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Genetics. 2010 Oct;186(2):613-27. doi: 10.1534/genetics.110.119438. Epub 2010 Jul 13.

Bacterial DNA uptake sequences can accumulate by molecular drive alone.

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Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 3Z4, Canada.


Uptake signal sequences are DNA motifs that promote DNA uptake by competent bacteria in the family Pasteurellaceae and the genus Neisseria. The genomes of these bacteria contain many copies of their canonical uptake sequence (often >100-fold overrepresentation), so the bias of the uptake machinery causes cells to prefer DNA derived from close relatives over DNA from other sources. However, the molecular and evolutionary forces responsible for the abundance of uptake sequences in these genomes are not well understood, and their presence is not easily explained by any of the current models of the evolution of competence. Here we describe use of a computer simulation model to thoroughly evaluate the simplest explanation for uptake sequences, that they accumulate in genomes by a form of molecular drive generated by biased DNA uptake and evolutionarily neutral (i.e., unselected) recombination. In parallel we used an unbiased search algorithm to characterize genomic uptake sequences and DNA uptake assays to refine the Haemophilus influenzae uptake specificity. These analyses showed that biased uptake and neutral recombination are sufficient to drive uptake sequences to high densities, with the spacings, stabilities, and strong consensus typical of uptake sequences in real genomes. This result greatly simplifies testing of hypotheses about the benefits of DNA uptake, because it explains how genomes could have passively accumulated sequences matching the bias of their uptake machineries.

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