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Porter SS, Chang PL, Conow CA, Dunham JP, Friesen ML. 2017. Association mapping reveals novel serpentine adaptation gene clusters in a population of symbiotic Mesorhizobium. International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal. doi:10.1038/ismej.2016.88
Year Published: 2017

The genetic variants that underlie microbial environmental adaptation are key components of models of microbial diversification. Characterizing adaptive variants and the pangenomic context in which they evolve remains a frontier in understanding how microbial diversity is generated. The genomics of rhizobium adaptation to contrasting soil environments is ecologically and agriculturally important because these bacteria are responsible for half of all current biologically fixed nitrogen, yet they live the majority of their lives in soil. Our study uses whole-genome sequencing to describe the pan-genome of a focal clade of wild mesorhizobia that show contrasting levels of nickel adaptation despite high relatedness (99.8% identity at 16S). We observe ecotypic specialization within an otherwise genomically cohesive population, rather than finding distinct specialized bacterial lineages in contrasting soil types. This finding supports recent reports that heterogeneous environments impose selection that maintains differentiation only at a small fraction of the genome. Our work further uses a genome-wide association study to propose candidate genes for nickel adaptation. Several candidates show homology to genetic systems involved in nickel tolerance and one cluster of candidates correlates perfectly with soil origin, which validates our approach of ascribing genomic variation to adaptive divergence. link to publication