Publications and Research

Document Type


Publication Date

July 2009


Background The steadily increasing number of prokaryotic genomes has accelerated the study of genome evolution; in particular, the availability of sets of genomes from closely related bacteria has facilitated the exploration of the mechanisms underlying genome plasticity. The family Vibrionaceae is found in the Gammaproteobacteria and is abundant in aquatic environments. Taxa from the family Vibrionaceae are diversified in their life styles; some species are free living, others are symbiotic, and others are human pathogens. This diversity makes this family a useful set of model organisms for studying bacterial evolution. This evolution is driven by several forces, among them gene duplication and lateral gene transfer, which are believed to provide raw material for functional redundancy and novelty. The resultant gene copy increase in one genome is then detected as lineage-specific expansion (LSE). Results Here we present the results of a detailed comparison of the genomes of eleven Vibrionaceae strains that have distinct life styles and distinct phenotypes. The core genome shared by all eleven strains is composed of 1,882 genes, which make up about 31%–50% of the genome repertoire. We further investigated the distribution and features of genes that have been specifically expanded in one unique lineage of the eleven strains. Abundant duplicate genes have been identified in the eleven Vibrionaceae strains, with 1–11% of the whole genomes composed lineage specific radiations. These LSEs occurred in two distinct patterns: the first type yields one or more copies of a single gene; we call this a single gene expansion. The second pattern has a high evolutionary impact, as the expansion involves two or more gene copies in a block, with the duplicated block located next to the original block (a contiguous block expansion) or at some distance from the original block (a discontiguous block expansion). We showed that LSEs involve genes that are tied to defense and pathogenesis mechanisms as well as in the fundamental life cycle of Vibrionaceae species. Conclusion Our results provide evidence of genome plasticity and rapid evolution within the family Vibrionaceae. The comparisons point to sources of genomic variation and candidates for lineage-specific adaptations of each Vibrionaceae pathogen or nonpathogen strain. Such lineage specific expansions could reveal components in bacterial systems that, by their enhanced genetic variability, can be tied to responses to environmental challenges, interesting phenotypes, or adaptive pathogenic responses to host challenges.



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