We found that lateral gene transfer of minimal mobile elements as well as prophages are major forces shaping meningococcal population structure. Extensive gene content comparison revealed novel associations of virulence with genetic elements besides the recently discovered meningococcal disease associated (MDA) island. In particular, we identified an association of virulence with a recently described canonical genomic island termed IHT-E and a differential distribution of genes encoding RTX toxin- and two-partner secretion systems among hyperinvasive and non-hyperinvasive lineages. By computationally screening also the core genome for signs of recombination, we provided evidence that about 40% of the meningococcal core genes are affected by recombination primarily within metabolic genes as well as genes involved in DNA replication and repair. By comparison with the results of previous mCGH studies, our data indicated that genetic structuring as revealed by mCGH is stable over time and highly similar for isolates from different geographic origins.
Recombination comprising lateral transfer of entire genes as well as homologous intragenic recombination has a profound impact on meningococcal population structure and genome composition. Our data support the hypothesis that meningococcal virulence is polygenic in nature and that differences in metabolism might contribute to virulence.
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Date Published: 26-April-2011
Author(s): Joseph B., Schwarz R., Linke B., Blom J., Becker A., Claus H., Goesmann A., Frosch M., Müller T., Vogel U., Schoen C.