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Brief Funct Genomics. 2013 Jul;12(4):291-304. doi: 10.1093/bfgp/elt015. Epub 2013 Jun 29.

Postgenomic analysis of bacterial pathogens repertoire reveals genome reduction rather than virulence factors.

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Aix Marseille Université, Marseille, France.


In the pregenomic era, the acquisition of pathogenicity islands via horizontal transfer was proposed as a major mechanism in pathogen evolution. Much effort has been expended to look for the contiguous blocks of virulence genes that are present in pathogenic bacteria, but absent in closely related species that are nonpathogenic. However, some of these virulence factors were found in nonpathogenic bacteria. Moreover, and contrary to expectation, pathogenic bacteria were found to lack genes (antivirulence genes) that are characteristic of nonpathogenic bacteria. The availability of complete genome sequences has led to a new era of pathogen research. Comparisons of genomes have shown that the most pathogenic bacteria have reduced genomes, with less ribosomal RNA and unorganized operons; they lack transcriptional regulators but have more genes that encode protein toxins, toxin-antitoxin (TA) modules, and proteins for DNA replication and repair, when compared with less pathogenic close relatives. These findings questioned the paradigm of virulence by gene acquisition and put forward the notion of genomic repertoire of virulence.


antivirulence genes; microbial genomics; pathogenicity; reductive evolution; toxin

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