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1.  Whole-genome phylogenies of the family Bacillaceae and expansion of the sigma factor gene family in the Bacillus cereus species-group 
BMC Genomics  2011;12:430.
The Bacillus cereus sensu lato group consists of six species (B. anthracis, B. cereus, B. mycoides, B. pseudomycoides, B. thuringiensis, and B. weihenstephanensis). While classical microbial taxonomy proposed these organisms as distinct species, newer molecular phylogenies and comparative genome sequencing suggests that these organisms should be classified as a single species (thus, we will refer to these organisms collectively as the Bc species-group). How do we account for the underlying similarity of these phenotypically diverse microbes? It has been established for some time that the most rapidly evolving and evolutionarily flexible portions of the bacterial genome are regulatory sequences and transcriptional networks. Other studies have suggested that the sigma factor gene family of these organisms has diverged and expanded significantly relative to their ancestors; sigma factors are those portions of the bacterial transcriptional apparatus that control RNA polymerase recognition for promoter selection. Thus, examining sigma factor divergence in these organisms would concurrently examine both regulatory sequences and transcriptional networks important for divergence. We began this examination by comparison to the sigma factor gene set of B. subtilis.
Phylogenetic analysis of the Bc species-group utilizing 157 single-copy genes of the family Bacillaceae suggests that several taxonomic revisions of the genus Bacillus should be considered. Within the Bc species-group there is little indication that the currently recognized species form related sub-groupings, suggesting that they are members of the same species. The sigma factor gene family encoded by the Bc species-group appears to be the result of a dynamic gene-duplication and gene-loss process that in previous analyses underestimated the true heterogeneity of the sigma factor content in the Bc species-group.
Expansion of the sigma factor gene family appears to have preferentially occurred within the extracytoplasmic function (ECF) sigma factor genes, while the primary alternative (PA) sigma factor genes are, in general, highly conserved with those found in B. subtilis. Divergence of the sigma-controlled transcriptional regulons among various members of the Bc species-group likely has a major role in explaining the diversity of phenotypic characteristics seen in members of the Bc species-group.
PMCID: PMC3171730  PMID: 21864360
2.  Sequence Diversity of the Bacillus thuringiensis and B. cereus Sensu Lato Flagellin (H Antigen) Protein: Comparison with H Serotype Diversity†  
We set out to analyze the sequence diversity of the Bacillus thuringiensis flagellin (H antigen [Hag]) protein and compare it with H serotype diversity. Some other Bacillus cereus sensu lato species and strains were added for comparison. The internal sequences of the flagellin (hag) alleles from 80 Bacillus thuringiensis strains and 16 strains from the B. cereus sensu lato group were amplified and cloned, and their nucleotide sequences were determined and translated into amino acids. The flagellin allele nucleotide sequences for 10 additional strains were retrieved from GenBank for a total of 106 Bacillus species and strains used in this study. These included 82 B. thuringiensis strains from 67 H serotypes, 5 B. cereus strains, 3 Bacillus anthracis strains, 3 Bacillus mycoides strains, 11 Bacillus weihenstephanensis strains, 1 Bacillus halodurans strain, and 1 Bacillus subtilis strain. The first 111 and the last 66 amino acids were conserved. They were referred to as the C1 and C2 regions, respectively. The central region, however, was highly variable and is referred to as the V region. Two bootstrapped neighbor-joining trees were generated: a first one from the alignment of the translated amino acid sequences of the amplified internal sequences of the hag alleles and a second one from the alignment of the V region amino acid sequences, respectively. Of the eight clusters revealed in the tree inferred from the entire C1-V-C2 region amino acid sequences, seven were present in corresponding clusters in the tree inferred from the V region amino acid sequences. With regard to B. thuringiensis, in most cases, different serovars had different flagellin amino acid sequences, as might have been expected. Surprisingly, however, some different B. thuringiensis serovars shared identical flagellin amino acid sequences. Likewise, serovars from the same H serotypes were most often found clustered together, with exceptions. Indeed, some serovars from the same H serotype carried flagellins with sufficiently different amino acid sequences as to be located on distant clusters. Species-wise, B. halodurans, B. subtilis, and B. anthracis formed specific branches, whereas the other four species, all in the B. cereus sensu lato group, B. mycoides, B. weihenstephanensis, B. cereus, and B. thuringiensis, did not form four specific clusters as might have been expected. Rather, strains from any of these four species were placed side by side with strains from the other species. In the B. cereus sensu lato group, B. anthracis excepted, the distribution of strains was not species specific.
