Comparative genomics of free-living Gammaproteobacteria: pathogenesis-related genes or interaction-related genes?

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Bacteria have numerous strategies to interact with themselves and with their environment, but genes associated with these interactions are usually cataloged as pathogenic. To understand the role that these genes have not only in pathogenesis but also in bacterial interactions, we compared the genomes of eight bacteria from human-impacted environments with those of free-living bacteria from the Cuatro Ciénegas Basin (CCB), a relatively pristine oligotrophic site. Fifty-one genomes from CCB bacteria, including Pseudomonas, Vibrio, Photobacterium and Aeromonas, were analyzed. We found that the CCB strains had several virulence-related genes, 15 of which were common to all strains and were related to flagella and chemotaxis. We also identified the presence of Type III and VI secretion systems, which leads us to propose that these systems play an important role in interactions among bacterial communities beyond pathogenesis. None of the CCB strains had pathogenicity islands, despite having genes associated with antibiotics. Integrons were rare, while CRISPR elements were common. The idea that pathogenicity-related genes in many cases form part of a wider strategy used by bacteria to interact with other organisms could help us to understand the role of pathogenicity-related elements in an ecological and evolutionary framework leading toward a more inclusive One Health concept.

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