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Open Access Research article

Identification, variation and transcription of pneumococcal repeat sequences

Nicholas J Croucher*, Georgios S Vernikos, Julian Parkhill and Stephen D Bentley

Author Affiliations

Pathogen Genomics, The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Wellcome Trust Genome Campus, Hinxton, Cambridge, CB10 1SA, UK

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:120  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-120

Published: 18 February 2011

Abstract

Background

Small interspersed repeats are commonly found in many bacterial chromosomes. Two families of repeats (BOX and RUP) have previously been identified in the genome of Streptococcus pneumoniae, a nasopharyngeal commensal and respiratory pathogen of humans. However, little is known about the role they play in pneumococcal genetics.

Results

Analysis of the genome of S. pneumoniae ATCC 700669 revealed the presence of a third repeat family, which we have named SPRITE. All three repeats are present at a reduced density in the genome of the closely related species S. mitis. However, they are almost entirely absent from all other streptococci, although a set of elements related to the pneumococcal BOX repeat was identified in the zoonotic pathogen S. suis. In conjunction with information regarding their distribution within the pneumococcal chromosome, this suggests that it is unlikely that these repeats are specialised sequences performing a particular role for the host, but rather that they constitute parasitic elements. However, comparing insertion sites between pneumococcal sequences indicates that they appear to transpose at a much lower rate than IS elements. Some large BOX elements in S. pneumoniae were found to encode open reading frames on both strands of the genome, whilst another was found to form a composite RNA structure with two T box riboswitches. In multiple cases, such BOX elements were demonstrated as being expressed using directional RNA-seq and RT-PCR.

Conclusions

BOX, RUP and SPRITE repeats appear to have proliferated extensively throughout the pneumococcal chromosome during the species' past, but novel insertions are currently occurring at a relatively slow rate. Through their extensive secondary structures, they seem likely to affect the expression of genes with which they are co-transcribed. Software for annotation of these repeats is freely available from ftp://ftp.sanger.ac.uk/pub/pathogens/strep_repeats/ webcite.