The implications of a low rate of horizontal transfer in Borrelia

Trends Microbiol. 2001 Jul;9(7):344-50. doi: 10.1016/s0966-842x(01)02066-2.


The nature and rate of recombination can be studied by comparing the sequences of multiple genes across a set of strains. When this approach is applied to Borrelia burgdorferi, four results emerge: (1) chromosomal genes are clonal; (2) there is little or no plasmid exchange; (3) the major mode of horizontal transfer of genetic material inserts a small fragment of DNA, typically <1 kb, during recombination; and (4) the level of horizontal transfer in Borrelia is so low that there is evidence for horizontal transfer only in genes where there is positive selection for diversity, that is, positive selection for the recombinant. Thus, Borrelia can serve as a model of a low recombination taxon. The implications of these results lead us to postulate that an unknown agent that is part of the Borrelia genome mediates the horizontal transfer of small fragments of DNA; the rare transfer of small fragments of DNA excludes both DNA parasites and virulence factors from the genome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Borrelia burgdorferi Group / genetics*
  • Chromosomes, Bacterial
  • Codon
  • DNA Replication
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal / genetics*
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Phylogeny
  • Recombination, Genetic*
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Codon