Sexual Selection in Bacteria?

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Michiel Vos, Angus Buckling, Bram Kuijper


A main mechanism of lateral gene transfer in bacteria is transformation, where cells take up free DNA from the environment which subsequently can be recombined into the genome. Bacteria are also known to actively release DNA into the environment through secretion or lysis, which could aid uptake via transformation. Various evolutionary benefits of DNA uptake and DNA release have been proposed but these have all been framed in the context of natural selection. Here, we interpret bacterial DNA uptake and release in the context of sexual selection theory, which has been central to our understanding of the bewildering diversity of traits associated with sexual reproduction in the eukaryote world but has never been applied to prokaryotes. Specifically, we explore potential scenarios where bacteria releasing DNA into the environment could compete for successful uptake by other cells, or where bacteria could selectively take up DNA to enhance their fitness. We conclude that there is potential for sexual selection to act in bacteria, and that this might in part explain the considerable diversity in transformation-related behaviours.



Bacteriology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Microbiology and Microbial Ecology Life Sciences, Evolution, Genetics and Genomics, Life Sciences, Microbiology


cell lysis, DNA secretion, lateral gene transfer, sexual selection, transformation


Published: 2019-05-08 08:50


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