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Genetics and Molecular Biology

Print version ISSN 1415-4757On-line version ISSN 1678-4685

Genet. Mol. Biol. vol.30 no.1 suppl.0 São Paulo  2007 



In search of essentiality: Mollicute-specific genes shared by twelve genomes



Rangel Celso SouzaI; Darcy Fontoura de AlmeidaII; Arnaldo ZahaIII; David Anderson de Lima MoraisI; Ana Tereza Ribeiro de VasconcelosI

ILaboratório Nacional de Computação Científica, Petropólis, RJ, Brazil
IIUniversidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil
IIICentro de Biotecnologia, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil

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Mollicutes are cell wall-less bacteria with a genome characterized by its small size. Chromosomal rearrangements help these organisms evade host immune surveillance and hence cause disease. Our goal was to determine genes shared by Mollicutes genomes using the bidirectional best hit methodology. The twelve studied Mollicutes share 210 genes, most of which (> 60%) fall into the following COG categories: translation, ribosomal structure and biogenesis; DNA replication, recombination and repair; nucleotide transport and metabolism and energy production and conversion. Thirty Mollicute-specific genes were identified, 22 of them previously described as essential genes in Mycoplasma genitalium.

Keywords: mollicutes, comparative genomics, synteny, bidirectional best hit.




Mollicutes show a large potential for recombination due to their large number of repeats (Rocha and Blanchard, 2002). The existence of arrangements and gene clustering indicate that they may confer some evolutionary advantages to individuals or populations. Through these mechanisms, they produce the machinery necessary for cell growth, host-defense invasion, and often survival in the host for indefinite periods (Lo, 1992).

Since the first mycoplasma genome was sequenced (Fraser et al., 1995) efforts have been made to find the minimal number of genes required for a self-replicating cell. According to Mushegian and Koonin (1996), a minimal gene set required for a species could be deduced from conserved genes in the analyzed genomes. This minimal gene set has been defined by Koonin (2000 and 2003) as the "smallest possible group of genes that would be sufficient to sustain a functioning cellular life form under the most favorable conditions imaginable, that is, in the presence of a full complement of essential nutrients and in the absence of environmental stress" (quoted by Gil et al., 2004). Another approach is to define the essential functions in a living cell and to list the genes necessary to maintain such functions (Gil et al., 2004).

In addition, comparative genomics may be used to detect the set of genes common to all genomes in a phylogenetically coherent group (Charlebois and Doolittle, 2004). Considering that increasing the number of genomes used in a comparison can reduce the number of genes regarded as essential (Gil et al., 2004), and assuming that the genes shared by multiple genomes are likely to be essential, we performed a comparative analyses on the complete genomes of twelve Mollicutes. This study was done using the Bidirectional Best Hit (BBH) approach to determine the number of genes shared by all studied genomes and to verify the synteny among these genes. The results were compared with those obtained by Mushegian and Koonin (1996) and by Gil et al. (2004). We were able to identify the genes that are Mollicute-specific and to find their respective representation within the COG categories used as reference. Most of the specific gene families or COG functional categories are covered by the accompanying articles in the present issue of Genetics and Molecular Biology. In some instances, the focus has been concentrated on the three Mycoplasma species whose complete genome sequences have been determined by the Brazilian National Genome Program (Southern Network for Genome Analysis and Brazilian National Genome Project Consortium) as reported by Vasconcelos et al. (2005).


Material and Methods

Sequence and database

The twelve genomes compared were: Mycoplasma genitalium, Mge, (Fraser et al., 1995); Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Mpn, (Himmelreich et al., 1996); Ureaplasma urealyticum, Uur, (Glass et al., 2000); Mycoplasma pulmonis, Mpu, (Chambaud et al., 2001); Mycoplasma penetrans, Mpe, (Sasaki et al., 2002); Mycoplasma gallisepticum, Mga, (Papazisi et al., 2003); Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides SC, Mmy, (Westberg et al., 2004); Mycoplasma mobile, Mmo, (Jaffe et al., 2004); Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae 232, Mhy-232, (Minion et al., 2004); Mycoplasma synoviae, Msy, Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae, Mhy-J and Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae 7448, Mhy-P (Vasconcelos et al., 2005). The data on the complete genomes were downloaded from Entrez genome (http://www.ncbi. except for M. synoviae (AE017245), M. hyopneumoniae strain J (AE017243) and M. hyopneumoniae strain 7448 (AE017244) that were analyzed by the Brazilian National Genome Sequencing Consortium and the Southern Genome Investigation Program - PIGS.

