Transposable elements and adaptation of host bacteria

Genetica. 1994;93(1-3):5-12. doi: 10.1007/BF01435235.


A transposable element (TE) is a mobile sequence present in the genome of an organism. TEs can cause lethal mutations by inserting into essential genes, promoting deletions or leaving short sequences upon excision. They therefore may be gradually eliminated from mixed populations of haploid micro-organisms such as Escherichia coli if they cannot balance this mutation load. Horizontal transmission between cells is known to occur and promote the transfer of TEs, but at rates often too low to compensate for the burden to their hosts. Therefore, alternative mechanisms should be found by these elements to earn their keep in the cells. Several theories have been suggested to explain their long-term maintenance in prokaryotic genomes, but little molecular evidence has been experimentally obtained. In this paper, the permanence of transposable elements in bacterial populations is discussed in terms of costs or benefits for the element and for the host. It is observed that, in all studies yet reported, the elements do not behave in their host as selfish DNA but as a co-operative component for the evolution of the couple.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • DNA Transposable Elements*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation
  • Sequence Deletion


  • DNA Transposable Elements