Background: Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) allows for rapid spread of genetic material between species, increasing genetic and phenotypic diversity. Although HGT contributes to adaptation and is widespread in many bacteria, others show little HGT. This study builds on previous work to analyze the evolutionary mechanisms contributing to variation within the locus encoding a prominent antigen of the classical bordetellae. Results: We observed amongst classical bordetellae discrete regions of the lipopolysaccharide O-antigen locus with higher sequence diversity than the genome average. Regions of this locus had less than 50% sequence similarity, low dN/dS ratios and lower GC content compared to the genome average. Additionally, phylogenetic tree topologies based on genome-wide SNPs were incongruent with those based on genes within these variable regions, suggesting portions of the O-antigen locus may have been horizontally transferred. Furthermore, several predicted recombination breakpoints correspond with the ends of these variable regions. To examine the evolutionary forces that might have selected for this rare example of HGT in bordetellae, we compared in vitro and in vivo phenotypes associated with different O-antigen types. Antibodies against O1- and O2-serotypes were poorly cross-reactive, and did not efficiently kill or mediate clearance of alternative O-type bacteria, while a distinct and poorly immunogenic O-antigen offered no protection against colonization. Conclusions: This study suggests that O-antigen variation was introduced to the classical bordetellae via HGT through recombination. Additionally, genetic variation may be maintained within the O-antigen locus because it can provide escape from immunity to different O-antigen types, potentially allowing for the circulation of different Bordetella strains within the same host population.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics