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Curr Opin Genet Dev. 2005 Dec;15(6):589-94. Epub 2005 Sep 26.

The microbial pan-genome.

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Immunobiological Research Institute of Siena (IRIS), Chiron Vaccines, via Fiorentina 1, 53100 Siena, Italy.


A decade after the beginning of the genomic era, the question of how genomics can describe a bacterial species has not been fully addressed. Experimental data have shown that in some species new genes are discovered even after sequencing the genomes of several strains. Mathematical modeling predicts that new genes will be discovered even after sequencing hundreds of genomes per species. Therefore, a bacterial species can be described by its pan-genome, which is composed of a "core genome" containing genes present in all strains, and a "dispensable genome" containing genes present in two or more strains and genes unique to single strains. Given that the number of unique genes is vast, the pan-genome of a bacterial species might be orders of magnitude larger than any single genome.

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