From insects to human hosts: Identification of major genomic differences between entomopathogenic strains of Photorhabdus and the emerging human pathogen Photorhabdus asymbiotica

Int J Med Microbiol. 2006 Dec;296(8):521-30. doi: 10.1016/j.ijmm.2006.06.004. Epub 2006 Oct 6.


Pathogenic bacteria of the genus Photorhabdus are naturally found in symbiotic association with soil entomopathogenic nematodes, and are of increasing economic interest in view of their potential for the development of novel biopesticides. This bipartite natural system is currently used for the biological control of crop pests in several countries. However, an increasing number of Photorhabdus strains have recently been isolated from human clinical specimens in both the United States and Australia, associated with locally invasive soft tissue infections and disseminated bacteraemia. In view of their growing use in biological control, which increases the potential rate of exposure of humans to these pathogens, we decided to undertake a comparative study of the genomic differences between insect and human pathogenic strains of Photorhabdus, in an attempt to understand the genetic mechanisms involved in the apparent change of host specificity, presumably responsible for their recently acquired capacity to infect humans. The data presented here demonstrates that major genomic differences exist between strains of Photorhabdus exhibiting virulence against insects or humans. Several individual genes, coding for virulence factors, were isolated and shown to be specific to the Photorhabdus asymbiotica human pathogens. One of these genes, sopB, encoding a host cell invasion factor translocated via the type III secretion system, has been cloned and the comparison of its genomic context in different pathogens strongly indicates that horizontal gene transfer is implicated in the acquisition of these virulence factors specific to the human pathogens. The precise role of this and other virulence factors identified here in the pathogenicity of P. asymbiotica towards humans is currently under investigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / microbiology*
  • Enterobacteriaceae Infections / microbiology*
  • Genome
  • Humans
  • Insecta / microbiology*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Nucleic Acid Hybridization
  • Photorhabdus / classification
  • Photorhabdus / genetics*
  • Photorhabdus / pathogenicity
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Symbiosis / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / genetics


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • SopB protein, Bacteria
  • Virulence Factors