PhD candidate, Uppsala University
Bacteria are many and varied - I study why some chromosomal characteristics seem unchanged.
Although bacterial species have been evolving in planet earth for many millions of years and they have all the life-styles ever imagined (from extreme cold, to extreme hot, passing by living in natural environments or specialized hosts!), certain characteristics of their chromosome (cell component formed by their DNA) and genome content (the DNA sequences) seem to not have changed much. For example: they seem to really like having circular chromosomes with equal arm sizes, or locating genes that make a lot of the cellular content near the beginning of the chromosome.
Why are those characteristics important? Can we experimentally assess the significances of those organizational traits? What happens if we change those traits and mess around with them? Can we get bacteria to experimentally evolve and overcome the challenges we put them through in the lab? If so, how does it happen?
My research focuses on all these questions and tackles them by experimentally modifying those conserved traits and observing their effect. On a follow up, I experimentally evolve the modified bacteria to understand how evolution works around those changes. My results so far indicate that there are selective forces constraining the evolution of the chromosome and genome content. These forces are shaping the evolution of the bacterial species and can explain the biases we see in the nature for those characteristics.
Abstract: Evolution could potentially be accelerated if an organism could selectively increase the mutation rate of specific genes that are actively under positive selection. Recently, a mechanism that cells can use to target rapid evolution to specific genes was discovered. This mechanism is driven by gene orientation-dependent encounters between DNA replication and transcription machineries. These encounters increase mutagenesis in lagging-strand genes, where replication-transcription conflicts are severe. Due to the orientation and transcription-dependent nature of this process, conflict-driven mutagenesis can be used by cells to spatially (gene-specifically) and temporally (only upon transcription induction) regulate the rate of gene evolution. Here, I summarize recent findings on this topic, and discuss the implications of increasing mutagenesis rates and accelerating evolution through active mechanisms.
Pub.: 22 Feb '17, Pinned: 14 Oct '17
Abstract: Chromosomes must be highly compacted and organized within cells, but how this is achieved in vivo remains poorly understood. We report the use of chromosome conformation capture coupled with deep sequencing (Hi-C) to map the structure of bacterial chromosomes. Analysis of Hi-C data and polymer modeling indicates that the Caulobacter crescentus chromosome consists of multiple, largely independent spatial domains that are probably composed of supercoiled plectonemes arrayed into a bottle brush-like fiber. These domains are stable throughout the cell cycle and are reestablished concomitantly with DNA replication. We provide evidence that domain boundaries are established by highly expressed genes and the formation of plectoneme-free regions, whereas the histone-like protein HU and SMC (structural maintenance of chromosomes) promote short-range compaction and the colinearity of chromosomal arms, respectively. Collectively, our results reveal general principles for the organization and structure of chromosomes in vivo.
Pub.: 26 Oct '13, Pinned: 14 Oct '17
Abstract: If fully stretched out, a typical bacterial chromosome would be nearly 1 mm long, approximately 1,000 times the length of a cell. Not only must cells massively compact their genetic material, but they must also organize their DNA in a manner that is compatible with a range of cellular processes, including DNA replication, DNA repair, homologous recombination, and horizontal gene transfer. Recent work, driven in part by technological advances, has begun to reveal the general principles of chromosome organization in bacteria. Here, drawing on studies of many different organisms, we review the emerging picture of how bacterial chromosomes are structured at multiple length scales, highlighting the functions of various DNA-binding proteins and the impact of physical forces. Additionally, we discuss the spatial dynamics of chromosomes, particularly during their segregation to daughter cells. Although there has been tremendous progress, we also highlight gaps that remain in understanding chromosome organization and segregation.
Pub.: 14 Nov '15, Pinned: 14 Oct '17
Abstract: Genes encoding proteins that carry out essential informational tasks in the cell, in particular where multiple interaction partners are involved, are less likely to be transferable to a foreign organism. Here, we investigated the constraints on transfer of a gene encoding a highly conserved informational protein, translation elongation factor Tu (EF-Tu), by systematically replacing the endogenous tufA gene in the Escherichia coli genome with its extant and ancestral homologs. The extant homologs represented tuf variants from both near and distant homologous organisms. The ancestral homologs represented phylogenetically resurrected tuf sequences dating from 0.7 to 3.6 billion years ago (bya). Our results demonstrate that all of the foreign tuf genes are transferable to the E. coli genome, provided that an additional copy of the EF-Tu gene, tufB, remains present in the E. coli genome. However, when the tufB gene was removed, only the variants obtained from the gammaproteobacterial family (extant and ancestral) supported growth which demonstrates the limited functional interchangeability of E. coli tuf with its homologs. Relative bacterial fitness correlated with the evolutionary distance of the extant tuf homologs inserted into the E. coli genome. This reduced fitness was associated with reduced levels of EF-Tu and reduced rates of protein synthesis. Increasing the expression of tuf partially ameliorated these fitness costs. In summary, our analysis suggests that the functional conservation of protein activity, the amount of protein expressed, and its network connectivity act to constrain the successful transfer of this essential gene into foreign bacteria.IMPORTANCE Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is a fundamental driving force in bacterial evolution. However, whether essential genes can be acquired by HGT and whether they can be acquired from distant organisms are very poorly understood. By systematically replacing tuf with ancestral homologs and homologs from distantly related organisms, we investigated the constraints on HGT of a highly conserved gene with multiple interaction partners. The ancestral homologs represented phylogenetically resurrected tuf sequences dating from 0.7 to 3.6 bya. Only variants obtained from the gammaproteobacterial family (extant and ancestral) supported growth, demonstrating the limited functional interchangeability of E. coli tuf with its homologs. Our analysis suggests that the functional conservation of protein activity, the amount of protein expressed, and its network connectivity act to constrain the successful transfer of this essential gene into foreign bacteria.
