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ISME J. 2010 Sep;4(9):1136-43. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2010.45. Epub 2010 Apr 15.

Widespread homologous recombination within and between Streptomyces species.

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Department of Microbiology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is widespread in the microbial world, but its impact on the origin and persistence of microbial species remains poorly defined. HGT can result in either acquisition of new genetic material or homologous replacement of existing genes. The evolutionary significance of homologous recombination in a population can be quantified by examining the relative rates at which polymorphisms are introduced from recombination (rho) and mutation (theta(w)). We used multilocus sequence analysis (MLSA) to quantify both intraspecies and interspecies homologous recombination among streptomycetes, multicellular Gram-positive bacteria ubiquitous in soil, which are an important source of antibiotics and bioactive compounds. Intraspecies recombination was examined using strains of Streptomyces flavogriseus isolated from soils at five locations spanning 1000 km. The strains had >99.8% nucleotide identity across the loci examined. We found remarkable levels of gene exchange within S. flavogriseus (rho/theta(w)=27.9), and found that the population was in linkage equilibrium (standardized index of association=0.0018), providing evidence for a freely recombining sexual population structure. We also examined interspecies homologous recombination among different Streptomyces species in an MLSA data set and found that 40% of the species had housekeeping genes acquired through HGT. The recombination rate between these named species (rho/theta(w)=0.21) exceeds that observed within many species of bacteria. Despite widespread gene exchange in the genus, the intraspecies recombination rate exceeded the interspecies rate by two orders of magnitude suggesting that patterns of gene exchange and recombination may shape the evolution of streptomycetes.

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