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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Divergence of the SigB regulon and pathogenesis of the Bacillus cereus sensu lato group

Edgar Scott and David W Dyer*

Author Affiliations

Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center, 975 NE 10th St., BRC 1106, Oklahoma City, OK, 73117, USA

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BMC Genomics 2012, 13:564  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-564

Published: 22 October 2012



The Bacillus cereus sensu lato group currently includes seven species (B. cereus, B. anthracis, B. mycoides, B. pseudomycoides, B. thuringiensis, B. weihenstephanensis and B. cytotoxicus) that recent phylogenetic and phylogenomic analyses suggest are likely a single species, despite their varied phenotypes. Although horizontal gene transfer and insertion-deletion events are clearly important for promoting divergence among these genomes, recent studies have demonstrated that a major basis for phenotypic diversity in these organisms may be differential regulation of the highly similar gene content shared by these organisms. To explore this hypothesis, we used an in silico approach to evaluate the relationship of pathogenic potential and the divergence of the SigB-dependent general stress response within the B. cereus sensu lato group, since SigB has been demonstrated to support pathogenesis in Bacillus, Listeria and Staphylococcus species.


During the divergence of these organisms from a common “SigB-less” ancestor, the placement of SigB promoters at varied locations in the B. cereus sensu lato genomes predict alternative structures for the SigB regulon in different organisms. Predicted promoter changes suggesting differential transcriptional control of a common gene pool predominate over evidence of indels or horizontal gene transfer for explaining SigB regulon divergence.


Four lineages of the SigB regulon have arisen that encompass different gene contents and suggest different strategies for supporting pathogenesis. This is consistent with the hypothesis that divergence within the B. cereus sensu lato group rests in part on alternative strategies for regulation of a common gene pool.

Microbial evolution; Generalized stress response; SigB sigma factor