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Species of the genus Borrelia cause human and animal infections, including
Lyme disease, relapsing fever, and epizootic bovine abortion. The borrelial genome is unique among bacterial genomes in that it is composed of a linear chromosome and a series of linear and circular plasmids. The plasmids exhibit significant genetic redundancy and carry 175 paralogous gene families, most of unknown function. Homologous alleles on different plasmids could influence the organization and evolution of the Borrelia genome by serving as foci for interplasmid homologous recombination. The plasmid-carried Borrelia direct repeat (bdr) gene family encodes polymorphic, acidic proteins with putative phosphorylation sites and transmembrane domains. These proteins may play regulatory roles in Borrelia. We describe recent progress in the characterization of the Borrelia bdr genes and discuss the possible influence of this gene family on the biology, pathogenesis, and evolution of the Borrelia genome.