Recombination of ecologically and evolutionarily significant loci maintains genetic cohesion in the Pseudomonas syringae species complex

Dillon MM, Thakur S, Almeida RND, Wang PW, Weir BS, Guttman DS

Genome Biol. 2019 Jan;20(1):3

PMID: 30606234


BACKGROUND: Pseudomonas syringae is a highly diverse bacterial species complex capable of causing a wide range of serious diseases on numerous agronomically important crops. We examine the evolutionary relationships of 391 agricultural and environmental strains using whole-genome sequencing and evolutionary genomic analyses.

RESULTS: We describe the phylogenetic distribution of all 77,728 orthologous gene families in the pan-genome, reconstruct the core genome phylogeny using the 2410 core genes, hierarchically cluster the accessory genome, identify the diversity and distribution of type III secretion systems and their effectors, predict ecologically and evolutionary relevant loci, and establish the molecular evolutionary processes operating on gene families. Phylogenetic and recombination analyses reveals that the species complex is subdivided into primary and secondary phylogroups, with the former primarily comprised of agricultural isolates, including all of the well-studied P. syringae strains. In contrast, the secondary phylogroups include numerous environmental isolates. These phylogroups also have levels of genetic diversity typically found among distinct species. An analysis of rates of recombination within and between phylogroups revealed a higher rate of recombination within primary phylogroups than between primary and secondary phylogroups. We also find that “ecologically significant” virulence-associated loci and “evolutionarily significant” loci under positive selection are over-represented among loci that undergo inter-phylogroup genetic exchange.

CONCLUSIONS: While inter-phylogroup recombination occurs relatively rarely, it is an important force maintaining the genetic cohesion of the species complex, particularly among primary phylogroup strains. This level of genetic cohesion, and the shared plant-associated niche, argues for considering the primary phylogroups as a single biological species.