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1.  Replicon-Dependent Bacterial Genome Evolution: The Case of Sinorhizobium meliloti 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2013;5(3):542-558.
Many bacterial species, such as the alphaproteobacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti, are characterized by open pangenomes and contain multipartite genomes consisting of a chromosome and other large-sized replicons, such as chromids, megaplasmids, and plasmids. The evolutionary forces in both functional and structural aspects that shape the pangenome of species with multipartite genomes are still poorly understood. Therefore, we sequenced the genomes of 10 new S. meliloti strains, analyzed with four publicly available additional genomic sequences. Results indicated that the three main replicons present in these strains (a chromosome, a chromid, and a megaplasmid) partly show replicon-specific behaviors related to strain differentiation. In particular, the pSymB chromid was shown to be a hot spot for positively selected genes, and, unexpectedly, genes resident in the pSymB chromid were also found to be more widespread in distant taxa than those located in the other replicons. Moreover, through the exploitation of a DNA proximity network, a series of conserved “DNA backbones” were found to shape the evolution of the genome structure, with the rest of the genome experiencing rearrangements. The presented data allow depicting a scenario where the pSymB chromid has a distinctive role in intraspecies differentiation and in evolution through positive selection, whereas the pSymA megaplasmid mostly contributes to structural fluidity and to the emergence of new functions, indicating a specific evolutionary role for each replicon in the pangenome evolution.
doi:10.1093/gbe/evt027
PMCID: PMC3622305  PMID: 23431003
chromid; pangenome; bacteria; selection
2.  Exploring the plant-associated bacterial communities in Medicago sativa L 
BMC Microbiology  2012;12:78.
Background
Plant-associated bacterial communities caught the attention of several investigators which study the relationships between plants and soil and the potential application of selected bacterial species in crop improvement and protection. Medicago sativa L. is a legume crop of high economic importance as forage in temperate areas and one of the most popular model plants for investigations on the symbiosis with nitrogen fixing rhizobia (mainly belonging to the alphaproteobacterial species Sinorhizobium meliloti). However, despite its importance, no studies have been carried out looking at the total bacterial community associated with the plant. In this work we explored for the first time the total bacterial community associated with M. sativa plants grown in mesocosms conditions, looking at a wide taxonomic spectrum, from the class to the single species (S. meliloti) level.
Results
Results, obtained by using Terminal-Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (T-RFLP) analysis, quantitative PCR and sequencing of 16 S rRNA gene libraries, showed a high taxonomic diversity as well as a dominance by members of the class Alphaproteobacteria in plant tissues. Within Alphaproteobacteria the families Sphingomonadaceae and Methylobacteriaceae were abundant inside plant tissues, while soil Alphaproteobacteria were represented by the families of Hyphomicrobiaceae, Methylocystaceae, Bradyirhizobiaceae and Caulobacteraceae. At the single species level, we were able to detect the presence of S. meliloti populations in aerial tissues, nodules and soil. An analysis of population diversity on nodules and soil showed a relatively low sharing of haplotypes (30-40%) between the two environments and between replicate mesocosms, suggesting drift as main force shaping S. meliloti population at least in this system.
Conclusions
In this work we shed some light on the bacterial communities associated with M. sativa plants, showing that Alphaproteobacteria may constitute an important part of biodiversity in this system, which includes also the well known symbiont S. meliloti. Interestingly, this last species was also found in plant aerial part, by applying cultivation-independent protocols, and a genetic diversity analysis suggested that population structure could be strongly influenced by random drift.
doi:10.1186/1471-2180-12-78
PMCID: PMC3412730  PMID: 22607312
3.  Plant-Bacteria Association and Symbiosis: Are There Common Genomic Traits in Alphaproteobacteria? 
Genes  2011;2(4):1017-1032.
