Research Summary: Genomes of the Most Dangerous Epidemic Bacteria Have a Virulence Repertoire Characterized by Fewer Genes but More Toxin-Antitoxin Modules



We conducted a comparative genomic study based on a neutral approach to identify genome specificities associated with the virulence capacity of pathogenic bacteria. We also determined whether virulence is dictated by rules, or if it is the result of individual evolutionary histories. We systematically compared the genomes of the 12 most dangerous pandemic bacteria for humans (“bad bugs”) to their closest non-epidemic related species (“controls”).

Methodology/Principal Findings

We found several significantly different features in the “bad bugs”, one of which was a smaller genome that likely resulted from a degraded recombination and repair system. The 10 Cluster of Orthologous Group (COG) functional categories revealed a significantly smaller number of genes in the “bad bugs”, which lacked mostly transcription, signal transduction mechanisms, cell motility, energy production and conversion, and metabolic and regulatory functions. A few genes were identified as virulence factors, including secretion system proteins. Five “bad bugs” showed a greater number of poly (A) tails compared to the controls, whereas an elevated number of poly (A) tails was found to be strongly correlated to a low GC% content. The “bad bugs” had fewer tandem repeat sequences compared to controls. Moreover, the results obtained from a principal component analysis (PCA) showed that the “bad bugs” had surprisingly more toxin-antitoxin modules than did the controls.


We conclude that pathogenic capacity is not the result of “virulence factors” but is the outcome of a virulent gene repertoire resulting from reduced genome repertoires. Toxin-antitoxin systems could participate in the virulence repertoire, but they may have developed independently of selfish evolution.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 18-March-2011

Author(s): Georgiades K., Raoult D.


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