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Terms of Biology: The Pan-Genome

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A still somewhat unfamiliar term is floating around: the pan-genome. In 2005, Tettelin et al. coined the term along with genome analyses of eight Streptococcus agalactiae strains, and Merry introduced it to this blog, some time back already. Today, a keyword search in PubMed returns roughly 200 hits — 29 alone for 2014. Is it just another fancy new word sprawling from the -omics basket? No. A 'pan-genome' is the assembly of all the genes known to exist in members of a group. Or in a mnemonic: imagine the ancient Greek god Pan gathering and avidly devouring a bunch of vine grapes instead of picking, tasting, and enjoying each raisin separately (Fig. 1). Exchange 'grapes' by 'bacterial strains' and you know the essence of 'pan-genome'. Not far-fetched, actually: classical philologists tell us that the prefix 'pan' (παν, Greek for 'copious') and the name of the god Pan (Παν) have the same linguistic root.

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