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How clonal are Neisseria species? The epidemic clonality model revisited


The three species Neisseria meningitidis, Neisseria gonorrheae, and Neisseria lactamica are often regarded as highly recombining bacteria. N. meningitidis has been considered a paradigmatic case of the "semiclonal model" or of "epidemic clonality," demonstrating occasional bouts of clonal propagation in an otherwise recombining species. In this model, occasional clonality generates linkage disequilibrium in the short term. In the long run, however, the effects of clonality are countered by recombination. We show that many data are at odds with this proposal and that N. meningitidis fits the criteria that we have proposed for predominant clonal evolution (PCE). We point out that (i) the proposed way to distinguish epidemic clonality from PCE may be faulty and (ii) the evidence of deep phylogenies by microarrays and whole-genome sequencing is at odds with the predictions of the semiclonal model. Last, we revisit the species status of N. meningitidis, N. gonorrheae, and N. lactamica in the light of the PCE model.

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