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Early fate of exogenous promoters in E. coli

TitleEarly fate of exogenous promoters in E. coli
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsYousuf, M, Iuliani, I, Veetil, RT, Seshasayee, A S N, Sclavi, B, Cosentino Lagomarsino, M
JournalNucleic Acids Research
Date Published01

Gene gain by horizontal gene transfer is a major pathway of genome innovation in bacteria. The current view posits that acquired genes initially need to be silenced and that a bacterial chromatin protein, H-NS, plays a role in this silencing. However, we lack direct observation of the early fate of a horizontally transferred gene to prove this theory. We combine sequencing, flow cytometry and sorting, followed by microscopy to monitor gene expression and its variability after large-scale random insertions of a reporter gene in a population of Escherichia coli bacteria. We find that inserted promoters have a wide range of gene-expression variability related to their location. We find that high-expression clones carry insertions that are not correlated with H-NS binding. Conversely, binding of H-NS correlates with silencing. Finally, while most promoters show a common level of extrinsic noise, some insertions show higher noise levels. Analysis of these high-noise clones supports a scenario of switching due to transcriptional interference from divergent ribosomal promoters. Altogether, our findings point to evolutionary pathways where newly-acquired genes are not necessarily silenced, but may immediately explore a wide range of expression levels to probe the optimal ones.