High intraspecific recombination rate in a native population of Candidatus Pelagibacter ubique (SAR11)


*E-mail Steve.Giovannoni@oregonstate.edu; Tel. (+1) 541 737 1835; Fax (+1) 541 737 0496.


Recombination is an important process in microbial evolution. Rates of recombination with extracellular DNA matter because models of microbial population structure are profoundly influenced by the degree to which recombination is occurring within the population. Low rates of recombination may be sufficient to ensure the lateral propagation of genes that have a high selective advantage without disrupting the clonal pattern of inheritance for other genes. High rates of recombination potentially can obscure clonal patterns, leading to linkage equilibrium, and give microbial populations a population genetic structure more akin to sexually interbreeding eukaryotic populations. We examined eight loci from nine strains of candidatus Pelagibacter ubique (SAR11), isolated from a single 2L niskin sample of natural seawater, for evidence of genetic recombination between strains. The Shimodaira–Hasegawa test revealed significant phylogenetic incongruence in seven of the genes, indicating that frequent recombination obscures phylogenetic signals from the linear inheritance of genes in this population. Statistical evidence for intragenic recombination was found for six loci. An informative sites matrix showed extensive evidence for a widespread breakdown of linkage disequilibrium. Although the mechanisms of genetic transfer in native SAR11 populations are unknown, we measured recombination rates, ρ, that are much higher than point mutation rates, θ, as a source of genetic diversity in this clade. The eukaryotic model of species sharing a common pool of alleles is more apt for this SAR11 population than a strictly clonal model of inheritance in which allelic diversity is controlled by periodic selection.