Progress in rickettsial genome analysis from pioneering of Rickettsia prowazekii to the recent Rickettsia typhi.

David H. Walker, Xue Jie Yu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Three rickettsial genomes have been sequenced and annotated. Rickettsia prowazekii and R. typhi have similar gene order and content. The few differences between R. prowazekii and R. typhi include a 12-kb insertion in R. prowazekii, a large inversion close to the origin of replication in R. typhi, and loss of the complete cytochrome c oxidase system by R. typhi. R. prowazekii, R. typhi, and R. conorii have 13, 24, and 560 unique genes, respectively, and share 775 genes, most likely their essential genes. The small genomes contain many pseudogenes and much noncoding DNA, reflecting the process of genome decay. R. typhi contains the largest number of pseudogenes (41), and R. conorii the fewest, in accordance with its larger number of genes and smaller proportion of noncoding DNA. Conversely, typhus rickettsiae contain fewer repetitive sequences. These genomes portray the key themes of rickettsial intracellular survival: lack of enzymes for sugar metabolism, lipid biosynthesis, nucleotide synthesis, and amino acid metabolism, suggesting that rickettsiae depend on the host for nutrition and building blocks; enzymes for the complete TCA cycle and several copies of ATP/ADP translocase genes, suggesting independent synthesis of ATP and acquisition of host ATP; and type IV secretion system. All rickettsiae share two outer membrane proteins (OmpB and Sca 4) and LPS biosynthesis machinery. RickA, unique to spotted fever rickettsiae, plays a role in induction of actin polymerization in R. conorii, but not in R. prowazekii or R. typhi. The genome of R. typhi contains four potentially membranolytic genes (tlyA, tlyC, pldA, and pat-1) and five autotransporter genes, sca 1, sca 2, sca 3, ompA, and ompB. The presence of six 50-amino acid repeat units in Sca 2 suggests function as an adhesin. The high laboratory passage of the sequenced strains raises the issue of the occurrence of laboratory mutations in genes not required for growth in cell culture or eggs. Resequencing revealed that eight annotated pseudogenes of E strain are actually intact genes. Comparative genomics of virulent and avirulent strains of rickettsial species may reveal their virulence factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-25
Number of pages13
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
StatePublished - Dec 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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