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J Mol Evol. 2006 Aug;63(2):283-96. Epub 2006 Jul 7.

Lateral transfers of serine hydroxymethyltransferase (glyA) and UDP-N-acetylglucosamine enolpyruvyl transferase (murA) genes from free-living Actinobacteria to the parasitic chlamydiae.

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Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, L8N 3Z5, Canada.


The chlamydiae are important human and animal pathogens which form a phylogentically distinct lineage within the Bacteria. There is evidence that some genes in these obligate intracellular parasites have undergone lateral exchange with other free-living organisms. In the present work, we describe two interesting cases of lateral gene transfer between chlamydiae and actinobacteria, which have been identified based on the shared presence of conserved inserts in two important proteins. In the enzyme serine hydroxymethyltransferase (SHMT or GlyA protein), which links amino acid and nucleotide metabolisms by generating the key intermediate for one-carbon transfer reactions, two conserved inserts of 3 and 31 amino acids (aa) are uniquely present in various chlamydiae species as well as in a subset of Actinobacteria and in the Treponema species. Similarly, in the enzyme UDP-N-acetylglucosamine enolpyruvyl transferase (MurA), which is involved in the synthesis of cell wall peptidoglycan, a 16-aa conserved insert is specifically present in various sequenced chlamydiae and a subset of actinobacteria (i.e., Streptomyces, Actinomyces, Tropheryma, Bifidobacterium, Leifsonia, Arthrobacter, and Brevibacterium). To determine the phylogenetic depths of the GlyA and MurA inserts, the fragments of these genes from two chlamydiae-like species, Simkania negevensis and Waddlia chondrophila, were PCR amplified and sequenced. The presence of the corresponding inserts in both these species strongly indicates that these inserts are distinctive characteristics of the Chlamydiales order. In phylogenetic trees based on GlyA and MurA protein sequences, the chlamydiae species (and also the Treponema species in the case of GlyA) branched with a high affinity with various insert-containing actinobacteria within a clade of other actinobacteria. These results provide strong evidence that the shared presence of these indels in these bacteria is very likely a consequence of ancient lateral gene transfers from actinobacteria to chlamydiae. Pairwise sequence identity and the branching pattern of the GlyA homologues in the phylogenetic tree indicates that the glyA gene was initially transferred from an actinobacteria to an ancestor of the Treponema genus and from there it was acquired by the common ancestor of the Chlamydiales.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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