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To kill or to be killed: pangenome analysis of Escherichia coli strains reveals a tailocin specific for pandemic ST131.

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Tantoso, Erwin 
Eisenhaber, Birgit 
Kirsch, Miles 
Shitov, Vladimir 
Zhao, Zhiya 


BACKGROUND: Escherichia coli (E. coli) has been one of the most studied model organisms in the history of life sciences. Initially thought just to be commensal bacteria, E. coli has shown wide phenotypic diversity including pathogenic isolates with great relevance to public health. Though pangenome analysis has been attempted several times, there is no systematic functional characterization of the E. coli subgroups according to the gene profile. RESULTS: Systematically scanning for optimal parametrization, we have built the E. coli pangenome from 1324 complete genomes. The pangenome size is estimated to be ~25,000 gene families (GFs). Whereas the core genome diminishes as more genomes are added, the softcore genome (≥95% of strains) is stable with ~3000 GFs regardless of the total number of genomes. Apparently, the softcore genome (with a 92% or 95% generation threshold) can define the genome of a bacterial species listing the critically relevant, evolutionarily most conserved or important classes of GFs. Unsupervised clustering of common E. coli sequence types using the presence/absence GF matrix reveals distinct characteristics of E. coli phylogroups B1, B2, and E. We highlight the bi-lineage nature of B1, the variation of the secretion and of the iron acquisition systems in ST11 (E), and the incorporation of a highly conserved prophage into the genome of ST131 (B2). The tail structure of the prophage is evolutionarily related to R2-pyocin (a tailocin) from Pseudomonas aeruginosa PAO1. We hypothesize that this molecular machinery is highly likely to play an important role in protecting its own colonies; thus, contributing towards the rapid rise of pandemic E. coli ST131. CONCLUSIONS: This study has explored the optimized pangenome development in E. coli. We provide complete GF lists and the pangenome matrix as supplementary data for further studies. We identified biological characteristics of different E. coli subtypes, specifically for phylogroups B1, B2, and E. We found an operon-like genome region coding for a tailocin specific for ST131 strains. The latter is a potential killer weapon providing pandemic E. coli ST131 with an advantage in inter-bacterial competition and, suggestively, explains their dominance as human pathogen among E. coli strains.



CoinFinder, Escherichia coli, Pandemic E. coli, Pangenome, Prophage, R2-pyocin, ST11, ST131 pathogenic strain, Softcore genome, Tailocin, Escherichia coli, Escherichia coli Infections, Escherichia coli Proteins, Genome, Bacterial, Humans, Pandemics, Phylogeny, Prophages

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BMC Biol

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC