A robust phylogenetic framework for members of the order Legionellales and its main genera (Legionella, Aquicella, Coxiella and Rickettsiella) based on phylogenomic analyses and identification of molecular markers demarcating different clades
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The order Legionellales contains several clinically important microorganisms. Although members of this order are well-studied for their pathogenesis, there is a paucity of reliable characteristics distinguishing members of this order and its constituent genera. Genome sequences are now available for 73 Legionellales species encompassing ≈90% of known members from different genera. With the aim of understanding evolutionary relationships and identifying reliable molecular characteristics that are specific for this order and its constituent genera, detailed phylogenetic and comparative analyses were conducted on the protein sequences from these genomes. A phylogenomic tree was constructed based on 393 single copy proteins that are commonly shared by the members of this order to delineate the evolutionary relationships among its members. In parallel, comparative analyses were performed on protein sequences from Legionellales genomes to identify novel molecular markers consisting of conserved signature indels (CSIs) that are specific for different clades and genera. In the phylogenomic tree and in an amino acid identity matrix based on core proteins, members of the genera Aquicella, Coxiella, Legionella and Rickettsiella formed distinct clades confirming their monophyly. In these studies, Diplorickettsia massiliensis exhibited a close relationship to members of the genus Rickettsiella. The results of our comparative genomic analyses have identified 59 highly specific molecular markers consisting of CSIs in diverse proteins that are uniquely shared by different members of this order. Four of these CSIs are specific for all Legionellales species, except the two deeper-branching "Candidatus Berkiella" species, providing means for identifying members of this order in molecular terms. Twenty four, 7 and 6 CSIs are uniquely shared by members of the genera Legionella, Coxiella and Aquicella, respectively, identifying these groups in molecular terms. The descriptions of these three genera are emended to include information for their novel molecular characteristics. We also describe 12 CSIs that are uniquely shared by D. massiliensis and different members of the genus Rickettsiella. Based on these results, we are proposing an integration of the genus Diplorickettsia with Rickettsiella. Three other CSIs suggest that members of the genera Coxiella and Rickettsiella shared a common ancestor exclusive of other Legionellales. The described molecular markers, due to their exclusivity for the indicated taxa/genera, provide important means for the identification of these clinically important microorganisms and for discovering novel properties unique to them.
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