Bacteria - Genetics


Further information: Plasmid, Genome

Most bacteria have a single circular chromosome that can range in size from only 160,000 base pairs in the endosymbiotic bacteria Candidatus Carsonella ruddii, to 12,200,000 base pairs in the soil-dwelling bacteria Sorangium cellulosum. Spirochaetes of the genus Borrelia are a notable exception to this arrangement, with bacteria such as Borrelia burgdorferi, the cause of Lyme disease, containing a single linear chromosome. The genes in bacterial genomes are usually a single continuous stretch of DNA and although several different types of introns do exist in bacteria, these are much more rare than in eukaryotes.

Bacteria may also contain plasmids, which are small extra-chromosomal DNAs that may contain genes for antibiotic resistance or virulence factors.

Bacteria, as asexual organisms, inherit identical copies of their parent's genes (i.e., they are clonal). However, all bacteria can evolve by selection on changes to their genetic material DNA caused by genetic recombination or mutations. Mutations come from errors made during the replication of DNA or from exposure to mutagens. Mutation rates vary widely among different species of bacteria and even among different clones of a single species of bacteria. Genetic changes in bacterial genomes come from either random mutation during replication or "stress-directed mutation", where genes involved in a particular growth-limiting process have an increased mutation rate.

Some bacteria also transfer genetic material between cells. This can occur in three main ways. First, bacteria can take up exogenous DNA from their environment, in a process called transformation. Genes can also be transferred by the process of transduction, when the integration of a bacteriophage introduces foreign DNA into the chromosome. The third method of gene transfer is bacterial conjugation, where DNA is transferred through direct cell contact. This gene acquisition from other bacteria or the environment is called horizontal gene transfer and may be common under natural conditions. Gene transfer is particularly important in antibiotic resistance as it allows the rapid transfer of resistance genes between different pathogens.

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