The nature in variation of the 16S rRNA gene of members of the Streptococcus anginosus group was investigated by hybridization and DNA sequencing. A collection of 708 strains was analyzed by reverse line blot hybridization. This revealed the presence of distinct reaction patterns representing 11 different hybridization groups. The 16S rRNA genes of two strains of each hybridization group were sequenced to near-completion, and the sequence data confirmed the reverse line blot hybridization results. Closer inspection of the sequences revealed mosaic-like structures, strongly suggesting horizontal transfer of segments of the 16S rRNA gene between different species belonging to the Streptococcus anginosus group. Southern blot hybridization further showed that within a single strain all copies of the 16S rRNA gene had the same composition, indicating that the apparent mosaic structures were not PCR-induced artifacts. These findings indicate that the highly conserved rRNA genes are also subject to recombination and that these events may be fixed in the population. Such recombination may lead to the construction of incorrect phylogenetic trees based on the 16S rRNA genes.
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