Impact of homologous recombination on core genome phylogenies
Background Core genome phylogenies are widely used to build the evolutionary history of individual prokaryote species. By using hundreds or thousands of shared genes, these approaches are the gold standard to reconstruct the relationships of large sets of strains. However, there is growing evidence that bacterial strains exchange DNA through homologous recombination at rates that vary widely across prokaryote species, indicating that core genome phylogenies might not be able to reconstruct true
... to reconstruct true phylogenies when recombination rate is high. Few attempts have been made to evaluate the robustness of core genome phylogenies to recombination, but some analyses suggest that reconstructed trees are not always accurate. Results In this study, we tested the robustness of core genome phylogenies to various levels of recombination rates. By analyzing simulated and empirical data, we observed that core genome phylogenies are relatively robust to recombination rates; nevertheless, our results suggest that many reconstructed trees are not completely accurate even when bootstrap supports are high. We found that some core genome phylogenies are highly robust to recombination whereas others are strongly impacted by it, and we identified that the robustness of core genome phylogenies to recombination is highly linked to the levels of selective pressures acting on a species. Stronger selective pressures lead to less accurate tree reconstructions, presumably because selective pressures more strongly bias the routes of DNA transfers, thereby causing phylogenetic artifacts. Conclusions Overall, these results have important implications for the application of core genome phylogenies in prokaryotes.