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Genetics. 1999 Dec;153(4):1525-33.

DNA sequence similarity requirements for interspecific recombination in Bacillus.

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Department of Biology, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut 06459, USA.


Gene transfer in bacteria is notoriously promiscuous. Genetic material is known to be transferred between groups as distantly related as the Gram positives and Gram negatives. However, the frequency of homologous recombination decreases sharply with the level of relatedness between the donor and recipient. Several studies show that this sexual isolation is an exponential function of DNA sequence divergence between recombining substrates. The two major factors implicated in producing the recombinational barrier are the mismatch repair system and the requirement for a short region of sequence identity to initiate strand exchange. Here we demonstrate that sexual isolation in Bacillus transformation results almost exclusively from the need for regions of identity at both the 5' and 3' ends of the donor DNA strand. We show that, by providing the essential identity, we can effectively eliminate sexual isolation between highly divergent sequences. We also present evidence that the potential of a donor sequence to act as a recombinogenic, invasive end is determined by the stability (melting point) of the donor-recipient complex. These results explain the exponential relationship between sexual isolation and sequence divergence observed in bacteria. They also suggest a model for rapid spread of novel adaptations, such as antibiotic resistance genes, among related species.

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