Distribution of RecBCD and AddAB recombination-associated genes among bacteria in 33 phyla

Microbiology (Reading). 2020 Nov;166(11):1047-1064. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.000980. Epub 2020 Oct 21.


Homologous recombination plays key roles in fundamental processes such as recovery from DNA damage and in bacterial horizontal gene transfer, yet there are still open questions about the distribution of recognized components of recombination machinery among bacteria and archaea. RecBCD helicase-nuclease plays a central role in recombination among Gammaproteobacteria like Escherichia coli; while bacteria in other phyla, like the Firmicute Bacillus subtilis, use the related AddAB complex. The activity of at least some of these complexes is controlled by short DNA sequences called crossover hotspot instigator (Chi) sites. When RecBCD or AddAB complexes encounter an autologous Chi site during unwinding, they introduce a nick such that ssDNA with a free end is available to invade another duplex. If homologous DNA is present, RecA-dependent homologous recombination is promoted; if not (or if no autologous Chi site is present) the RecBCD/AddAB complex eventually degrades the DNA. We examined the distribution of recBCD and addAB genes among bacteria, and sought ways to distinguish them unambiguously. We examined bacterial species among 33 phyla, finding some unexpected distribution patterns. RecBCD and addAB are less conserved than recA, with the orthologous recB and addA genes more conserved than the recC or addB genes. We were able to classify RecB vs. AddA and RecC vs. AddB in some bacteria where this had not previously been done. We used logo analysis to identify sequence segments that are conserved, but differ between the RecBC and AddAB proteins, to help future differentiation between members of these two families.

Keywords: Actinobacteria; AdnAB; Chi sites; Firmicutes; Gammaproteobacteria; gene annotation; homologous recombination; microbial evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Base Sequence
  • Conserved Sequence
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Exodeoxyribonuclease V / genetics*
  • Exodeoxyribonucleases / genetics*
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Rec A Recombinases / genetics
  • Recombination, Genetic / genetics*


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Rec A Recombinases
  • Exodeoxyribonucleases
  • AddAB enzyme
  • Exodeoxyribonuclease V