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Genome Biol Evol. 2014 Dec 4;7(1):18-34. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evu260.

Genome-wide patterns of recombination in the opportunistic human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

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Department of Biology and Centre for Advanced Research in Environmental Genomics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Department of Biology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Biology and Centre for Advanced Research in Environmental Genomics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.


The bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a significant cause of acute nosocomial infections as well as chronic respiratory infections in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). Recent reports of the intercontinental spread of a CF-specific epidemic strain, combined with high intrinsic levels of antibiotic resistance, have made this opportunistic pathogen an important public health concern. Strain-specific differences correlate with variation in clinical outcomes of infected CF patients, increasing the urgency to understand the evolutionary origin of genetic factors conferring important phenotypes that enable infection, virulence, or resistance. Here, we describe the genome-wide patterns of homologous and nonhomologous recombination in P. aeruginosa, and the extent to which the genomes are affected by these diversity-generating processes. Based on whole-genome sequence data from 32 clinical isolates of P. aeruginosa, we examined the rate and distribution of recombination along the genome, and its effect on the reconstruction of phylogenetic relationships. Multiple lines of evidence suggested that recombination was common and usually involves short stretches of DNA (200-300 bp). Although mutation was the main source of nucleotide diversity, the import of polymorphisms by homologous recombination contributed nearly as much. We also identified the genomic regions with frequent recombination, and the specific sequences of recombinant origin within epidemic strains. The functional characteristics of the genes contained therein were examined for potential associations with a pathogenic lifestyle or adaptation to the CF lung environment. A common link between many of the high-recombination genes was their functional affiliation with the cell wall, suggesting that the products of recombination may be maintained by selection for variation in cell-surface molecules that allows for evasion of the host immune system.


adaptation; comparative genomics; epidemic; homologous recombination; horizontal transfer; population genomics

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