Alphaproteobacteria show a great versatility in adapting to a broad range of environments and lifestyles, with the association between bacteria and plants as one of the most intriguing, spanning from relatively unspecific nonsymbiotic association (as rhizospheric or endophytic strains) to the highly species-specific interaction of rhizobia. To shed some light on possible common genetic features in such a heterogeneous set of plant associations, the genomes of 92 Alphaproteobacteria strains were analyzed with a fuzzy orthologs-species detection approach. This showed that the different habitats and lifestyles of plant-associated bacteria (soil, plant colonizers, symbiont) are partially reflected by the trend to have larger genomes with respect to nonplant-associated species. A relatively large set of genes specific to symbiotic bacteria (73 orthologous groups) was found, with a remarkable presence of regulators, sugar transporters, metabolic enzymes, nodulation genes and several genes with unknown function that could be good candidates for further characterization. Interestingly, 15 orthologous groupspresent in all plant-associated bacteria (symbiotic and nonsymbiotic), but absent in nonplant-associated bacteria, were also found, whose functions were mainly related to regulation of gene expression and electron transport. Two of these orthologous groups were also detected in fully sequenced plant-associated Betaproteobacteria and Gammaproteobacteria. Overall these results lead us to hypothesize that plant-bacteria associations, though quite variable, are partially supported by a conserved set of unsuspected gene functions.
doi:10.3390/genes2041017
PMCID: PMC3927591  PMID: 24710303
bacterial genomes; plant; symbiosis
4.  The diversity and evolution of cell cycle regulation in alpha-proteobacteria: a comparative genomic analysis 
BMC Systems Biology  2010;4:52.
Background
In the bacterium Caulobacter crescentus, CtrA coordinates DNA replication, cell division, and polar morphogenesis and is considered the cell cycle master regulator. CtrA activity varies during cell cycle progression and is modulated by phosphorylation, proteolysis and transcriptional control. In a phosphorylated state, CtrA binds specific DNA sequences, regulates the expression of genes involved in cell cycle progression and silences the origin of replication. Although the circuitry regulating CtrA is known in molecular detail in Caulobacter, its conservation and functionality in the other alpha-proteobacteria are still poorly understood.
Results
Orthologs of Caulobacter factors involved in the regulation of CtrA were systematically scanned in genomes of alpha-proteobacteria. In particular, orthologous genes of the divL-cckA-chpT-ctrA phosphorelay, the divJ-pleC-divK two-component system, the cpdR-rcdA-clpPX proteolysis system, the methyltransferase ccrM and transcriptional regulators dnaA and gcrA were identified in representative genomes of alpha-proteobacteria. CtrA, DnaA and GcrA binding sites and CcrM putative methylation sites were predicted in promoter regions of all these factors and functions controlled by CtrA in all alphas were predicted.
Conclusions
The regulatory cell cycle architecture was identified in all representative alpha-proteobacteria, revealing a high diversification of circuits but also a conservation of logical features. An evolutionary model was proposed where ancient alphas already possessed all modules found in Caulobacter arranged in a variety of connections. Two schemes appeared to evolve: a complex circuit in Caulobacterales and Rhizobiales and a simpler one found in Rhodobacterales.
doi:10.1186/1752-0509-4-52
PMCID: PMC2877005  PMID: 20426835
5.  Metabolic Capacity of Sinorhizobium (Ensifer) meliloti Strains as Determined by Phenotype MicroArray Analysis▿ † 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2009;75(16):5396-5404.
Sinorhizobium meliloti is a soil bacterium that fixes atmospheric nitrogen in plant roots. The high genetic diversity of its natural populations has been the subject of extensive analysis. Recent genomic studies of several isolates revealed a high content of variable genes, suggesting a correspondingly large phenotypic differentiation among strains of S. meliloti. Here, using the Phenotype MicroArray (PM) system, hundreds of different growth conditions were tested in order to compare the metabolic capabilities of the laboratory reference strain Rm1021 with those of four natural S. meliloti isolates previously analyzed by comparative genomic hybridization (CGH). The results of PM analysis showed that most phenotypic differences involved carbon source utilization and tolerance to osmolytes and pH, while fewer differences were scored for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur source utilization. Only the variability of the tested strain in tolerance to sodium nitrite and ammonium sulfate of pH 8 was hypothesized to be associated with the genetic polymorphisms detected by CGH analysis. Colony and cell morphologies and the ability to nodulate Medicago truncatula plants were also compared, revealing further phenotypic diversity. Overall, our results suggest that the study of functional (phenotypic) variability of S. meliloti populations is an important and complementary step in the investigation of genetic polymorphism of rhizobia and may help to elucidate rhizobial evolutionary dynamics, including adaptation to diverse environments.
doi:10.1128/AEM.00196-09
PMCID: PMC2725449  PMID: 19561177
6.  Analysis of plasmid genes by phylogenetic profiling and visualization of homology relationships using Blast2Network 
BMC Bioinformatics  2008;9:551.
