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Mol Biol Evol. 2011 Feb;28(2):963-83. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msq269. Epub 2010 Oct 20.

Interspersed DNA repeats bcr1-bcr18 of Bacillus cereus group bacteria form three distinct groups with different evolutionary and functional patterns.

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  • 1Laboratory for Microbial Dynamics (LaMDa), Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences, University of Oslo, Blindern, Oslo, Norway.


Many short (<400 bp) interspersed sequence repeats exist in bacteria, yet little is known about their origins, mode of generation, or possible function. Here, we present a comprehensive analysis of 18 different previously identified repeated DNA elements, bcr1-bcr18 (Økstad OA, Hegna I, Lindback T, Rishovd AL, Kolstø AB. 1999. Genome organization is not conserved between Bacillus cereus and Bacillus subtilis. Microbiology. 145:621-631.; Tourasse NJ, Helgason E, Økstad OA, Hegna IK, Kolstø AB. 2006. The Bacillus cereus group: novel aspects of population structure and genome dynamics. J Appl Microbiol. 101:579-593.), in 36 sequenced genomes from the Bacillus cereus group of bacteria. This group consists of genetically closely related species with variable pathogenic specificity toward different hosts and includes among others B. anthracis, B. cereus, and B. thuringiensis. The B. cereus group repeat elements could be classified into three categories with different properties: Group A elements (bcr1-bcr3) exhibited highly variable copy numbers ranging from 4 to 116 copies per strain, showed a nonconserved chromosomal distribution pattern between strains, and displayed several features characteristic of mobile elements. Group B repeats (bcr4-bcr6) were present in 0-10 copies per strain and were associated with strain-specific genes and disruptions of genome synteny, implying a possible contribution to genome rearrangements and/or horizontal gene transfer events. bcr5, in particular, was associated with large gene clusters showing resemblance to integrons. In agreement with their potentially mobile nature or involvement in horizontal transfers, the sequences of the repeats from Groups A and B (bcr1-bcr6) followed a phylogeny different from that of the host strains. Conversely, repeats from Group C (bcr7-bcr18) had a conserved chromosomal location and orthologous gene neighbors in the investigated B. cereus group genomes, and their phylogeny matched that of the host chromosome. Several of the group C repeats exhibited a conserved secondary structure or had parts of the structure conserved, possibly indicating functional RNAs. Accordingly, five of the repeats in group C overlapped regions encoding previously characterized riboswitches. Similarly, other group C repeats could represent novel riboswitches, encode small RNAs, and/or constitute other types of regulatory elements with specific biological functions. The current analysis suggests that the multitude of repeat elements identified in the B. cereus group promote genome dynamics and plasticity and could contribute to the flexible and adaptive life style of these bacteria.

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