Comparative analyses

In order to determine the distribution of the genes of the twelve genomes across COG classes, an analysis of each CDS was performed (Tatusov et al., 2001). The comparison of CDSs among the studied genomes was done through SABIA (System for Automated Bacterial (genome) Integrated Annotation) software (Almeida et al., 2004).

In order to determine genes shared by all genomes the BBH approach was used (Overbeek et al., 1999). Given two genes Xa and Xb from two genomes Ga and Gb, Xa and Xb are called BBH if and only if recognizable similarity exists between them and there is no gene Zb in Gb genome that is more similar than Xb is to Xa, and if there is no gene Za in Ga that is more similar than Xa is to Xb.


Results and Discussion

The BBH methodology revealed 210 shared genes, classified in 17 COG categories. We did not find genes that would have fallen into the T category (signal transduction mechanisms),and four genes could not be classified (Table 1). Most of the 210 genes shared by Mollicutes have a known function or at least a predicted function. Among all BBHs only 7 clusters are formed by conserved hypothetical or only hypothetical proteins in all genomes (Table 1).



For the comparison between the results presented here and those from previous studies, the M. genitalium genome was used as reference. When compared with data from Gil et al. (2004), 86 BBH-specific genes were found; and the comparison with Mushegian and Koonin's (1996) data set revealed 42 BBH-specific genes. When the comparison was made using the pooled data from both sources, the number of BBH-specific genes was 30. The most represented COG categories were R (General function prediction only) with seven genes; L (DNA replication, recombination and repair) with five genes; F (Nucleotide transport and metabolism) with three genes; K (Transcription) with two and P (Inorganic ion transport and metabolism) also with two genes. These results indicate that these specific genes groups may be a source of useful information regarding properties that could be characteristic of Mollicutes (supplementary material and Table 1). Twenty-two of the Mollicute-specific genes have been previously identified as essential ones in M. genitalium (Glass et al., 2006).

Shared genes amounted to 168, 124 and 120 when compared with Mushegian and Koonin (1996), with Gil et al. (2004) and with both pooled together, respectively. It should be pointed out that Mushegian and Koonin's data were obtained from two genomes only, and that the results from Gil and collaborators included seven genomes, five of them from endosymbionts.

The BBH approach was able to group 118 genes (56% of the total) belonging to the information storage and processing division (categories J, K and L), metabolism (21%) and cellular processes (11%). The poorly characterized COG categories (R and S) contain 21 genes (10%).

The COG category J (translation, ribosomal structure and biogenesis), as expected (Santos et al. and Borges et al., in the present issue), contains the highest number of genes (82) (Table 1). All COG categories involved in metabolism (E, F, G, H, I and P) were clustered (Arraes et al., Balaião et al., and Staats et al., in the present issue). The F0F1-Type ATP synthase system is ubiquitous in Mollicutes. Among the nine subunits (from atpA to atpI) only atpC and atpI did not form BBH clusters. Two proteins belonging to the energy production and conversion COG category were found to contribute to pyruvate decarboxylation (Nicolás et al., in the present issue). As far as carbohydrate transport and metabolism are regarded, glycolysis is the most conserved pathway and six genes that take part in this pathway are shared by all Mollicutes. It seems to be the main source of ATP in Mollicutes. They also have three genes of the pentose phosphate pathway; however this pathway is not complete in some species.

The COG category F (nucleotide transport and metabolism) is highly conserved. Fifteen BBH clusters were formed, and on average, the studied Mollicutes have about 24 genes in this pathway. Purine biosynthesis and purine salvage, pyrimidine biosynthesis and pyrimidine salvage, and thymidylate biosynthesis, have each at least one protein shared by all Mollicutes (Bizarro et al. in the present issue). However, Haemophilus influenzae shows more enzymes in these pathways than Mollicutes (Razin et al., 1998). The COG L category (DNA replication, recombination and repair) is also well conserved with 26 clusters (Fonseca et al., and Brocchi et al., in the present issue). Among the genes responsible for lipid metabolism (COG category I) only three genes that participate in phospholipids biosynthesis formed clusters, the cell division and chromosome partitioning class (COG category D) contains two genes (Alarcon et al., in the present issue).

