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1.  Genomes in turmoil: quantification of genome dynamics in prokaryote supergenomes 
BMC Biology  2014;12(1):66.
Background
Genomes of bacteria and archaea (collectively, prokaryotes) appear to exist in incessant flux, expanding via horizontal gene transfer and gene duplication, and contracting via gene loss. However, the actual rates of genome dynamics and relative contributions of different types of event across the diversity of prokaryotes are largely unknown, as are the sizes of microbial supergenomes, i.e. pools of genes that are accessible to the given microbial species.
Results
We performed a comprehensive analysis of the genome dynamics in 35 groups (34 bacterial and one archaeal) of closely related microbial genomes using a phylogenetic birth-and-death maximum likelihood model to quantify the rates of gene family gain and loss, as well as expansion and reduction. The results show that loss of gene families dominates the evolution of prokaryotes, occurring at approximately three times the rate of gain. The rates of gene family expansion and reduction are typically seven and twenty times less than the gain and loss rates, respectively. Thus, the prevailing mode of evolution in bacteria and archaea is genome contraction, which is partially compensated by the gain of new gene families via horizontal gene transfer. However, the rates of gene family gain, loss, expansion and reduction vary within wide ranges, with the most stable genomes showing rates about 25 times lower than the most dynamic genomes. For many groups, the supergenome estimated from the fraction of repetitive gene family gains includes about tenfold more gene families than the typical genome in the group although some groups appear to have vast, ‘open’ supergenomes.
Conclusions
Reconstruction of evolution for groups of closely related bacteria and archaea reveals an extremely rapid and highly variable flux of genes in evolving microbial genomes, demonstrates that extensive gene loss and horizontal gene transfer leading to innovation are the two dominant evolutionary processes, and yields robust estimates of the supergenome size.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12915-014-0066-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1186/s12915-014-0066-4
PMCID: PMC4166000  PMID: 25141959
2.  Casposons: a new superfamily of self-synthesizing DNA transposons at the origin of prokaryotic CRISPR-Cas immunity 
BMC Biology  2014;12:36.
Background
Diverse transposable elements are abundant in genomes of cellular organisms from all three domains of life. Although transposons are often regarded as junk DNA, a growing body of evidence indicates that they are behind some of the major evolutionary innovations. With the growth in the number and diversity of sequenced genomes, previously unnoticed mobile elements continue to be discovered.
Results
We describe a new superfamily of archaeal and bacterial mobile elements which we denote casposons because they encode Cas1 endonuclease, a key enzyme of the CRISPR-Cas adaptive immunity systems of archaea and bacteria. The casposons share several features with self-synthesizing eukaryotic DNA transposons of the Polinton/Maverick class, including terminal inverted repeats and genes for B family DNA polymerases. However, unlike any other known mobile elements, the casposons are predicted to rely on Cas1 for integration and excision, via a mechanism similar to the integration of new spacers into CRISPR loci. We identify three distinct families of casposons that differ in their gene repertoires and evolutionary provenance of the DNA polymerases. Deep branching of the casposon-encoded endonuclease in the Cas1 phylogeny suggests that casposons played a pivotal role in the emergence of CRISPR-Cas immunity.
Conclusions
The casposons are a novel superfamily of mobile elements, the first family of putative self-synthesizing transposons discovered in prokaryotes. The likely contribution of capsosons to the evolution of CRISPR-Cas parallels the involvement of the RAG1 transposase in vertebrate immunoglobulin gene rearrangement, suggesting that recruitment of endonucleases from mobile elements as ready-made tools for genome manipulation is a general route of evolution of adaptive immunity.
doi:10.1186/1741-7007-12-36
PMCID: PMC4046053  PMID: 24884953
Mobile genetic elements; CRISPR-Cas system; Adaptive immunity; Transposons; Archaea; DNA polymerases
3.  Seeing the Tree of Life behind the phylogenetic forest 
BMC Biology  2013;11:46.
doi:10.1186/1741-7007-11-46
PMCID: PMC3626908  PMID: 23587361
4.  Expanding networks of RNA virus evolution 
BMC Biology  2012;10:54.
In a recent BMC Evolutionary Biology article, Huiquan Liu and colleagues report two new genomes of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) viruses from fungi and use these as a springboard to perform an extensive phylogenomic analysis of dsRNA viruses. The results support the old scenario of polyphyletic origin of dsRNA viruses from different groups of positive-strand RNA viruses and additionally reveal extensive horizontal gene transfer between diverse viruses consistent with the network-like rather than tree-like mode of viral evolution. Together with the unexpected discoveries of the first putative archaeal RNA virus and a RNA-DNA virus hybrid, this work shows that RNA viral genomics has major surprises to deliver.
See research article: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2148/12/91
doi:10.1186/1741-7007-10-54
PMCID: PMC3379944  PMID: 22715894
5.  Taming of the shrewd: novel eukaryotic genes from RNA viruses 
BMC Biology  2010;8:2.
Genomes of several yeast species contain integrated DNA copies of complete genomes or individual genes of non-retroviral double-strand RNA viruses as reported in a recent BMC Biology article by Taylor and Bruenn. The integrated virus-specific sequences are at least partially expressed and seem to evolve under pressure of purifying selection, indicating that these are functional genes. Together with similar reports on integrated copies of some animal RNA viruses, these results suggest that integration of DNA copies of non-reverse-transcribing RNA viruses might be much more common than previously thought. The integrated copies could contribute to acquired immunity to the respective viruses.
doi:10.1186/1741-7007-8-2
PMCID: PMC2823675  PMID: 20067611

Results 1-5 (5)