PMCID: PMC1489342  PMID: 16820457
3.  The Hemolytic Enterotoxin HBL Is Broadly Distributed among Species of the Bacillus cereus Group 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  1999;65(12):5436-5442.
The prevalence of the hemolytic enterotoxin complex HBL was determined in all species of the Bacillus cereus group with the exception of Bacillus anthracis. hblA, encoding the binding subunit B, was detected by PCR and Southern analysis and was confirmed by partial sequencing of 18 strains. The sequences formed two clusters, one including B. cereus and Bacillus thuringiensis strains and the other one consisting of Bacillus mycoides, Bacillus pseudomycoides, and Bacillus weihenstephanensis strains. From eight B. thuringiensis strains, the enterotoxin gene hblA could be amplified. Seven of them also expressed the complete HBL complex as determined with specific antibodies against the L1, L2, and B components. Eleven of 16 B. mycoides strains, all 3 B. pseudomyoides strains, 9 of 15 B. weihenstephanensis strains, and 10 of 23 B. cereus strains carried hblA. While HBL was not expressed in the B. pseudomycoides strains, the molecular assays were in accordance with the immunological assays for the majority of the remaining strains. In summary, the hemolytic enterotoxin HBL seems to be broadly distributed among strains of the B. cereus group and relates neither to a certain species nor to a specific environment. The consequences of this finding for food safety considerations need to be evaluated.
PMCID: PMC91741  PMID: 10584001
4.  Complete Sequence Analysis of Novel Plasmids from Emetic and Periodontal Bacillus cereus Isolates Reveals a Common Evolutionary History among the B. cereus-Group Plasmids, Including Bacillus anthracis pXO1▿ ‡  
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;189(1):52-64.
The plasmids of the members of the Bacillus cereus sensu lato group of organisms are essential in defining the phenotypic traits associated with pathogenesis and ecology. For example, Bacillus anthracis contains two plasmids, pXO1 and pXO2, encoding toxin production and encapsulation, respectively, that define this species pathogenic potential, whereas the presence of a Bt toxin-encoding plasmid defines Bacillus thuringiensis isolates. In this study the plasmids from B. cereus isolates that produce emetic toxin or are linked to periodontal disease were sequenced and analyzed. Two periodontal isolates examined contained almost identical ∼272-kb plasmids, named pPER272. The emetic toxin-producing isolate contained one ∼270-kb plasmid, named pCER270, encoding the cereulide biosynthesis gene cluster. Comparative sequence analyses of these B. cereus plasmids revealed a high degree of sequence similarity to the B. anthracis pXO1 plasmid, especially in a putative replication region. These plasmids form a newly defined group of pXO1-like plasmids. However, these novel plasmids do not contain the pXO1 pathogenicity island, which in each instance is replaced by plasmid specific DNA. Plasmids pCER270 and pPER272 share regions that are not found in any other pXO1-like plasmids. Evolutionary studies suggest that these plasmids are more closely related to each other than to other identified B. cereus plasmids. Screening of a population of B. cereus group isolates revealed that pXO1-like plasmids are more often found in association with clinical isolates. This study demonstrates that the pXO1-like plasmids may define pathogenic B. cereus isolates in the same way that pXO1 and pXO2 define the B. anthracis species.
