Analysis of bacterial genomes from an evolution experiment with horizontal gene transfer shows that recombination can sometimes overwhelm selection
We analyzed genomes from an experiment in which Escherichia coli K-12 Hfr donors were periodically introduced into 12 evolving populations of E. coli B. Previous work showed that recombination did not increase adaptation, despite increasing variation relative to asexual controls. The effects of recombination were highly variable: one lineage was mostly derived from the donors, while another acquired almost no donor DNA. In most lineages, some regions showed repeated introgression and others almost none. Regions with high introgression tended to be near the donors' origin of transfer sites. To determine whether introgressed alleles imposed a genetic load, we extended the experiment for 200 generations without recombination and sequenced whole-population samples. Beneficial alleles in the recipient populations were occasionally driven extinct by maladaptive donor-derived alleles. On balance, our analyses indicate that the plasmid-mediated recombination was sufficiently frequent to drive donor alleles to fixation without providing much, if any, selective advantage.
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