of the merC gene than in flanking genes in six different bacterial hosts. We propose a model for the evolution of MerC as a host-dependent, adventitious module of the mer operon.

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