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Open Biol. 2012 Sep;2(9):120112. doi: 10.1098/rsob.120112.

Phylogeny rather than ecology or lifestyle biases the construction of Escherichia coli-Shigella genetic exchange communities.

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Institute for Molecular Bioscience and Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Bioinformatics, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia.


Genetic material can be transmitted not only vertically from parent to offspring, but also laterally (horizontally) from one bacterial lineage to another. Lateral genetic transfer is non-uniform; biases in its nature or frequency construct communities of genetic exchange. These biases have been proposed to arise from phylogenetic relatedness, shared ecology and/or common lifestyle. Here, we test these hypotheses using a graph-based abstraction of inferred genetic-exchange relationships among 27 Escherichia coli and Shigella genomes. We show that although barriers to inter-phylogenetic group lateral transfer are low, E. coli and Shigella are more likely to have exchanged genetic material with close relatives. We find little evidence of bias arising from shared environment or lifestyle. More than one-third of donor-recipient pairs in our analysis show some level of fragmentary gene transfer. Thus, within the E. coli-Shigella clade, intact genes and gene fragments have been disseminated non-uniformly and at appreciable frequency, constructing communities that transgress environmental and lifestyle boundaries.


genetic exchange communities; horizontal genetic transfer; lateral genetic transfer

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