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Summary

Three classes of low-G+C Gram-positive bacteria (Firmicutes), Bacilli, Clostridia and Negativicutes, include numerous members that are capable of producing heat-resistant endospores. Spore-forming firmicutes include many environmentally important organisms, such as insect pathogens and cellulose-degrading industrial strains, as well as human pathogens responsible for such diseases as anthrax, botulism, gas gangrene and tetanus. In the best-studied model organism Bacillus subtilis, sporulation involves over 500 genes, many of which are conserved among other bacilli and clostridia. This work aimed to define the genomic requirements for sporulation through an analysis of the presence of sporulation genes in various firmicutes, including those with smaller genomes than B. subtilis. Cultivable spore-formers were found to have genomes larger than 2300 kb and encompass over 2150 protein-coding genes of which 60 are orthologues of genes that are apparently essential for sporulation in B. subtilis. Clostridial spore-formers lack, among others, spoIIB, sda, spoVID and safA genes and have non-orthologous displacements of spoIIQ and spoIVFA, suggesting substantial differences between bacilli and clostridia in the engulfment and spore coat formation steps. Many B. subtilis sporulation genes, particularly those encoding small acid-soluble spore proteins and spore coat proteins, were found only in the family Bacillaceae, or even in a subset of Bacillus spp. Phylogenetic profiles of sporulation genes, compiled in this work, confirm the presence of a common sporulation gene core, but also illuminate the diversity of the sporulation processes within various lineages. These profiles should help further experimental studies of uncharacterized widespread sporulation genes, which would ultimately allow delineation of the minimal set(s) of sporulation-specific genes in Bacilli and Clostridia.