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Genetic exchanges are more frequent in bacteria encoding capsules

Abstract : Capsules allow bacteria to colonize novel environments, to withstand numerous stresses, and to resist antibiotics. Yet, even though genetic exchanges with other cells should be adaptive under such circumstances, it has been suggested that capsules lower the rates of homologous recombination and horizontal gene transfer. We analysed over one hundred pan-genomes and thousands of bacterial genomes for the evidence of an association between genetic exchanges (or lack thereof) and the presence of a capsule system. We found that bacteria encoding capsules have larger pan-genomes, higher rates of horizontal gene transfer, and higher rates of homologous recombination in their core genomes. Accordingly, genomes encoding capsules have more plasmids, conjugative elements, transposases, prophages, and integrons. Furthermore, capsular loci are frequent in plas-mids, and can be found in prophages. These results are valid for Bacteria, independently of their ability to be naturally transformable. Since we have shown previously that capsules are commonly present in nosocomial pathogens, we analysed their co-occurrence with antibiotic resistance genes. Genomes encoding capsules have more antibiotic resistance genes, especially those encoding efflux pumps, and they constitute the majority of the most worri-some nosocomial bacteria. We conclude that bacteria with capsule systems are more genetically diverse and have fast-evolving gene repertoires, which may further contribute to their success in colonizing novel niches such as humans under antibiotic therapy. Author summary Previous works showed that bacteria encoding capsules are better colonizers and are dominant in most environments suggesting a positive role for capsules in the genetic diversification of bacteria. Yet, it has been repeatedly suggested, based almost exclusively studies in few model species, that such bacteria are less diverse and engage in fewer genetic exchanges. Here, we reverse the current paradigm and show that bacteria encoding capsules have larger and more diverse gene repertoires, which change faster by horizontal gene transfer and recombination. Our study alters the traditional view of the capsule as a barrier to gene flow and raises novel questions about the role of capsules in bacterial adaptation. PLOS Genetics | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.
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Olaya Rendueles, Jorge de Sousa, Aude Bernheim, Marie Touchon, Eduardo Rocha. Genetic exchanges are more frequent in bacteria encoding capsules. PLoS Genetics, Public Library of Science, 2018, 14 (12), pp.e1007862. ⟨10.1371/journal.pgen.1007862⟩. ⟨pasteur-02012595⟩

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