Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 20605981
Infect. Immun. 2010 Sep;78(9):3930-41
Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague, has recently diverged from the less virulent enteropathogen Yersinia pseudotuberculosis. Its emergence has been characterized by massive genetic loss and inactivation and limited gene acquisition. The acquired genes include two plasmids, a filamentous phage, and a few chromosomal loci. The aim of this study was to characterize the chromosomal regions acquired by Y. pestis. Following in silico comparative analysis and PCR screening of 98 strains of Y. pseudotuberculosis and Y. pestis, we found that eight chromosomal loci (six regions [R1pe to R6pe] and two coding sequences [CDS1pe and CDS2pe]) specified Y. pestis. Signatures of integration by site specific or homologous recombination were identified for most of them. These acquisitions and the loss of ancestral DNA sequences were concentrated in a chromosomal region opposite to the origin of replication. The specific regions were acquired very early during Y. pestis evolution and were retained during its microevolution, suggesting that they might bring some selective advantages. Only one region (R3pe), predicted to carry a lambdoid prophage, is most likely no longer functional because of mutations. With the exception of R1pe and R2pe, which have the potential to encode a restriction/modification and a sugar transport system, respectively, no functions could be predicted for the other Y. pestis-specific loci. To determine the role of the eight chromosomal loci in the physiology and pathogenicity of the plague bacillus, each of them was individually deleted from the bacterial chromosome. None of the deletants exhibited defects during growth in vitro. Using the Xenopsylla cheopis flea model, all deletants retained the capacity to produce a stable and persistent infection and to block fleas. Similarly, none of the deletants caused any acute flea toxicity. In the mouse model of infection, all deletants were fully virulent upon subcutaneous or aerosol infections. Therefore, our results suggest that acquisition of new chromosomal materials has not been of major importance in the dramatic change of life cycle that has accompanied the emergence of Y. pestis.