Genetic dominance governs the evolution and spread of mobile genetic elements in bacteria
AuthorRodríguez-Beltrán, Jerónimo; Sørum, Vidar; Toll-Riera, Macarena; de la Vega, Carmen; Peña-Miller, Rafael; San Millán, Álvaro
Mobile genetic elements (MGEs), such as plasmids, promote bacterial evolution through horizontal gene transfer (HGT). However, the rules governing the repertoire of traits encoded on MGEs remain unclear. In this study, we uncovered the central role of genetic dominance shaping genetic cargo in MGEs, using antibiotic resistance as a model system. MGEs are typically present in more than one copy per host bacterium, and as a consequence, genetic dominance favors the fixation of dominant mutations over recessive ones. In addition, genetic dominance also determines the phenotypic effects of horizontally acquired MGE-encoded genes, silencing recessive alleles if the recipient bacterium already carries a wild-type copy of the gene. The combination of these two effects governs the catalog of genes encoded on MGEs. Our results help to understand how MGEs evolve and spread, uncovering the neglected influence of genetic dominance on bacterial evolution. Moreover, our findings offer a framework to forecast the spread and evolvability of MGE-encoded genes, which encode traits of key human interest, such as virulence or antibiotic resistance.