PMCID: PMC1797222  PMID: 17041058
Molecular and cellular probes  2009;23(6):291-297.
The Bacillus cereus group includes Bacillus anthracis, Bacillus cereus, Bacillus thuringiensis, Bacillus mycoides and Bacillus weihenstephanensis. The small acid-soluble spore protein (SASP) β has been previously demonstrated to be among the biomarkers differentiating B. anthracis and B. cereus; SASP β of B. cereus most commonly exhibits one or two amino acid substitutions when compared to B. anthracis. SASP α is conserved in sequence among these two species. Neither SASP α nor β for B. thuringiensis, B. mycoides and B. weihenstephanensis have been previously characterized as taxonomic discriminators. In the current work molecular weight (MW) variation of these SASPs were determined by matrix assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI TOF MS) for representative strains of the 5 species within the B. cereus group. The measured MWs also correlate with calculated MWs of translated amino acid sequences generated from whole genome sequencing projects. SASP α and β demonstrated consistent MW among B. cereus, B. thuringiensis, and B. mycoides strains (group 1). However B. mycoides (group 2) and B. weihenstephanensis SASP α and β were quite distinct making them unique among the B. cereus group. Limited sequence changes were observed in SASP α (at most 3 substitutions and 2 deletions) indicating it is a more conserved protein than SASP β (up to 6 substitutions and a deletion). Another even more conserved SASP, SASP α-β type, was described here for the first time.
PMCID: PMC2783214  PMID: 19616612
6.  Homoduplex and Heteroduplex Polymorphisms of the Amplified Ribosomal 16S-23S Internal Transcribed Spacers Describe Genetic Relationships in the “Bacillus cereus Group” 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2000;66(12):5460-5468.
Bacillus anthracis, Bacillus cereus, Bacillus mycoides, Bacillus pseudomycoides, Bacillus thuringiensis, and Bacillus weihenstephanensis are closely related in phenotype and genotype, and their genetic relationship is still open to debate. The present work uses amplified 16S-23S internal transcribed spacers (ITS) to discriminate between the strains and species and to describe the genetic relationships within the “B. cereus group,” advantage being taken of homoduplex-heteroduplex polymorphisms (HHP) resolved by polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and silver staining. One hundred forty-one strains belonging to the six species were investigated, and 73 ITS-HHP pattern types were distinguished by MDE, a polyacrylamide matrix specifically designed to resolve heteroduplex and single-strand conformation polymorphisms. The discriminating bands were confirmed as ITS by Southern hybridization, and the homoduplex or heteroduplex nature was identified by single-stranded DNA mung bean nuclease digestion. Several of the ITS-HHP types corresponded to specific phenotypes such as B. anthracis or serotypes of B. thuringiensis. Unweighted pair group method arithmetic average cluster analysis revealed two main groups. One included B. mycoides, B. weihenstephanensis, and B. pseudomycoides. The second included B. cereus and B. thuringiensis, B. anthracis appeared as a lineage of B. cereus.
PMCID: PMC92482  PMID: 11097928
7.  Development of Real-Time PCR Assays for Detection and Quantification of Bacillus cereus Group Species: Differentiation of B. weihenstephanensis and Rhizoid B. pseudomycoides Isolates from Milk▿ †  
Quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR) offers an alternative method for the detection of bacterial contamination in food. This method provides the quantitation and determination of the number of gene copies. In our study, we established an RT-PCR assay using the LightCycler system to detect and quantify the Bacillus cereus group species, which includes B. cereus, B. anthracis, B. thuringiensis, B. weihenstephanensis, B. mycoides, and B. pseudomycoides. A TaqMan assay was designed to detect a 285-bp fragment of the motB gene encoding the flagellar motor protein, which was specific for the detection of the B. cereus group species, excluding B. pseudomycoides, and the detection of a 217-bp gene fragment of a hypothetical protein specific only for B. pseudomycoides strains. Based on three hydrolysis probes (MotB-FAM-1, MotB-FAM-2, and Bpm-FAM-1), it was possible to differentiate B. weihenstephanensis from the B. cereus group species with nonrhizoid growth and B. pseudomycoides from the whole B. cereus group. The specificity of the assay was confirmed with 119 strains belonging to the Bacillus cereus group species and was performed against 27 other Bacillus and non-Bacillus bacteria. A detection limit was determined for each assay. The assays performed well not only with purified DNA but also with DNA extracted from milk samples artificially contaminated with bacteria that belong to the B. cereus group species. This technique represents an alternative approach to traditional culture methods for the differentiation of B. cereus group species and differentiates B. weihenstephanensis and B. pseudomycoides in one reaction.
