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Syst Biol. 2001 Aug;50(4):479-96.

Catalyzing bacterial speciation: correlating lateral transfer with genetic headroom.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15260, USA.


Unlike crown eukaryotic species, microbial species are created by continual processes of gene loss and acquisition promoted by horizontal genetic transfer. The amounts of foreign DNA in bacterial genomes, and the rate at which this is acquired, are consistent with gene transfer as the primary catalyst for microbial differentiation. However, the rate of successful gene transfer varies among bacterial lineages. The heterogeneity in foreign DNA content is directly correlated with amount of genetic headroom intrinsic to a bacterial species. Genetic headroom reflects the amount of potentially dispensable information--reflected in codon usage bias and codon context bias--that can be transiently sacrificed to allow experimentation with functions introduced by gene transfer. In this way, genetic headroom offers a potential metric for assessing the propensity of a lineage to speciate.

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