The α-proteobacteria: The Darwin finches of the bacterial world

Thijs J.G. Ettema, Siv G.E. Andersson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


The α-proteobacteria represent one of the most diverse bacterial subdivisions, displaying extreme variations in lifestyle, geographical distribution and genome size. Species for which genome data are available have been classified into a species tree based on a conserved set of vertically inherited core genes. By mapping the variation in gene content onto the species tree, genomic changes can be associated with adaptations to specific growth niches. Genes for adaptive traits are mostly located in 'plasticity zones' in the bacterial genome, which also contain mobile elements and are highly variable across strains. By physically separating genes for information processing from genes involved in interactions with the surrounding environment, the rate of evolutionary change can be substantially enhanced for genes underlying adaptation to new growth habitats, possibly explaining the ecological success of the α-proteobacterial subdivision.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)429-432
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptation
  • Bacterial genomes
  • Expansion
  • Genomic islands
  • Reduction

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