Replicon-dependent bacterial genome evolution: the case of Sinorhizobium meliloti

Genome Biol Evol. 2013;5(3):542-58. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evt027.


Many bacterial species, such as the alphaproteobacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti, are characterized by open pangenomes and contain multipartite genomes consisting of a chromosome and other large-sized replicons, such as chromids, megaplasmids, and plasmids. The evolutionary forces in both functional and structural aspects that shape the pangenome of species with multipartite genomes are still poorly understood. Therefore, we sequenced the genomes of 10 new S. meliloti strains, analyzed with four publicly available additional genomic sequences. Results indicated that the three main replicons present in these strains (a chromosome, a chromid, and a megaplasmid) partly show replicon-specific behaviors related to strain differentiation. In particular, the pSymB chromid was shown to be a hot spot for positively selected genes, and, unexpectedly, genes resident in the pSymB chromid were also found to be more widespread in distant taxa than those located in the other replicons. Moreover, through the exploitation of a DNA proximity network, a series of conserved "DNA backbones" were found to shape the evolution of the genome structure, with the rest of the genome experiencing rearrangements. The presented data allow depicting a scenario where the pSymB chromid has a distinctive role in intraspecies differentiation and in evolution through positive selection, whereas the pSymA megaplasmid mostly contributes to structural fluidity and to the emergence of new functions, indicating a specific evolutionary role for each replicon in the pangenome evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Base Sequence
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Bacterial*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Replicon*
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Sinorhizobium meliloti / classification
  • Sinorhizobium meliloti / genetics*


  • Bacterial Proteins

Associated data

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  • GENBANK/AKZV00000000
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  • GENBANK/AKZX00000000
  • GENBANK/AKZZ00000000
  • GENBANK/ALAA00000000