Pub.: 31 Aug '17, Pinned: 14 Oct '17
Abstract: Genetic exchange plays a defining role in the evolution of many bacteria. The recent accumulation of nucleotide sequence data from multiple members of diverse bacterial genera has facilitated comparative studies that have revealed many features of this process. Here we focus on genetic exchange that has involved homologous recombination and illustrate how nucleotide sequence data have furthered our understanding of: (i) the frequency of recombination; (ii) the impact of recombination in different parts of the genome; and (iii) patterns of gene flow within bacterial populations. Summarizing the results obtained for a range of bacteria, we survey evidence indicating that the extent and nature of recombination vary widely among microbiological species and often among lineages assigned to the same microbiological species. These results have important implications in studies ranging from epidemiological investigations to examination of the bacterial species problem.
Pub.: 11 May '10, Pinned: 14 Sep '17
Abstract: Evolutionary changes in organismal traits may occur either gradually or suddenly. However, until recently, there has been little direct information about how phenotypic changes are related to the rate and the nature of the underlying genotypic changes. Technological advances that facilitate whole-genome and whole-population sequencing, coupled with experiments that 'watch' evolution in action, have brought new precision to and insights into studies of mutation rates and genome evolution. In this Review, we discuss the evolutionary forces and ecological processes that govern genome dynamics in various laboratory systems in the context of relevant population genetic theory, and we relate these findings to evolution in natural populations.
Pub.: 30 Oct '13, Pinned: 14 Sep '17
Abstract: The cytoplasm of prokaryotes contains many molecular machines interacting directly with the chromosome. These vital interactions depend on the chromosome structure, as a molecule, and on the genome organization, as a unit of genetic information. Strong selection for the organization of the genetic elements implicated in these interactions drives replicon ploidy, gene distribution, operon conservation, and the formation of replication-associated traits. The genomes of prokaryotes are also very plastic with high rates of horizontal gene transfer and gene loss. The evolutionary conflicts between plasticity and organization lead to the formation of regions with high genetic diversity whose impact on chromosome structure is poorly understood. Prokaryotic genomes are remarkable documents of natural history because they carry the imprint of all of these selective and mutational forces. Their study allows a better understanding of molecular mechanisms, their impact on microbial evolution, and how they can be tinkered in synthetic biology.
Pub.: 06 Jan '16, Pinned: 14 Sep '17
Abstract: Bacteria evolve rapidly not only by mutation and rapid multiplication, but also by transfer of DNA, which can result in strains with beneficial mutations from more than one parent. Transformation involves the release of naked DNA followed by uptake and recombination. Homologous recombination and DNA-repair processes normally limit this to DNA from similar bacteria. However, if a gene moves onto a broad-host-range plasmid it might be able to spread without the need for recombination. There are barriers to both these processes but they reduce, rather than prevent, gene acquisition.
Pub.: 03 Sep '05, Pinned: 14 Sep '17
Abstract: Inversions are a major contributor to structural genome evolution in prokaryotes. Here, using a novel alignment-based method, we systematically compare 1651 bacterial and 98 archaeal genomes to show that inversion landscapes are frequently biased towards (symmetric) inversions around the origin-terminus axis. However, symmetric inversion bias is not a universal feature of prokaryotic genome evolution but varies considerably across clades. At the extremes, inversion landscapes in Bacillus-Clostridium and Actinobacteria are dominated by symmetric inversions, while there is little or no systematic bias favouring symmetric rearrangements in archaea with a single origin of replication. Within clades, we find strong but clade-specific relationships between symmetric inversion bias and different features of adaptive genome architecture, including the distance of essential genes to the origin of replication and the preferential localization of genes on the leading strand. We suggest that heterogeneous selection pressures have converged to produce similar patterns of structural genome evolution across prokaryotes.
Pub.: 14 Apr '17, Pinned: 14 Sep '17
Abstract: In eukaryotes, the location of a gene on the chromosome is known to affect its expression, but such position effects are poorly understood in bacteria. Here, using Escherichia coli K-12, we demonstrate that expression of a reporter gene cassette, comprised of the model E. coli lac promoter driving expression of gfp, varies by ∼300-fold depending on its precise position on the chromosome. At some positions, expression was more than 3-fold higher than at the natural lac promoter locus, whereas at several other locations, the reporter cassette was completely silenced: effectively overriding local lac promoter control. These effects were not due to differences in gene copy number, caused by partially replicated genomes. Rather, the differences in gene expression occur predominantly at the level of transcription and are mediated by several different features that are involved in chromosome organization. Taken together, our findings identify a tier of gene regulation above local promoter control and highlight the importance of chromosome position effects on gene expression profiles in bacteria.
Pub.: 12 Sep '14, Pinned: 14 Sep '17
Abstract: Inversions and translocations distinguish the genomes of closely related bacterial species, but most of these rearrangements preserve the relationship between the rearranged fragments and the axis of chromosome replication. Within species, such rearrangements are found less frequently, except in the case of clinical isolates of human pathogens, where rearrangements are very frequent.
Pub.: 06 Sep '01, Pinned: 14 Sep '17