PMCID: PMC3019731  PMID: 21057027
8.  Pathogenomic Sequence Analysis of Bacillus cereus and Bacillus thuringiensis Isolates Closely Related to Bacillus anthracis† 
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;188(9):3382-3390.
Bacillus anthracis, Bacillus cereus, and Bacillus thuringiensis are closely related gram-positive, spore-forming bacteria of the B. cereus sensu lato group. While independently derived strains of B. anthracis reveal conspicuous sequence homogeneity, environmental isolates of B. cereus and B. thuringiensis exhibit extensive genetic diversity. Here we report the sequencing and comparative analysis of the genomes of two members of the B. cereus group, B. thuringiensis 97-27 subsp. konkukian serotype H34, isolated from a necrotic human wound, and B. cereus E33L, which was isolated from a swab of a zebra carcass in Namibia. These two strains, when analyzed by amplified fragment length polymorphism within a collection of over 300 of B. cereus, B. thuringiensis, and B. anthracis isolates, appear closely related to B. anthracis. The B. cereus E33L isolate appears to be the nearest relative to B. anthracis identified thus far. Whole-genome sequencing of B. thuringiensis 97-27and B. cereus E33L was undertaken to identify shared and unique genes among these isolates in comparison to the genomes of pathogenic strains B. anthracis Ames and B. cereus G9241 and nonpathogenic strains B. cereus ATCC 10987 and B. cereus ATCC 14579. Comparison of these genomes revealed differences in terms of virulence, metabolic competence, structural components, and regulatory mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC1447445  PMID: 16621833
9.  Genotyping of Bacillus cereus Strains by Microarray-Based Resequencing 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(7):e2513.
The ability to distinguish microbial pathogens from closely related but nonpathogenic strains is key to understanding the population biology of these organisms. In this regard, Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that causes inhalational anthrax, is of interest because it is closely related and often difficult to distinguish from other members of the B. cereus group that can cause diverse diseases. We employed custom-designed resequencing arrays (RAs) based on the genome sequence of Bacillus anthracis to generate 422 kb of genomic sequence from a panel of 41 Bacillus cereus sensu lato strains. Here we show that RAs represent a “one reaction” genotyping technology with the ability to discriminate between highly similar B. anthracis isolates and more divergent strains of the B. cereus s.l. Clade 1. Our data show that RAs can be an efficient genotyping technology for pre-screening the genetic diversity of large strain collections to selected the best candidates for whole genome sequencing.
PMCID: PMC2438477  PMID: 18596941
10.  Comparative Transcriptional Profiling of Bacillus cereus Sensu Lato Strains during Growth in CO2-Bicarbonate and Aerobic Atmospheres 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(3):e4904.