Analysis of synteny

Using the MEGA2 program, Kumar et al. (2001) obtained a tree through the concatenation of eight ribosomal proteins. The analyzed mollicutes are divided into three groups (Figure 1): the Hominis (Mpu, Mmo, Msy, Mhy-P, Mhy-J and Mhy-232); the Pneumoniae (Mga, Mge, Mpn, Mpe and Uur) and the Spiroplasma group (Mmy). These data are in agreement with those obtained by Weisburg et al. (1989) and Yotoko and Bonatto (in the present issue).



Via the tree analysis, the closest pairs of genomes were determined and maps of synteny between them were constructed (Figure 2). Although mollicutes show a high capacity of rearrangement, some patterns emerged. The most evident aspect in the mollicutes genomes is the presence of large clusters (genes that kept the same order) formed mainly by ribosomal proteins (red lines, Figure 2). According to Vasconcelos et al. (2005) the total size of this inversion is 243,104 kb.

In order to quantify the number of rearrangements between pairs of genomes, the groups of shared genes that kept the same position relative to each other in both genomes were scored (Figure 3). They were classified in three categories: group I (sharing from one to three genes); group II (sharing 4 to 6 genes) and group III (sharing more than six genes). All species analyzed share at least two group III genes, one formed by the ATP synthase family and the other formed by ribosomal proteins. Group I was the prevalent group among mycoplasmas, with numbers varying from 33 to 46. Such findings confirm data from Yokoto and Bonatto (in the present issue) indicating that, even though there is a number of conserved genes among the studied genomes, they are not in general kept in the same relative positions.




The comparison of twelve Mollicute genomes provides evidence that mycoplasmas have prioritized the conservation of some genes. Genes belonging to the information storage and processing COG division seem to be the most conserved, while genes belonging to the metabolism COG division are less conserved. The BBH methodology identified 210 genes that are shared among the twelve studied genomes. The comparison with the pooled data from other studies showed that the number of BBH-specific genes was 30, out of which 10 (33%) corresponded to conserved hypothetical or putative genes. It will be important to study these Mollicute-specific genes to obtain useful information regarding properties that should be characteristic of Mollicutes. Twenty-two of these genes were previously identified as essential genes in Mycoplasma genitalium. The synteny analyses have shown a pattern of clustering in mycoplasmas.


List of Abbreviations

BBH: bidirectional best hit

COG: Clusters of Orthologous Genes

CDS: Coding sequence

Mge: Mycoplasma genitalium

Mpn: Mycoplasma pneumoniae

Uur: Ureaplasma urealyticum

Mpu: Mycoplasma pulmonis

Mpe: Mycoplasma penetrans

Mga: Mycoplasma gallisepticum

Mmy: Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides SC

Mmo: Mycoplasma mobile

Mhy-232: Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae 232

Msy: Mycoplasma synoviae

Mhy-J: Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae

Mhy-P: Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae 7448



We thank Frank Alarcon and Marcos Oliveira de Carvalho for comments on the manuscript. The present and former staffs from the Ministério da Ciência e Tecnologia (MCT)/Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) are gratefully acknowledged for their strategic vision and enthusiastic support. This work was undertaken by the Brazilian National Genome Program (Southern Network for Genome Analysis and Brazilian National Genome Project Consortium) with funding provided by MCT/CNPq and SCT/FAPERGS (RS).



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Internet Resources - Clusters of Orthologous Groups of proteins (verified 01/09/2006). - GenBank database and BLAST tools (verified 01/09/2006).



Send correspondence to
Ana Tereza Ribeiro de Vasconcelos
Rua Getúlio Vargas 333, Quitandinha
25651-075 Petropólis, RJ, Brazil

Received: April 4, 2006; Accepted: October 5, 2006.



Assistant Editor: Klaus Hartfelder

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