Background: Photorhabdus luminescens and Yersinia enterocolitica are both enteric bacteria which are associated with insects. P. luminescens lives in symbiosis with soil nematodes and is highly pathogenic towards insects but not to humans. In contrast, Y. enterocolitica is widely found in the environment and mainly known to cause gastroenteritis in men, but has only recently been shown to be also toxic for insects. It is expected that both pathogens share an overlap of genetic determinants that play a role within the insect host.
Results: A selective genome comparison was applied. Proteins belonging to the class of two-component regulatory systems, quorum sensing, universal stress proteins, and c-di-GMP signalling have been analysed. The interorganismic synopsis of selected regulatory systems uncovered common and distinct signalling mechanisms of both pathogens used for perception of signals within the insect host. Particularly, a new class of LuxR-like regulators was identified, which might be involved in detecting insect-specific molecules. In addition, the genetic overlap unravelled a two-component system that is unique for the genera Photorhabdus and Yersinia and is therefore suggested to play a major role in the pathogen-insect relationship. Our analysis also highlights factors of both pathogens that are expressed at low temperatures as encountered in insects in contrast to higher (body) temperature, providing evidence that temperature is a yet under-investigated environmental signal for bacterial adaptation to various hosts. Common degradative metabolic pathways are described that might be used to explore nutrients within the insect gut or hemolymph, thus enabling the proliferation of P. luminescens and Y. enterocolitica in their invertebrate hosts. A strikingly higher number of genes encoding insecticidal toxins and other virulence factors in P. luminescens compared to Y. enterocolitica correlates with the higher virulence of P. luminescens towards insects, and suggests a putative broader insect host spectrum of this pathogen.
Conclusion: A set of factors shared by the two pathogens was identified including those that are involved in the host infection process, in persistence within the insect, or in host exploitation. Some of them might have been selected during the association with insects and then adapted to pathogenesis in mammalian hosts.