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Gene. 2008 Dec 31;427(1-2):124-8. doi: 10.1016/j.gene.2008.09.007. Epub 2008 Sep 18.

Birth-and-death evolution of the internalin multigene family in Listeria.

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  • 1National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1815 N. University Street, Peoria, IL 61604, USA. <>


The birth-and-death model of multigene family evolution describes patterns of gene origination, diversification and loss within multigene families. Since it was first developed in the 1990s, the model has been found to characterize a large number of eukaryotic multigene families. In this paper, we report for the first time a bacterial multigene family that undergoes birth-and-death evolution. By analyzing the evolutionary relationships among internalins, a relatively large and diverse family of genes associated with key virulence functions in Listeria, we demonstrate the importance of birth-and-death evolution in the diversification of this important bacterial pathogen. We also detected two instances of lateral gene transfer within the internalins, but the estimated frequency would have been much higher had it not been analyzed within the context of birth-and-death evolutionary dynamics and a phenomenon that we term "paralog-sorting", which involves the unequal transmittal of gene duplicates during or subsequent to the speciation process. As such, in addition to providing the first demonstration of birth-and-death evolution within a bacterial multigene family, our results indicate that the extent of lateral transfer in bacterial multigene families should be re-examined in the light of birth-and-death evolution.

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