Lateral transfer of genes and gene fragments in Staphylococcus extends beyond mobile elements

J Bacteriol. 2011 Aug;193(15):3964-77. doi: 10.1128/JB.01524-10. Epub 2011 May 27.


The widespread presence of antibiotic resistance and virulence among Staphylococcus isolates has been attributed in part to lateral genetic transfer (LGT), but little is known about the broader extent of LGT within this genus. Here we report the first systematic study of the modularity of genetic transfer among 13 Staphylococcus genomes covering four distinct named species. Using a topology-based phylogenetic approach, we found, among 1,354 sets of homologous genes examined, strong evidence of LGT in 368 (27.1%) gene sets, and weaker evidence in another 259 (19.1%). Within-gene and whole-gene transfer contribute almost equally to the topological discordance of these gene sets against a reference phylogeny. Comparing genetic transfer in single-copy and in multicopy gene sets, we observed a higher frequency of LGT in the latter, and a substantial functional bias in cases of whole-gene transfer (little such bias was observed in cases of fragmentary genetic transfer). We found evidence that lateral transfer, particularly of entire genes, impacts not only functions related to antibiotic, drug, and heavy-metal resistance, as well as membrane transport, but also core informational and metabolic functions not associated with mobile elements. Although patterns of sequence similarity support the cohesion of recognized species, LGT within S. aureus appears frequently to disrupt clonal complexes. Our results demonstrate that LGT and gene duplication play important parts in functional innovation in staphylococcal genomes.

MeSH terms

  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal*
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Humans
  • Interspersed Repetitive Sequences*
  • Phylogeny
  • Staphylococcal Infections / microbiology
  • Staphylococcus / classification
  • Staphylococcus / genetics*