Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 4–12 | Cite as

Elements in microbial evolution

  • Werner Arber


Spontaneous mutation, selection, and isolation are key elements in biological evolution. Molecular genetic approaches reveal a multitude of different mechanisms by which spontaneous mutants arise. Many of these mechanisms depend on enzymes, which often do not act fully at random on the DNA, although a large number of sites of action can be observed. Of particular interest in this respect are DNA rearrangement processes, e.g., by transposition and by site-specific recombination systems. The development of gene functions has thus to be seen as the result of both DNA rearrangement processes and sequence alterations brought about by nucleotide substitutions and small local deletions, insertions, and duplications. Prokaryotic microorganisms are particularly appropriate for studying the effects of spontaneous mutation and thus microbial evolution, as they have haploid genomes, so that genetic alterations become rapidly apparent phenotypically. In addition, bacteria and their viruses and plasmids have relatively small genomes and short generation times, which also facilitate research on evolutionary processes. Besides the strategy of development of gene functions in the vertical transmission of genomes from generation to generation, the acquisition of short DNA segments from other organisms appears to be an important strategy in microbial evolution. In this process of horizontal evolution natural vector DNA molecules are often involved. Because of acquisition barriers, the acquisition strategy works best for relatively small DNA segments, hence at the level of domains, single genes, or at most operons. Among the many enzymes and functional systems involved in vertical and horizontal microbial evolution, some may serve primarily for essential life functions in each individual and only secondarily contribute to evolution. Others, however, might serve primarily for evolution and thus exert their biological functions at the level of populations rather than at that of a single organism.

Key words

Biological function DNA inversion DNA rearrangement Evolutionary tree Gene acquisition Replication infidelity Site-specific recombination Spontaneous mutagenesis Transposition Variety generator 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Arber W (1974) DNA modification and restriction. Prog Nucleic Acid Res Mol Biol 14:1–37PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Arber W (1990) Mechanisms in microbial evolution. J Struct Biol 104:107–111CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Arber W, Kellenberger G, Weigle J (1957) La défectuosité du phage lambda transducteur. Schweiz Z Allg Pathol Bakteriol 20:659–665. English translation: The defectiveness of lambda transducing phage. In: Adelberg EA (ed) Papers on bacterial genetics. Little, Brown and Co, Boston (1960), pp 224–229Google Scholar
  4. Arber W, Iida S, Jütte H, Caspers P, Meyer J, Hänni C (1979) Rearrangements of genetic material inEscherichia coli as observed on the bacteriophage P1 plasmid. Cold Spring Harbor Symp Quant Biol 43:1197–1208PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Arber W, Sengstag C, Caspers C, Dalrymple B (1985) Evolutionary relevance of genetic rearrangements involving plasmids. In: Helinski DR, Cohen SN, Clewell DB, Jackson DA, Hollaender A (eds) Plasmids in bacteria. Plenum, New York, pp 21–31Google Scholar
  6. Campbell AM (1962) Episomes. Adv Genet 11:101–145Google Scholar
  7. Caspers P, Dalrymple B, Iida S, Arber W (1984) IS30, a new insertion sequence ofEscherichia coli K12. Mol Gen Genet 196:68–73CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Glasgow AC, Hughes KT, Simon MI (1989) Bacterial DNA inversion systems. In: Berg DE, Howe MM (eds) Mobile DNA. American Society for Microbiology, Washington DC, pp 637–659Google Scholar
  9. Haffter P, Bickle TA (1988) Enhancer-independent mutants of Cin recombinase have a relaxed topological specificity. EMBO J 7:3991–3996PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Huber HE, Iida S, Bickle TA (1985) Site-specific DNA inversion is enhanced by a DNA sequence elementin cis. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 82:3776–3780Google Scholar
  11. Hübner P, Haffter P, Iida S, Arber W (1989) Bent DNA is needed for recombinational enhancer activity in the site-specific recombination system Cin of bacteriophage P1. J Mol Biol 205:493–500CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Iida S (1984) Bacteriophage P1 carries two related sets of genes determining its host range in the invertible C segment of its genome. Virology 134:421–434CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Iida S, Hiestand-Nauer R (1986) Localized conversion at the crossover sequences in the site-specific DNA inversion system of bacteriophage P1. Cell 45:71–79CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Iida S, Hiestand-Nauer R (1987) Role of the central dinucleotide at the crossover sites for the selection of quasi sites in DNA inversion mediated by the site-specific Cin recombinase of phage P1. Mol Gen Genet 208:464–468CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Iida S, Huber H, Hiestand-Nauer R, Meyer J, Bickle TA, Arber W (1984) The bacteriophage P1 site-specific recombinase Cin: recombination events and DNA recognition sequences. Cold Spring Harbor Symp Quant Biol 49:769–777PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Johnson RC, Bruist MF (1989) Intermediates in Hin-mediated DNA inversion: a role for Fis and the recombinational enhancer in the strand exchange reaction. EMBO J 8:1581–1590PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Johnson RC, Simon MI (1987) Enhancers of site-specific recombination in bacteria. Trends Genet 3:262–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Keim P, Lark KG (1990) The RecE recombination pathway mediates recombination between partially homologous DNA sequences: structural analysis of recombination products. J Struct Biol 104:97–106PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Morse ML, Lederberg EM, Lederberg J (1956) Transduction inEscherichia coli K12. Genetics 41:758–779Google Scholar
  20. Petes TD, Hill CW (1988) Recombination between repeated genes in microorganisms. Annu Rev Genet 22:147–168CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Sengstag C, Arber W (1983) IS2 insertion is a major cause of spontaneous mutagenesis of the bacteriophage P1: non-random distribution of target sites. EMBO J 2:67–71PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Sengstag C, Arber W (1987) A cloned DNA fragment from bacteriophage P1 enhances IS2 insertion. Mol Gen Genet 206:344–351CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Sengstag C, Shepherd JCW, Arber W (1983) The sequence of the bacteriophage P1 genome region serving as hot target for IS2 insertion. EMBO J 2:1777–1781PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Syvanen M (1984) The evolutionary implications of mobile genetic elements. Annu Rev Genet 18:271–293CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Weisberg R, Landy A (1983) Site-specific recombination in phage lambda. In: Hendrix RE et al. (eds) Lambda II. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor NY, pp 211–250Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Werner Arber
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Microbiology, BiozentrumUniversity of BaselBaselSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations