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Open Access Research article

The genetic organisation of prokaryotic two-component system signalling pathways

Robert HN Williams and David E Whitworth*

Author Affiliations

Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Ceredigion, SY23 3DD, UK

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:720  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-720

Published: 20 December 2010

Abstract

Background

Two-component systems (TCSs) are modular and diverse signalling pathways, involving a stimulus-responsive transfer of phosphoryl groups from transmitter to partner receiver domains. TCS gene and domain organisation are both potentially informative regarding biological function, interaction partnerships and molecular mechanisms. However, there is currently little understanding of the relationships between domain architecture, gene organisation and TCS pathway structure.

Results

Here we classify the gene and domain organisation of TCS gene loci from 1405 prokaryotic replicons (>40,000 TCS proteins). We find that 200 bp is the most appropriate distance cut-off for defining whether two TCS genes are functionally linked. More than 90% of all TCS gene loci encode just one or two transmitter and/or receiver domains, however numerous other geometries exist, often with large numbers of encoded TCS domains. Such information provides insights into the distribution of TCS domains between genes, and within genes. As expected, the organisation of TCS genes and domains is affected by phylogeny, and plasmid-encoded TCS exhibit differences in organisation from their chromosomally-encoded counterparts.

Conclusions

We provide here an overview of the genomic and genetic organisation of TCS domains, as a resource for further research. We also propose novel metrics that build upon TCS gene/domain organisation data and allow comparisons between genomic complements of TCSs. In particular, 'percentage orphaned TCS genes' (or 'Dissemination') and 'percentage of complex loci' (or 'Sophistication') appear to be useful discriminators, and to reflect mechanistic aspects of TCS organisation not captured by existing metrics.