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Mol Biol Evol. 2005 Dec;22(12):2354-61. Epub 2005 Aug 10.

Recombination shapes the natural population structure of the hyperthermophilic archaeon Sulfolobus islandicus.

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  • 1Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California, Berkeley, USA. rwhitaker@nature.berkeley.edu


Although microorganisms make up the preponderance of the biodiversity on Earth, the ecological and evolutionary factors that structure microbial populations are not well understood. We investigated the genetic structure of a thermoacidophilic crenarchaeal species, Sulfolobus islandicus, using multilocus sequence analysis of six variable protein-coding loci on a set of 60 isolates from the Mutnovsky region of Kamchatka, Russia. We demonstrate significant incongruence among gene genealogies and a lack of association between alleles consistent with recombination rates greater than the rate of mutation. The observation of high relative rates of recombination suggests that the structure of this natural population does not fit the periodic selection model often used to describe populations of asexual microorganisms. We propose instead that frequent recombination among closely related individuals prevents periodic selection from purging diversity and provides a fundamental cohesive mechanism within this and perhaps other archaeal species.

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