The stability of the structure of bacterial genomes is challenged by recombination events. Since major rearrangements (i.e. inversions) are thought to frequently operate by homologous recombination between inverted repeats, we analyzed the presence and distribution of such repeats in bacterial genomes and their relation to the conservation of chromosomal structure. First, we show that there is a strong under-representation of inverted repeats, relative to direct repeats, in most chromosomes, especially among the ones regarded as most stable. Second, we show that the avoidance of repeats is frequently associated with the stability of the genomes. Closely related genomes reported to differ in terms of stability are also found to differ in the number of inverted repeats. Third, when using replication strand bias as a proxy for genome stability, we find a significant negative correlation between this strand bias and the abundance of inverted repeats. Fourth, when measuring the recombining potential of inverted repeats and their eventual impact on different features of the chromosomal structure, we observe a tendency of repeats to be located in the chromosome in such a way that rearrangements produce a smaller strand switch and smaller asymmetries than expected by chance. Finally, we discuss the limitations of our analysis and the influence of factors such as the nature of repeats, e.g. transposases, or the differences in the recombination machinery among bacteria. These results shed light on the challenges imposed on the genome structure by the presence of inverted repeats.
PMID: 12930739 [PubMed - in process]
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