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J Bacteriol. 2014 Apr;196(7):1458-70. doi: 10.1128/JB.01439-13. Epub 2014 Jan 31.

Comparative functional genomics of Lactobacillus spp. reveals possible mechanisms for specialization of vaginal lactobacilli to their environment.

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Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, USA.


Lactobacilli are found in a wide variety of habitats. Four species, Lactobacillus crispatus, L. gasseri, L. iners, and L. jensenii, are common and abundant in the human vagina and absent from other habitats. These may be adapted to the vagina and possess characteristics enabling them to thrive in that environment. Furthermore, stable codominance of multiple Lactobacillus species in a single community is infrequently observed. Thus, it is possible that individual vaginal Lactobacillus species possess unique characteristics that confer to them host-specific competitive advantages. We performed comparative functional genomic analyses of representatives of 25 species of Lactobacillus, searching for habitat-specific traits in the genomes of the vaginal lactobacilli. We found that the genomes of the vaginal species were significantly smaller and had significantly lower GC content than those of the nonvaginal species. No protein families were found to be specific to the vaginal species analyzed, but some were either over- or underrepresented relative to nonvaginal species. We also found that within the vaginal species, each genome coded for species-specific protein families. Our results suggest that even though the vaginal species show no general signatures of adaptation to the vaginal environment, each species has specific and perhaps unique ways of interacting with its environment, be it the host or other microbes in the community. These findings will serve as a foundation for further exploring the role of lactobacilli in the ecological dynamics of vaginal microbial communities and their ultimate impact on host health.

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