Evolutionary conservation of bacterial operons: Does transcriptional connectivity matter?

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In the literature, it has been frequently suggested that the connectivity of a protein, i.e., the number of proteins with which it interacts, is inversely correlated with the rate of evolution. We attempted to extrapolate from proteins to operons by testing the hypothesis that operons with high transcriptional connectivity, i.e., operons that are controlled through interactions with many transcription factors, are evolutionarily more conserved at the structure and sequence levels than low-connectivity operons. With Escherichia coli used as reference, two structural- and two sequence- conservation measures were determined for 82 groups of homologous operons from 30 completely-sequenced bacterial genomes. In E. coli, large operons tend to be regulated by more transcription factors than either smaller operons or single genes. Large E. coli operons that are regulated by single transcription factors were found to be regulated by activators more frequently than by repressors. Levels of sequence conservation and structural conservation of operons were found to be independent of each other, i.e., structurally conserved operons may be divergent in sequence, and vice versa. Transcriptional connectivity was found to influence neither sequence nor structural conservation of operons. Although this finding seems to contradict the situation in genes, a critical review of the literature indicates that although gene connectivity is frequently touted as a factor in determining rates of evolution, only a very small fraction of the variability in degrees of evolutionary conservation is explainable by this factor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-166
Number of pages22
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Bacterial operons
  • Evolutionary rates
  • Transcriptional connectivity


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