Analysis of ten Brucella genomes reveals evidence for horizontal gene transfer despite a preferred intracellular lifestyle

J Bacteriol. 2009 Jun;191(11):3569-79. doi: 10.1128/JB.01767-08. Epub 2009 Apr 3.


The facultative intracellular bacterial pathogen Brucella infects a wide range of warm-blooded land and marine vertebrates and causes brucellosis. Currently, there are nine recognized Brucella species based on host preferences and phenotypic differences. The availability of 10 different genomes consisting of two chromosomes and representing six of the species allowed for a detailed comparison among themselves and relatives in the order Rhizobiales. Phylogenomic analysis of ortholog families shows limited divergence but distinct radiations, producing four clades as follows: Brucella abortus-Brucella melitensis, Brucella suis-Brucella canis, Brucella ovis, and Brucella ceti. In addition, Brucella phylogeny does not appear to reflect the phylogeny of Brucella species' preferred hosts. About 4.6% of protein-coding genes seem to be pseudogenes, which is a relatively large fraction. Only B. suis 1330 appears to have an intact beta-ketoadipate pathway, responsible for utilization of plant-derived compounds. In contrast, this pathway in the other species is highly pseudogenized and consistent with the "domino theory" of gene death. There are distinct shared anomalous regions (SARs) found in both chromosomes as the result of horizontal gene transfer unique to Brucella and not shared with its closest relative Ochrobactrum, a soil bacterium, suggesting their acquisition occurred in spite of a predominantly intracellular lifestyle. In particular, SAR 2-5 appears to have been acquired by Brucella after it became intracellular. The SARs contain many genes, including those involved in O-polysaccharide synthesis and type IV secretion, which if mutated or absent significantly affect the ability of Brucella to survive intracellularly in the infected host.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipates / metabolism
  • Brucella / classification
  • Brucella / genetics*
  • Brucella / physiology
  • Chromosomes, Bacterial / genetics
  • Computational Biology
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal / genetics*
  • Genome, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Phylogeny
  • Pseudogenes / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / genetics


  • Adipates
  • 3-oxoadipic acid