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      An Evolutionary Link between Natural Transformation and CRISPR Adaptive Immunity



      American Society of Microbiology

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          Natural transformation by competent bacteria is a primary means of horizontal gene transfer; however, evidence that competence drives bacterial diversity and evolution has remained elusive. To test this theory, we used a retrospective comparative genomic approach to analyze the evolutionary history of Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, a bacterial species with both competent and noncompetent sister strains. Through comparative genomic analyses, we reveal that competence is evolutionarily linked to genomic diversity and speciation. Competence loss occurs frequently during evolution and is followed by the loss of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs), bacterial adaptive immune systems that protect against parasitic DNA. Relative to noncompetent strains, competent bacteria have larger genomes containing multiple rearrangements. In contrast, noncompetent bacterial genomes are extremely stable but paradoxically susceptible to infective DNA elements, which contribute to noncompetent strain genetic diversity. Moreover, incomplete noncompetent strain CRISPR immune systems are enriched for self-targeting elements, which suggests that the CRISPRs have been co-opted for bacterial gene regulation, similar to eukaryotic microRNAs derived from the antiviral RNA interference pathway.


          The human microbiome is rich with thousands of diverse bacterial species. One mechanism driving this diversity is horizontal gene transfer by natural transformation, whereby naturally competent bacteria take up environmental DNA and incorporate new genes into their genomes. Competence is theorized to accelerate evolution; however, attempts to test this theory have proved difficult. Through genetic analyses of the human periodontal pathogen Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, we have discovered an evolutionary connection between competence systems promoting gene acquisition and CRISPRs (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), adaptive immune systems that protect bacteria against genetic parasites. We show that competent Aactinomycetemcomitans strains have numerous redundant CRISPR immune systems, while noncompetent bacteria have lost their CRISPR immune systems because of inactivating mutations. Together, the evolutionary data linking the evolution of competence and CRISPRs reveals unique mechanisms promoting genetic heterogeneity and the rise of new bacterial species, providing insight into complex mechanisms underlying bacterial diversity in the human body.

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          Most cited references 48

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          Gapped BLAST and PSI-BLAST: a new generation of protein database search programs.

           S Altschul (1997)
          The BLAST programs are widely used tools for searching protein and DNA databases for sequence similarities. For protein comparisons, a variety of definitional, algorithmic and statistical refinements described here permits the execution time of the BLAST programs to be decreased substantially while enhancing their sensitivity to weak similarities. A new criterion for triggering the extension of word hits, combined with a new heuristic for generating gapped alignments, yields a gapped BLAST program that runs at approximately three times the speed of the original. In addition, a method is introduced for automatically combining statistically significant alignments produced by BLAST into a position-specific score matrix, and searching the database using this matrix. The resulting Position-Specific Iterated BLAST (PSI-BLAST) program runs at approximately the same speed per iteration as gapped BLAST, but in many cases is much more sensitive to weak but biologically relevant sequence similarities. PSI-BLAST is used to uncover several new and interesting members of the BRCT superfamily.
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            MUSCLE: multiple sequence alignment with high accuracy and high throughput.

             Robert Edgar (2004)
            We describe MUSCLE, a new computer program for creating multiple alignments of protein sequences. Elements of the algorithm include fast distance estimation using kmer counting, progressive alignment using a new profile function we call the log-expectation score, and refinement using tree-dependent restricted partitioning. The speed and accuracy of MUSCLE are compared with T-Coffee, MAFFT and CLUSTALW on four test sets of reference alignments: BAliBASE, SABmark, SMART and a new benchmark, PREFAB. MUSCLE achieves the highest, or joint highest, rank in accuracy on each of these sets. Without refinement, MUSCLE achieves average accuracy statistically indistinguishable from T-Coffee and MAFFT, and is the fastest of the tested methods for large numbers of sequences, aligning 5000 sequences of average length 350 in 7 min on a current desktop computer. The MUSCLE program, source code and PREFAB test data are freely available at http://www.drive5. com/muscle.
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              MEGA5: molecular evolutionary genetics analysis using maximum likelihood, evolutionary distance, and maximum parsimony methods.

              Comparative analysis of molecular sequence data is essential for reconstructing the evolutionary histories of species and inferring the nature and extent of selective forces shaping the evolution of genes and species. Here, we announce the release of Molecular Evolutionary Genetics Analysis version 5 (MEGA5), which is a user-friendly software for mining online databases, building sequence alignments and phylogenetic trees, and using methods of evolutionary bioinformatics in basic biology, biomedicine, and evolution. The newest addition in MEGA5 is a collection of maximum likelihood (ML) analyses for inferring evolutionary trees, selecting best-fit substitution models (nucleotide or amino acid), inferring ancestral states and sequences (along with probabilities), and estimating evolutionary rates site-by-site. In computer simulation analyses, ML tree inference algorithms in MEGA5 compared favorably with other software packages in terms of computational efficiency and the accuracy of the estimates of phylogenetic trees, substitution parameters, and rate variation among sites. The MEGA user interface has now been enhanced to be activity driven to make it easier for the use of both beginners and experienced scientists. This version of MEGA is intended for the Windows platform, and it has been configured for effective use on Mac OS X and Linux desktops. It is available free of charge from

                Author and article information

                American Society of Microbiology (1752 N St., N.W., Washington, DC )
                2 October 2012
                Sep-Oct 2012
                : 3
                : 5
                Section of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA
                Author notes
                Address correspondence to Marvin Whiteley, mwhiteley@ .

                Editor Julian Davies, University of British Columbia

                Copyright © 2012 Jorth and Whiteley.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License, which permits unrestricted noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Pages: 7
                Research Article
                Custom metadata
                September/October 2012

                Life sciences


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