The effect of recombination on the evolution of a population of Neisseria meningitidis

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Neil MacAlasdairS. D. Bentley


Neisseria meningitidis (the meningococcus) is a major human pathogen with a history of high invasive disease burden, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Our current understanding of the evolution of meningococcal genomes is limited by the rarity of large-scale genomic population studies and lack of in-depth investigation of the genomic events associated with routine pathogen transmission. Here we fill this knowledge gap by a detailed analysis of 2,839 meningococcal genomes obtained through a carriage study of over 50,000 samples collected systematically in Burkina Faso, West Africa, before, during, and after the serogroup A vaccine rollout, 2009-2012. Our findings indicate that the meningococcal genome is highly dynamic, with recombination hotspots and frequent gene sharing across deeply separated lineages in a structured population. Furthermore, our findings illustrate the profound effect of population structure on genome flexibility, with some lineages in Burkina Faso being orders of magnitude more recombinant than others. We also examine the effect of selection on the population, in particular how it is correlated with recombination. We find that recombination principally acts to prevent the accumulation of deleterious mutat...Continue Reading

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