Open Access Research article

Comparative genomics of the type VI secretion systems of Pantoea and Erwinia species reveals the presence of putative effector islands that may be translocated by the VgrG and Hcp proteins

Pieter De Maayer1*, Stephanus N Venter1, Tim Kamber2, Brion Duffy2, Teresa A Coutinho1 and Theo HM Smits2

Author Affiliations

1 Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute, University of Pretoria, South Africa

2 Agroscope Changins-Wädenswil ACW, Division of Plant Protection, Wädenswil, Switzerland

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:576  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-576

Published: 24 November 2011



The Type VI secretion apparatus is assembled by a conserved set of proteins encoded within a distinct locus. The putative effector proteins Hcp and VgrG are also encoded within these loci. We have identified numerous distinct Type VI secretion system (T6SS) loci in the genomes of several ecologically diverse Pantoea and Erwinia species and detected the presence of putative effector islands associated with the hcp and vgrG genes.


Between two and four T6SS loci occur among the Pantoea and Erwinia species. While two of the loci (T6SS-1 and T6SS-2) are well conserved among the various strains, the third (T6SS-3) locus is not universally distributed. Additional orthologous loci are present in Pantoea sp. aB-valens and Erwinia billingiae Eb661. Comparative analysis of the T6SS-1 and T6SS-3 loci showed non-conserved islands associated with the vgrG and hcp, and vgrG genes, respectively. These regions had a G+C content far lower than the conserved portions of the loci. Many of the proteins encoded within the hcp and vgrG islands carry conserved domains, which suggests they may serve as effector proteins for the T6SS. A number of the proteins also show homology to the C-terminal extensions of evolved VgrG proteins.


Extensive diversity was observed in the number and content of the T6SS loci among the Pantoea and Erwinia species. Genomic islands could be observed within some of T6SS loci, which are associated with the hcp and vgrG proteins and carry putative effector domain proteins. We propose new hypotheses concerning a role for these islands in the acquisition of T6SS effectors and the development of novel evolved VgrG and Hcp proteins.