Sequencing the Obligate Intracellular Rhabdochlamydia helvetica within Its Tick Host Ixodes ricinus to Investigate Their Symbiotic Relationship

Genome Biol Evol. 2019 Apr 1;11(4):1334-1344. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evz072.


The Rhabdochlamydiaceae family is one of the most widely distributed within the phylum Chlamydiae, but most of its members remain uncultivable. Rhabdochlamydia 16S rRNA was recently reported in more than 2% of 8,534 pools of ticks from Switzerland. Shotgun metagenomics was performed on a pool of five female Ixodes ricinus ticks presenting a high concentration of chlamydial DNA, allowing the assembly of a high-quality draft genome. About 60% of sequence reads originated from a single bacterial population that was named "Candidatus Rhabdochlamydia helvetica" whereas only few thousand reads mapped to the genome of "Candidatus Midichloria mitochondrii," a symbiont normally observed in all I. ricinus females. The 1.8 Mbp genome of R. helvetica is smaller than other Chlamydia-related bacteria. Comparative analyses with other chlamydial genomes identified transposases of the PD-(D/E)XK nuclease family that are unique to this new genome. These transposases show evidence of interphylum horizontal gene transfers between multiple arthropod endosymbionts, including Cardinium spp. (Bacteroidetes) and diverse proteobacteria such as Wolbachia, Rickettsia spp. (Rickettsiales), and Caedimonas varicaedens (Holosporales). Bacterial symbionts were previously suggested to provide B-vitamins to hematophagous hosts. However, incomplete metabolic capacities including for B-vitamin biosynthesis, high bacterial density and limited prevalence suggest that R. helvetica is parasitic rather than symbiotic to its host. The identification of novel Rhabdochlamydia strains in different hosts and their sequencing will help understanding if members of this genus have become highly specialized parasites with reduced genomes, like the Chlamydiaceae, or if they could be pathogenic to humans using ticks as a transmission vector.

Keywords: HGT; chlamydia; comparative genomics; shotgun metagenomics; tick symbiont.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chlamydiales / genetics*
  • Chlamydiales / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Genome, Bacterial*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions*
  • Ixodes / microbiology*
  • Symbiosis