Bacteria may have endless diversity

Comparative sequencing reveals enormous variation in genomes from horizontal gene transfer

Melissa Lee Phillips(mlp@nasw.org)
Sep 27, 2005

Individual strains of the bacterium Streptococcus agalactiae show so much diversity that sequencing even hundreds of genomes may not reveal all the genes present in the species, according to a study published in last week's early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). This variation likely arises because bacteria easily take up DNA from their environment, through horizontal gene transfer and bacteriophage infection, according to the study's authors. The new report also suggests that current methods of characterizing bacterial strains may not capture their genetic relationships.

"It is potentially a landmark paper regarding pathogen evolution," said Fiona Brinkman of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, who was not involved in the study. One of the study's biggest implications is that there seems to be a surprisingly vast "pool of genes out there in the environment for bacteria to draw upon," Brinkman said.

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