The goal of this study was to investigate if and how M. genitalium uses a minimal genome to generate genetic variations.
We analysed the sequence variability of the third gene (MG192 or mgpC) of the M. genitalium MgPa adhesion operon, demonstrated that the MG192 gene is highly variable among and within M. genitalium strains in vitro and in vivo, and identified MG192 sequence shifts in the course of in vitro passage of the G37 type strain and in sequential specimens from an M. genitalium-infected patient.
In order to establish the origin of the MG192 variants, we examined nine genomic loci containing partial copies of the MgPa operon, known as MgPar sequences.
Our analysis suggests that the MG192 sequence variation is achieved by recombination between the MG192 expression site and MgPar sequences via gene cross-over and, possibly, also by gene conversion.
It appears plausible that M. genitalium has the ability to generate unlimited variants from its minimized genome, which presumably allows the organism to adapt to diverse environments and/or to evade host defences by antigenic variation.