Open Access Research article

Diversity of the parB and repA genes of the Burkholderia cepacia complex and their utility for rapid identification of Burkholderia cenocepacia

Pavel Drevinek1, Adam Baldwin2, Christopher G Dowson2 and Eshwar Mahenthiralingam1*

Author Affiliations

1 Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, CF10 3TL, UK

2 Department of Biological Sciences, Warwick University, Coventry, CV4 7AL, UK

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BMC Microbiology 2008, 8:44  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-8-44

Published: 7 March 2008



Burkholderia cenocepacia is the most prominent species of the B. cepacia complex (Bcc), a group of nine closely related and difficult to identify bacteria that cause serious infections in patients with cystic fibrosis. Despite its clinical relevance, identification of B. cenocepacia as a single species is unavailable, as it splits by a widely used recA gene-based PCR identification method into discrete phylogenetic subgroups IIIA, IIIB, IIIC and IIID. With the aim of identifying gene targets suitable for unified detection of B. cenocepacia strains, we examined sequence polymorphisms in the repA and parB genes. These essential genes are involved in the replication and partitioning of bacterial replicons, hence we also had the opportunity for the first time to investigate the evolution of the multireplicon (three chromosome) structure of Bcc genomes.


Alignment of the repA and parB genes from publicly available Bcc genome sequences enabled the design of primers for their amplification and sequence analysis. Multilocus sequencing typing, a highly discriminatory method for Bcc species and strain discrimination, was used to select strains of unique sequence types (STs) that spanned the known Bcc genetic diversity. Sequence datasets of repA (83 isolates, 67 STs) and parB (120 isolates, 95 STs) genes from the second chromosome were aligned and examined phylogenetically to identify polymorphisms suitable for identification of B. cenocepacia. In contrast to parB, the Bcc repA sequences demonstrated distinct clustering of B. cenocepacia from other species, which enabled the design a species-specific multiplex PCR. The novel single-reaction B. cenocepacia detection method was tested on a panel of 142 different Bcc strains (142 STs) and distinguished recA groups IIIA, IIIB and IIID, from all other Bcc members with 100% sensitivity and 93% specificity.


The repA-based multiplex PCR is a useful aid to the rapid identification of the most clinically relevant B. cenocepacia recA subgroups IIIA, IIIB and IIID. Phylogenetic analysis of repA and parB genes demonstrated that acquisition of the second and third replicons of Bcc genomes occurred prior to their differentiation into discrete species and that the sharing of replicons across species had not occurred.