Not So Simple After All: Bacteria, Their Population Genetics, and Recombination

Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2016 Jul 1;8(7):a018069. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a018069.


The pervasive nature of bacterial recombination has become clear. Despite this, the population genetics of bacteria persist in being viewed as simple. Here, I argue against that characterization. After summarizing the history of the topic, I survey the evidence for remarkable and unexplained variation in recombination rate among and within bacterial species. I finally argue that despite recent assertions that recombination means bacterial genes are "public goods," in bacteria the level of selection is the gene, and genes can be understood to have niches with dimensions including the other contents of the genome in which they find themselves.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S / genetics
  • Recombination, Genetic*


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S