Impact of small repeat sequences on bacterial genome evolution

Genome Biol Evol. 2011;3:959-73. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evr077. Epub 2011 Jul 29.


Intergenic regions of prokaryotic genomes carry multiple copies of terminal inverted repeat (TIR) sequences, the nonautonomous miniature inverted-repeat transposable element (MITE). In addition, there are the repetitive extragenic palindromic (REP) sequences that fold into a small stem loop rich in G-C bonding. And the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) display similar small stem loops but are an integral part of a complex genetic element. Other classes of repeats such as the REP2 element do not have TIRs but show other signatures. With the current availability of a large number of whole-genome sequences, many new repeat elements have been discovered. These sequences display diverse properties. Some show an intimate linkage to integrons, and at least one encodes a small RNA. Many repeats are found fused with chromosomal open reading frames, and some are located within protein coding sequences. Small repeat units appear to work hand in hand with the transcriptional and/or post-transcriptional apparatus of the cell. Functionally, they are multifaceted, and this can range from the control of gene expression, the facilitation of host/pathogen interactions, or stimulation of the mammalian immune system. The CRISPR complex displays dramatic functions such as an acquired immune system that defends against invading viruses and plasmids. Evolutionarily, mobile repeat elements may have influenced a cycle of active versus inactive genes in ancestral organisms, and some repeats are concentrated in regions of the chromosome where there is significant genomic plasticity. Changes in the abundance of genomic repeats during the evolution of an organism may have resulted in a benefit to the cell or posed a disadvantage, and some present day species may reflect a purification process. The diverse structure, eclectic functions, and evolutionary aspects of repeat elements are described.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Inverted Repeat Sequences / genetics
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Molecular Structure
  • Open Reading Frames / genetics
  • RNA / genetics
  • RNA, Untranslated / genetics
  • Terminal Repeat Sequences / genetics*


  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • RNA, Untranslated
  • RNA