All known chlamydiae are either proven human or animal pathogens or possess such potential. Due to increasing reports of chlamydiae diversity in the environment, it is important to develop reliable means for identifying and characterizing Chlamydiales species. The identification of environmental chlamydiae at present relies on their branching pattern in 16S rRNA trees, as well as 16S/23S consensus motifs which display variability. At present, no reliable molecular signatures are known which are unique to all Chlamydiales species. Besides the rRNAs, sequence information for different Chlamydiales is not available for any other gene sequence. In this report, a number of molecular signatures are described that consist of conserved inserts and deletions (indels), in widely distributed proteins [RNA polymerase
αsubunit (RpoA), elongation factor (EF)-Tu, EF-P, DNA gyrase B subunit (GyrB) and lysyl-tRNA synthetase (LysRS)], that are distinctive characteristics of all available chlamydiae homologues (from Chlamydiaeceaespecies and Parachlamydiaesp. UWE25) and not found in any other bacteria. Using PCR primers for highly conserved regions in these proteins, the corresponding fragments of these genes from Simkania negevensis, Waddlia chondrophila, and in a number of cases for Neochlamydia hartmanellae, covering all families within the phylum Chlamydiae, have been cloned and sequenced. The shared presence of the identified signatures in these species provides strong evidence that these molecular signatures are distinctive characteristics of the entire order Chlamydiales and can be used to reliably determine the presence of chlamydiae or chlamydia-related organisms in environmental samples. The sequence information for these protein fragments was also used to determine the interrelationships among chlamydiae species. In a phylogenetic tree based on a combined dataset of sequences from RpoA, EF-Tu, EF-P and GyrB, the environmental chlamydiae (i.e. Simkania, Waddliaand Parachlamydia) and the traditional Chlamydiaceae(i.e. Chlamydophilaand Chlamydia) formed two distinct clades. Similar relationships were also observed in individual protein phylogenies, as well as in a 16S rRNA tree for the same species. These results provide evidence that the divergence between the traditional Chlamydiaceaespecies and the other chlamydiae families occurred very early in the evolution of this group of bacteria.