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The extent to which recombination disrupts the bifurcating treelike phylogeny and clonal structure imposed by binary fission on bacterial populations remains contentious. Here, we address this question with a study of nucleotide sequence data from 107 isolates of the human pathogen Neisseria meningitidis. Gene fragments from 12 house-keeping loci distributed around the meningococcal chromosome were analyzed, showing that (1) identical alleles are disseminated among genetically diverse isolates, with no evidence for linkage disequilibrium; (2) different loci give distinct and incongruent phylogenetic trees; and (3) allele sequences are incompatible with a bifurcating treelike phylogeny at all loci. These observations are consistent with the hypothesis that meningococcal populations comprise organisms assembled from a common gene pool, with alleles and allele fragments spreading independently, together with the occasional importation of genetic material from other species. Further, they support the view that recombination is an important genetic mechanism in the generation new meningococcal clones and alleles. Consequently, for anything other than the short-term evolution of this species, a bifurcating treelike phylogeny is not an appropriate model.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Biol Evol

Publication Date





741 - 749


Alleles, Evolution, Molecular, Genes, Bacterial, Genetic Linkage, Genetics, Population, Genome, Bacterial, Humans, Models, Genetic, Neisseria meningitidis, Phylogeny, Recombination, Genetic