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1.  Phylogeographic reconstruction of a bacterial species with high levels of lateral gene transfer 
BMC Biology  2009;7:78.
Phylogeographic reconstruction of some bacterial populations is hindered by low diversity coupled with high levels of lateral gene transfer. A comparison of recombination levels and diversity at seven housekeeping genes for eleven bacterial species, most of which are commonly cited as having high levels of lateral gene transfer shows that the relative contributions of homologous recombination versus mutation for Burkholderia pseudomallei is over two times higher than for Streptococcus pneumoniae and is thus the highest value yet reported in bacteria. Despite the potential for homologous recombination to increase diversity, B. pseudomallei exhibits a relative lack of diversity at these loci. In these situations, whole genome genotyping of orthologous shared single nucleotide polymorphism loci, discovered using next generation sequencing technologies, can provide very large data sets capable of estimating core phylogenetic relationships. We compared and searched 43 whole genome sequences of B. pseudomallei and its closest relatives for single nucleotide polymorphisms in orthologous shared regions to use in phylogenetic reconstruction.
Bayesian phylogenetic analyses of >14,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms yielded completely resolved trees for these 43 strains with high levels of statistical support. These results enable a better understanding of a separate analysis of population differentiation among >1,700 B. pseudomallei isolates as defined by sequence data from seven housekeeping genes. We analyzed this larger data set for population structure and allele sharing that can be attributed to lateral gene transfer. Our results suggest that despite an almost panmictic population, we can detect two distinct populations of B. pseudomallei that conform to biogeographic patterns found in many plant and animal species. That is, separation along Wallace's Line, a biogeographic boundary between Southeast Asia and Australia.
We describe an Australian origin for B. pseudomallei, characterized by a single introduction event into Southeast Asia during a recent glacial period, and variable levels of lateral gene transfer within populations. These patterns provide insights into mechanisms of genetic diversification in B. pseudomallei and its closest relatives, and provide a framework for integrating the traditionally separate fields of population genetics and phylogenetics for other bacterial species with high levels of lateral gene transfer.
PMCID: PMC2784454  PMID: 19922616
2.  Recombination and insertion events involving the botulinum neurotoxin complex genes in Clostridium botulinum types A, B, E and F and Clostridium butyricum type E strains 
BMC Biology  2009;7:66.
Clostridium botulinum is a taxonomic designation for at least four diverse species that are defined by the expression of one (monovalent) or two (bivalent) of seven different C. botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs, A-G). The four species have been classified as C. botulinum Groups I-IV. The presence of bont genes in strains representing the different Groups is probably the result of horizontal transfer of the toxin operons between the species.
Chromosome and plasmid sequences of several C. botulinum strains representing A, B, E and F serotypes and a C. butyricum type E strain were compared to examine their genomic organization, or synteny, and the location of the botulinum toxin complex genes. These comparisons identified synteny among proteolytic (Group I) strains or nonproteolytic (Group II) strains but not between the two Groups. The bont complex genes within the strains examined were not randomly located but found within three regions of the chromosome or in two specific sites within plasmids. A comparison of sequences from a Bf strain revealed homology to the plasmid pCLJ with similar locations for the bont/bv b genes but with the bont/a4 gene replaced by the bont/f gene. An analysis of the toxin cluster genes showed that many recombination events have occurred, including several events within the ntnh gene. One such recombination event resulted in the integration of the bont/a1 gene into the serotype toxin B ha cluster, resulting in a successful lineage commonly associated with food borne botulism outbreaks. In C. botulinum type E and C. butyricum type E strains the location of the bont/e gene cluster appears to be the result of insertion events that split a rarA, recombination-associated gene, independently at the same location in both species.
The analysis of the genomic sequences representing different strains reveals the presence of insertion sequence (IS) elements and other transposon-associated proteins such as recombinases that could facilitate the horizontal transfer of the bonts; these events, in addition to recombination among the toxin complex genes, have led to the lineages observed today within the neurotoxin-producing clostridia.
PMCID: PMC2764570  PMID: 19804621

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