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PLoS One. 2010 Sep 13;5(9):e12666. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012666.

Evidence of transfer by conjugation of type IV secretion system genes between Bartonella species and Rhizobium radiobacter in amoeba.

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URMITE, CNRS-IRD UMR 6236, Faculté de Médecine et de Pharmacie, Université de la Méditerranée, Marseille, France.



Bartonella species cospeciate with mammals and live within erythrocytes. Even in these specific niches, it has been recently suggested by bioinformatic analysis of full genome sequences that Lateral Gene Transfer (LGT) may occur but this has never been demonstrated biologically. Here we describe the sequence of the B. rattaustraliani (AUST/NH4(T)) circular plasmid (pNH4) that encodes the tra cluster of the Type IV secretion system (T4SS) and we eventually provide evidence that Bartonella species may conjugate and exchange this plasmid inside amoeba.


The T4SS of pNH4 is critical for intracellular viability of bacterial pathogens, exhibits bioinformatic evidence of LGT among bacteria living in phagocytic protists. For instance, 3 out of 4 T4SS encoding genes from pNH4 appear to be closely related to Rhizobiales, suggesting that gene exchange occurs between intracellular bacteria from mammals (bartonellae) and plants (Rhizobiales). We show that B. rattaustraliani and Rhizobium radiobacter both survived within the amoeba Acanthamoeba polyphaga and can conjugate together. Our findings further support the hypothesis that tra genes might also move into and out of bacterial communities by conjugation, which might be the primary means of genomic evolution for intracellular adaptation by cross-talk of interchangeable genes between Bartonella species and plant pathogens.


Based on this, we speculate that amoeba favor the transfer of genes as phagocytic protists, which allows for intraphagocytic survival and, as a consequence, promotes the creation of potential pathogenic organisms.

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