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In the Neisseria spp., natural competence for transformation and homologous recombination generate antigenic variants through creation of mosaic genes (such as opas) and through recombination with silent cassettes (such as pilE/pilS) and gene-complement diversity through the horizontal exchange of whole genes or groups of genes, in minimal mobile elements (MMEs). An MME is a region encompassing 2 conserved genes between which different whole-gene cassettes are found in different strains, which are chromosomally incorporated solely through the action of homologous recombination. Comparative analyses of the neisserial genome sequences identified 39 potential MME sites, the contents of which were investigated in 11 neisserial strains. One hundred and eight different MME regions were identified, 20 of which contain novel sequences and these contain 12 newly identified neisserial coding sequences. Neisserial uptake signal sequences are associated with 38 of the 40 MMEs studied. In some sites, divergent dinucleotide signatures of the sequences between the flanking genes suggest relatively recent horizontal acquisition of some cassettes. The neisserial MMEs were used to interrogate all of the other available bacterial genome sequences, revealing frequent conservation of the flanking genes combined with the presence of different gene cassettes between them. In some cases, these sites can definitively be classified as MMEs in these other genera. These findings provide additional evidence for the MME model, indicate that MME-directed investigations are a good basis for the identification of novel strain-specific genes and differences within bacterial populations and demonstrate that these elements are probably ubiquitously involved in genetic exchange, particularly in naturally competent bacteria.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Biol Evol

Publication Date





2802 - 2815


Bacteria, DNA, Intergenic, Gene Transfer, Horizontal, Genes, Bacterial, Genome, Bacterial, Interspersed Repetitive Sequences, Models, Genetic, Molecular Sequence Data, Neisseria, Protein Sorting Signals, Sequence Analysis, DNA