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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Recombination-independent rapid convergent evolution of the gastric pathogen Helicobacter pylori.

  • Author(s): Chattopadhyay, Sujay
  • Chi, Peter B
  • Minin, Vladimir N
  • Berg, Douglas E
  • Sokurenko, Evgeni V
  • et al.

BACKGROUND:Helicobacter pylori is a human stomach pathogen, naturally-competent for DNA uptake, and prone to homologous recombination. Extensive homoplasy (i.e., phylogenetically-unlinked identical variations) observed in H. pylori genes is considered a hallmark of such recombination. However, H. pylori also exhibits a high mutation rate. The relative adaptive role of homologous recombination and mutation in species diversity is a highly-debated issue in biology. Recombination results in homoplasy. While convergent mutation can also account for homoplasy, its contribution is thought to be minor. We demonstrate here that, contrary to dogma, convergent mutation is a key contributor to Helicobacter pylori homoplasy, potentially driven by adaptive evolution of proteins. RESULTS:Our present genome-wide analysis shows that homoplastic nonsynonymous (amino acid replacement) changes are not typically accompanied by homoplastic synonymous (silent) variations. Moreover, the majority of the codon positions with homoplastic nonsynonymous changes also contain different (i.e. non-homoplastic) nonsynonymous changes arising from mutation only. This indicates that, to a considerable extent, nonsynonymous homoplasy is due to convergent mutations. High mutation rate or limited availability of evolvable sites cannot explain this excessive convergence, as suggested by our simulation studies. Rather, the genes with convergent mutations are overrepresented in distinct functional categories, suggesting possible selective responses to conditions such as distinct micro-niches in single hosts, and to differences in host genotype, physiology, habitat and diet. CONCLUSIONS:We propose that mutational convergence is a key player in H. pylori's adaptation and extraordinary persistence in human hosts. High frequency of mutational convergence could be due to saturation of evolvable sites capable of responding to selection pressures, while the number of mutable residues is far from saturation. We anticipate a similar scenario of mutational vs. recombinational genome dynamics or plasticity for other naturally competent microbes where strong positive selection could favor frequent convergent mutations in adaptive protein evolution.

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