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BMC Evol Biol. 2008 Aug 12;8:233. doi: 10.1186/1471-2148-8-233.

Genome-wide analyses reveal lineage specific contributions of positive selection and recombination to the evolution of Listeria monocytogenes.

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  • 1Department of Food Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.



The genus Listeria includes two closely related pathogenic and non-pathogenic species, L. monocytogenes and L. innocua. L. monocytogenes is an opportunistic human foodborne and animal pathogen that includes two common lineages. While lineage I is more commonly found among human listeriosis cases, lineage II appears to be overrepresented among isolates from foods and environmental sources. This study used the genome sequences for one L. innocua strain and four L. monocytogenes strains representing lineages I and II, to characterize the contributions of positive selection and recombination to the evolution of the L. innocua/L. monocytogenes core genome.


Among the 2267 genes in the L. monocytogenes/L. innocua core genome, 1097 genes showed evidence for recombination and 36 genes showed evidence for positive selection. Positive selection was strongly associated with recombination. Specifically, 29 of the 36 genes under positive selection also showed evidence for recombination. Recombination was more common among isolates in lineage II than lineage I; this trend was confirmed by sequencing five genes in a larger isolate set. Positive selection was more abundant in the ancestral branch of lineage II (20 genes) as compared to the ancestral branch of lineage I (9 genes). Additional genes under positive selection were identified in the branch separating the two species; for this branch, genes in the role category "Cell wall and membrane biogenesis" were significantly more likely to have evidence for positive selection. Positive selection of three genes was confirmed in a larger isolate set, which also revealed occurrence of multiple premature stop codons in one positively selected gene involved in flagellar motility (flaR).


While recombination and positive selection both contribute to evolution of L. monocytogenes, the relative contributions of these evolutionary forces seem to differ by L. monocytogenes lineages and appear to be more important in the evolution of lineage II, which seems to be found in a broader range of environments, as compared to the apparently more host adapted lineage I. Diversification of cell wall and membrane biogenesis and motility-related genes may play a particularly important role in the evolution of L. monocytogenes.

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