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PLoS Genet. 2014 Sep 18;10(9):e1004640. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1004640. eCollection 2014 Sep.

The tandem repeats enabling reversible switching between the two phases of β-lactamase substrate spectrum.

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Department of Biosystems and Biotechnology, Korea University, Seoul, Korea; Department of Biomedical Sciences, Korea University, Seoul, Korea.
Department of Biomedical Sciences, Korea University, Seoul, Korea.
J. Craig Venter Institute, Rockville, Maryland, United States of America.


Expansion or shrinkage of existing tandem repeats (TRs) associated with various biological processes has been actively studied in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic genomes, while their origin and biological implications remain mostly unknown. Here we describe various duplications (de novo TRs) that occurred in the coding region of a β-lactamase gene, where a conserved structure called the omega loop is encoded. These duplications that occurred under selection using ceftazidime conferred substrate spectrum extension to include the antibiotic. Under selective pressure with one of the original substrates (amoxicillin), a high level of reversion occurred in the mutant β-lactamase genes completing a cycle back to the original substrate spectrum. The de novo TRs coupled with reversion makes a genetic toggling mechanism enabling reversible switching between the two phases of the substrate spectrum of β-lactamases. This toggle exemplifies the effective adaptation of de novo TRs for enhanced bacterial survival. We found pairs of direct repeats that mediated the DNA duplication (TR formation). In addition, we found different duos of sequences that mediated the DNA duplication. These novel elements-that we named SCSs (same-strand complementary sequences)-were also found associated with β-lactamase TR mutations from clinical isolates. Both direct repeats and SCSs had a high correlation with TRs in diverse bacterial genomes throughout the major phylogenetic lineages, suggesting that they comprise a fundamental mechanism shaping the bacterial evolution.

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