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Nat Commun. 2016 Sep 22;7:12860. doi: 10.1038/ncomms12860.

Adaptive radiation by waves of gene transfer leads to fine-scale resource partitioning in marine microbes.

Author information

1
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.
2
Microbiology Graduate Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.
3
Computational and Systems Biology Graduate Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.
4
Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.
5
Department of Biological Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.
6
Broad Institute, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.

Abstract

Adaptive radiations are important drivers of niche filling, since they rapidly adapt a single clade of organisms to ecological opportunities. Although thought to be common for animals and plants, adaptive radiations have remained difficult to document for microbes in the wild. Here we describe a recent adaptive radiation leading to fine-scale ecophysiological differentiation in the degradation of an algal glycan in a clade of closely related marine bacteria. Horizontal gene transfer is the primary driver in the diversification of the pathway leading to several ecophysiologically differentiated Vibrionaceae populations adapted to different physical forms of alginate. Pathway architecture is predictive of function and ecology, underscoring that horizontal gene transfer without extensive regulatory changes can rapidly assemble fully functional pathways in microbes.

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