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J Bacteriol. 2000 Feb;182(4):1016-23.

Barriers to genetic exchange between bacterial species: Streptococcus pneumoniae transformation.

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


Interspecies genetic exchange is an important evolutionary mechanism in bacteria. It allows rapid acquisition of novel functions by transmission of adaptive genes between related species. However, the frequency of homologous recombination between bacterial species decreases sharply with the extent of DNA sequence divergence between the donor and the recipient. In Bacillus and Escherichia, this sexual isolation has been shown to be an exponential function of sequence divergence. Here we demonstrate that sexual isolation in transformation between Streptococcus pneumoniae recipient strains and donor DNA from related strains and species follows the described exponential relationship. We show that the Hex mismatch repair system poses a significant barrier to recombination over the entire range of sequence divergence (0.6 to 27%) investigated. Although mismatch repair becomes partially saturated, it is responsible for 34% of the observed sexual isolation. This is greater than the role of mismatch repair in Bacillus but less than that in Escherichia. The remaining non-Hex-mediated barrier to recombination can be provided by a variety of mechanisms. We discuss the possible additional mechanisms of sexual isolation, in view of earlier findings from Bacillus, Escherichia, and Streptococcus.

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