Population genetics of a transformable bacterium: the influence of horizontal genetic exchange on the biology of Neisseria meningitidis.
Information of the biochemistry and genetics of bacterial species, usually obtained by the study of single isolates, is enhanced by studies of populations of bacteria. Recent advances in molecular technology, particularly polymerase chain reaction-based nucleotide sequence analysis, provide powerful tools for the study of population genetics. Data obtained by such techniques indicate that, while some bacterial species have a clonal population structure, others are non-clonal or panmictic. Clonal populations are a consequence of asexual reproduction by binary fission; panmictic population structures result from 'horizontal' exchange of genetic material between clones. A consequence of horizontal genetic exchange is mosaic gene structures, recognisable by comparisons of nucleotide sequences. In transformable bacteria, for example the human pathogen Neisseria meningitidis, several different genes, including the gene encoding the class 1 outer membrane protein, a major surface antigen, are mosaics. This genetic process has implications both for vaccine design and in the interpretation of epidemiological data.