The impact of homologous recombination on the generation of diversity in bacteria.


The imprint of demographic and selective processes on bacterial population structure needs to be evaluated as deviation from the expectations of an appropriate null neutral model. We explore the impact of varying the population mutation and recombination rates theta and rho on ideal populations, using a recently developed model of neutral drift at multiple loci. This model may be fitted to experimental data to provide estimates of these parameters, and we do so for seven bacterial species (Neisseria meningitidis, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Streptococcus pyogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Helicobacter pylori, Burkholderia pseudomallei and Bacillus cereus), illustrating that bacterial species vary extensively in these fundamental parameters. Historically, the influence of recombination has often been estimated through its influence on the Index of Association I(A). We show that this may be relatively insensitive to changes in either mutation or recombination rates. It is known that biased sampling can lead to artificially high estimates of I(A). We therefore provide a method of precisely separating the effects of such bias and true linkage between alleles. We also demonstrate that by fitting the neutral model to experimental data, more informative and precise estimates of the relative roles of recombination and mutation may be obtained.

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