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Methods Mol Biol. 2004;266:71-113.

Genome plasticity: insertion sequence elements, transposons and integrons, and DNA rearrangement.

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Department of Pathology and Microbiology, University of Bristol, School of Medical Sciences, Bristol, UK.


Living organisms are defined by the genes they possess. Control of expression of this gene set, both temporally and in response to the environment, determines whether an organism can survive changing conditions and can compete for the resources it needs to reproduce. Bacteria are no exception; changes to the genome will, in general, threaten the ability of the microbe to survive, but acquisition of new genes may enhance its chances of survival by allowing growth in a previously hostile environment. For example, acquisition of an antibiotic resistance gene by a bacterial pathogen can permit it to thrive in the presence of an antibiotic that would otherwise kill it; this may compromise clinical treatments. Many forces, chemical and genetic, can alter the genetic content of DNA by locally changing its nucleotide sequence. Notable for genetic change in bacteria are transposable elements and site-specific recombination systems such as integrons. Many of the former can mobilize genes from one replicon to another, including chromosome-plasmid translocation, thus establishing conditions for interspecies gene transfer. Balancing this, transposition activity can result in loss or rearrangement of DNA sequences. This chapter discusses bacterial DNA transfer systems, transposable elements and integrons, and the contributions each makes towards the evolution of bacterial genomes, particularly in relation to bacterial pathogenesis. It highlights the variety of phylogenetically distinct transposable elements, the variety of transposition mechanisms, and some of the implications of rearranging DNA, and addresses the effects of genetic change on the fitness of the microbe.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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