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Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is a lactic acid bacterium widely marketed by the food industry. Its genomic analysis led to the identification of a gene cluster encoding mucus-binding SpaCBA pili, which is located in a genomic island enriched in insertion sequence (IS) elements. In the present study, we analyzed by genome-wide resequencing the genomic integrity of L. rhamnosus GG in four distinct evolutionary experiments conducted for approximately 1,000 generations under conditions of no stress or salt, bile, and repetitive-shearing stress. Under both stress-free and salt-induced stress conditions, the GG population (excluding the mutator lineage in the stress-free series [see below]) accumulated only a few single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and no frequent chromosomal rearrangements. In contrast, in the presence of bile salts or repetitive shearing stress, some IS elements were found to be activated, resulting in the deletion of large chromosomal segments that include the spaCBA-srtC1 pilus gene cluster. Remarkably, a high number of SNPs were found in three strains obtained after 900 generations of stress-free growth. Detailed analysis showed that these three strains derived from a founder mutant with an altered DNA polymerase subunit that resulted in a mutator phenotype. The present work confirms the stability of the pilus production phenotype in L. rhamnosus GG under stress-free conditions, highlights the possible evolutionary scenarios that may occur when this probiotic strain is extensively cultured, and identifies external factors that affect the chromosomal integrity of GG. The results provide mechanistic insights into the stability of GG in regard to its extensive use in probiotic and other functional food products.
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