Recombination-driven genome evolution and stability of bacterial species

Purushottam D. Dixit, Tin Yau Pang, Sergei Maslov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While bacteria divide clonally, horizontal gene transfer followed by homologous recombination is now recognized as an important contributor to their evolution. However, the details of how the competition between clonality and recombination shapes genome diversity remains poorly understood. Using a computational model, we find two principal regimes in bacterial evolution and identify two composite parameters that dictate the evolutionary fate of bacterial species. In the divergent regime, characterized by either a low recombination frequency or strict barriers to recombination, cohesion due to recombination is not sufficient to overcome the mutational drift. As a consequence, the divergence between pairs of genomes in the population steadily increases in the course of their evolution. The species lacks genetic coherence with sexually isolated clonal subpopulations continuously formed and dissolved. In contrast, in the metastable regime, characterized by a high recombination frequency combined with low barriers to recombination, genomes continuously recombine with the rest of the population. The population remains genetically cohesive and temporally stable. Notably, the transition between these two regimes can be affected by relatively small changes in evolutionary parameters. Using the Multi Locus Sequence Typing (MLST) data, we classify a number of bacterial species to be either the divergent or the metastable type. Generalizations of our framework to include selection, ecologically structured populations, and horizontal gene transfer of nonhomologous regions are discussed as well.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-295
Number of pages15
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017


  • Bacterial evolution
  • Population genetics
  • Recombination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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