The current literature on bacterial taxonomy, typing and evolution will be critically examined from the perspective of whole-genome structure, function and organization. The following three categories of DNA band pattern studies will be reviewed: (i) random whole-genome analysis; (ii) specific gene variation and (iii) mobile genetic elements. (i) The use of RAPD, PFGE and AFLP to analyse the whole genome will provide a skeleton of polymorphic sites with exact genomic positions as whole-genome sequence data become available. (ii) Different genes provide different levels of evolutionary information for determining isolate relatedness depending on whether they are highly variable (prone to recombination events and horizontal transfer), housekeeping genes with only a small number of single nucleotide differences between isolates or part of the rrn multigene family that is prone to intragenomic recombination and concerted evolution. Comparative analyses of these different gene classes can provide enhanced information about isolate relatedness. (iii) Mobile genetic elements such as insertion sequences, transposons, plasmids and bacteriophages integrate into the bacterial genome at specific (e.g. tRNA genes) or non-specific sites to alter band patterns produced by PFGE, RAPD or AFLP. From the literature it is not clear what level of genetic element duplication constitutes non-relatedness of isolates. A model is presented that incorporates all of the above genomic characteristics for the determination of isolate relatedness in taxonomic, typing and evolutionary studies.


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