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Open Access Research article

Whole-genome phylogenies of the family Bacillaceae and expansion of the sigma factor gene family in the Bacillus cereus species-group

Timothy R Schmidt, Edgar J Scott and David W Dyer*

Author Affiliations

Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK 73117 USA

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:430  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-430

Published: 24 August 2011

Abstract

Background

The Bacillus cereus sensu lato group consists of six species (B. anthracis, B. cereus, B. mycoides, B. pseudomycoides, B. thuringiensis, and B. weihenstephanensis). While classical microbial taxonomy proposed these organisms as distinct species, newer molecular phylogenies and comparative genome sequencing suggests that these organisms should be classified as a single species (thus, we will refer to these organisms collectively as the Bc species-group). How do we account for the underlying similarity of these phenotypically diverse microbes? It has been established for some time that the most rapidly evolving and evolutionarily flexible portions of the bacterial genome are regulatory sequences and transcriptional networks. Other studies have suggested that the sigma factor gene family of these organisms has diverged and expanded significantly relative to their ancestors; sigma factors are those portions of the bacterial transcriptional apparatus that control RNA polymerase recognition for promoter selection. Thus, examining sigma factor divergence in these organisms would concurrently examine both regulatory sequences and transcriptional networks important for divergence. We began this examination by comparison to the sigma factor gene set of B. subtilis.

Results

Phylogenetic analysis of the Bc species-group utilizing 157 single-copy genes of the family Bacillaceae suggests that several taxonomic revisions of the genus Bacillus should be considered. Within the Bc species-group there is little indication that the currently recognized species form related sub-groupings, suggesting that they are members of the same species. The sigma factor gene family encoded by the Bc species-group appears to be the result of a dynamic gene-duplication and gene-loss process that in previous analyses underestimated the true heterogeneity of the sigma factor content in the Bc species-group.

Conclusions

Expansion of the sigma factor gene family appears to have preferentially occurred within the extracytoplasmic function (ECF) sigma factor genes, while the primary alternative (PA) sigma factor genes are, in general, highly conserved with those found in B. subtilis. Divergence of the sigma-controlled transcriptional regulons among various members of the Bc species-group likely has a major role in explaining the diversity of phenotypic characteristics seen in members of the Bc species-group.