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BMC Evol Biol. 2006 Jan 5;6:2.

A new experimental approach for studying bacterial genomic island evolution identifies island genes with bacterial host-specific expression patterns.

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Program in Molecular Pathogenesis and Immunity, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Tulane University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, LA 70112, USA.



Genomic islands are regions of bacterial genomes that have been acquired by horizontal transfer and often contain blocks of genes that function together for specific processes. Recently, it has become clear that the impact of genomic islands on the evolution of different bacterial species is significant and represents a major force in establishing bacterial genomic variation. However, the study of genomic island evolution has been mostly performed at the sequence level using computer software or hybridization analysis to compare different bacterial genomic sequences. We describe here a novel experimental approach to study the evolution of species-specific bacterial genomic islands that identifies island genes that have evolved in such a way that they are differentially-expressed depending on the bacterial host background into which they are transferred.


We demonstrate this approach by using a "test" genomic island that we have cloned from the Salmonella typhimurium genome (island 4305) and transferred to a range of Gram negative bacterial hosts of differing evolutionary relationships to S. typhimurium. Systematic analysis of the expression of the island genes in the different hosts compared to proper controls allowed identification of genes with genera-specific expression patterns. The data from the analysis can be arranged in a matrix to give an expression "array" of the island genes in the different bacterial backgrounds. A conserved 19-bp DNA site was found upstream of at least two of the differentially-expressed island genes. To our knowledge, this is the first systematic analysis of horizontally-transferred genomic island gene expression in a broad range of Gram negative hosts. We also present evidence in this study that the IS200 element found in island 4305 in S. typhimurium strain LT2 was inserted after the island had already been acquired by the S. typhimurium lineage and that this element is likely not involved in the integration or excision of island 4305.


The "clone-and-transfer" approach of evolutionary study identifies genes whose expression patterns indicate the existence of genera-specific regulatory mechanisms that influence the expression of horizontally-transferred DNA sections. The results provide key information that can be used to facilitate the identification of these regulatory mechanisms.

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