Gene Transfer in Bacteria: Speciation Without Species?

Theor Popul Biol. 2002 Jun;61(4):449-60. doi: 10.1006/tpbi.2002.1587.


Although Bacteria and Archaea reproduce by binary fission, exchange of genes among lineages has shaped the diversity of their populations and the diversification of their lineages. Gene exchange can occur by two distinct routes, each differentially impacting the recipient genome. First, homologous recombination mediates the exchange of DNA between closely related individuals (those whose sequences are sufficient similarly to allow efficient integration). As a result, homologous recombination mediates the dispersal of advantageous alleles that may rise to high frequency among genetically related individuals via periodic selection events. Second, lateral gene transfer can introduce novel DNA into a genome from completely unrelated lineages via illegitimate recombination. Gene exchange by this route serves to distribute genes throughout distantly related clades and therefore may confer complex abilities--not otherwise found among closely related lineages--onto the recipient organisms. These two mechanisms of gene exchange play complementary roles in the diversification of microbial populations into independent, ecologically distinct lineages. Although the delineation of microbial "species" then becomes difficult--if not impossible--to achieve, a cogent process of speciation can be predicted.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal*
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Species Specificity