Background
Phylogenetic methods are well-established bioinformatic tools for sequence analysis, allowing to describe the non-independencies of sequences because of their common ancestor. However, the evolutionary profiles of bacterial genes are often complicated by hidden paralogy and extensive and/or (multiple) horizontal gene transfer (HGT) events which make bifurcating trees often inappropriate. In this context, plasmid sequences are paradigms of network-like relationships characterizing the evolution of prokaryotes. Actually, they can be transferred among different organisms allowing the dissemination of novel functions, thus playing a pivotal role in prokaryotic evolution. However, the study of their evolutionary dynamics is complicated by the absence of universally shared genes, a prerequisite for phylogenetic analyses.
Results
To overcome such limitations we developed a bioinformatic package, named Blast2Network (B2N), allowing the automatic phylogenetic profiling and the visualization of homology relationships in a large number of plasmid sequences. The software was applied to the study of 47 completely sequenced plasmids coming from Escherichia, Salmonella and Shigella spps.
Conclusion
The tools implemented by B2N allow to describe and visualize in a new way some of the evolutionary features of plasmid molecules of Enterobacteriaceae; in particular it helped to shed some light on the complex history of Escherichia, Salmonella and Shigella plasmids and to focus on possible roles of unannotated proteins.
The proposed methodology is general enough to be used for comparative genomic analyses of bacteria.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-9-551
PMCID: PMC2640388  PMID: 19099604
7.  Strategy for In Situ Detection of Natural Transformation-Based Horizontal Gene Transfer Events▿ †  
A strategy is described that enables the in situ detection of natural transformation in Acinetobacter baylyi BD413 by the expression of a green fluorescent protein. Microscale detection of bacterial transformants growing on plant tissues was shown by fluorescence microscopy and indicated that cultivation-based selection of transformants on antibiotic-containing agar plates underestimates transformation frequencies.
doi:10.1128/AEM.02185-07
PMCID: PMC2258602  PMID: 18165369
8.  Large-scale genetic variation of the symbiosis-required megaplasmid pSymA revealed by comparative genomic analysis of Sinorhizobium meliloti natural strains 
BMC Genomics  2005;6:158.
Background
Sinorhizobium meliloti is a soil bacterium that forms nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots of leguminous plants such as alfalfa (Medicago sativa). This species occupies different ecological niches, being present as a free-living soil bacterium and as a symbiont of plant root nodules. The genome of the type strain Rm 1021 contains one chromosome and two megaplasmids for a total genome size of 6 Mb. We applied comparative genomic hybridisation (CGH) on an oligonucleotide microarrays to estimate genetic variation at the genomic level in four natural strains, two isolated from Italian agricultural soil and two from desert soil in the Aral Sea region.
Results
From 4.6 to 5.7 percent of the genes showed a pattern of hybridisation concordant with deletion, nucleotide divergence or ORF duplication when compared to the type strain Rm 1021. A large number of these polymorphisms were confirmed by sequencing and Southern blot. A statistically significant fraction of these variable genes was found on the pSymA megaplasmid and grouped in clusters. These variable genes were found to be mainly transposases or genes with unknown function.
Conclusion
The obtained results allow to conclude that the symbiosis-required megaplasmid pSymA can be considered the major hot-spot for intra-specific differentiation in S. meliloti.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-6-158
PMCID: PMC1298293  PMID: 16283928
9.  Genetic Diversity and Dynamics of Sinorhizobium meliloti Populations Nodulating Different Alfalfa Cultivars in Italian Soils 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2000;66(11):4785-4789.
We analyzed the genetic diversity of 531 Sinorhizobium meliloti strains isolated from nodules of Medicago sativa cultivars in two different Italian soils during 4 years of plant growth. The isolates were analyzed for DNA polymorphism with the random amplified polymorphic DNA method. The populations showed a high level of genetic polymorphism distributed throughout all the isolates, with 440 different haplotypes. Analysis of molecular variance allowed us to relate the genetic structure of the symbiotic population to various factors, including soil type, alfalfa cultivar, individual plants within a cultivar, and time. Some of these factors significantly affected the genetic structure of the population, and their relative influence changed with time. At the beginning of the experiment, the soil of origin and, even more, the cultivar significantly influenced the distribution of genetic variability of S. meliloti. After 3 years, the rhizobium population was altered; it showed a genetic structure based mainly on differences among plants, while the effects of soil and cultivar were not significant.
PMCID: PMC92380  PMID: 11055924

Results 1-9 (9)