Bacillus species are spore-forming bacteria that are ubiquitous in the environment and display a range of virulent and avirulent phenotypes. This range is particularly evident in the Bacillus cereus sensu lato group; where closely related strains cause anthrax, food-borne illnesses, and pneumonia, but can also be non-pathogenic. Although much of this phenotypic range can be attributed to the presence or absence of a few key virulence factors, there are other virulence-associated loci that are conserved throughout the B. cereus group, and we hypothesized that these genes may be regulated differently in pathogenic and non-pathogenic strains.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Here we report transcriptional profiles of three closely related but phenotypically unique members of the Bacillus cereus group—a pneumonia-causing B. cereus strain (G9241), an attenuated strain of B. anthracis (Sterne 34F2), and an avirulent B. cereus strain (10987)—during exponential growth in two distinct atmospheric environments: 14% CO2/bicarbonate and ambient air. We show that the disease-causing Bacillus strains undergo more distinctive transcriptional changes between the two environments, and that the expression of plasmid-encoded virulence genes was increased exclusively in the CO2 environment. We observed a core of conserved metabolic genes that were differentially expressed in all three strains in both conditions. Additionally, the expression profiles of putative virulence genes in G9241 suggest that this strain, unlike Bacillus anthracis, may regulate gene expression with both PlcR and AtxA transcriptional regulators, each acting in a different environment.
We have shown that homologous and even identical genes within the genomes of three closely related members of the B. cereus sensu lato group are in some instances regulated very differently, and that these differences can have important implications for virulence. This study provides insights into the evolution of the B. cereus group, and highlights the importance of looking beyond differences in gene content in comparative genomics studies.
PMCID: PMC2654142  PMID: 19295911
11.  Conjugative plasmid pAW63 brings new insights into the genesis of the Bacillus anthracis virulence plasmid pXO2 and of the Bacillus thuringiensis plasmid pBT9727 
BMC Genomics  2005;6:103.
Bacillus cereus, Bacillus anthracis and Bacillus thuringiensis belong to the genetically close-knit Bacillus cereus sensu lato group, a family of rod-shaped Gram-positive bacteria. pAW63 is the first conjugative plasmid from the B. cereus group to be completely sequenced.
The 71,777 bp nucleotide sequence of pAW63 reveals a modular structure, including a 42 kb tra region encoding homologs of the Type IV secretion systems components VirB11, VirB4 and VirD4, as well as homologs of Gram-positive conjugation genes from Enterococcus, Lactococcus, Listeria, Streptococcus and Staphylococcus species. It also firmly establishes the existence of a common backbone between pAW63, pXO2 from Bacillus anthracis and pBT9727 from the pathogenic Bacillus thuringiensis serovar konkukian strain 97-27. The alignment of these three plasmids highlights the presence of well conserved segments, in contrast to distinct regions of high sequence plasticity. The study of their specific differences has provided a three-point reference framework that can be exploited to formulate solid hypotheses concerning the functionalities and the molecular evolution of these three closely related plasmids. This has provided insight into the chronology of their divergence, and led to the discovery of two Type II introns on pAW63, matching copies of the mobile element IS231L in different loci of pXO2 and pBT9727, and the identification on pXO2 of a 37 kb pathogenicity island (PAI) containing the anthrax capsule genes.
The complete sequence determination of pAW63 has led to a functional map of the plasmid yielding insights into its conjugative apparatus, which includes T4SS-like components, as well as its resemblance to other large plasmids of Gram-positive bacteria. Of particular interest is the extensive homology shared between pAW63 and pXO2, the second virulence plasmid of B. anthracis, as well as pBT9727 from the pathogenic strain B. thuringiensis serovar konkukian strain 97-27.
PMCID: PMC1196294  PMID: 16042811
12.  Whole-Genome Sequences of 94 Environmental Isolates of Bacillus cereus Sensu Lato 
Genome Announcements  2013;1(5):e00380-13.
Bacillus cereus sensu lato is a species complex that includes the anthrax pathogen Bacillus anthracis and other bacterial species of medical, industrial, and ecological importance. Their phenotypes of interest are typically linked to large plasmids that are closely related to the anthrax plasmids pXO1 and pXO2. Here, we present the draft genome sequences of 94 isolates of B. cereus sensu lato, which were chosen for their plasmid content and environmental origins.
PMCID: PMC3790080  PMID: 24092776
13.  The Bacillus anthracis chromosome contains four conserved, excision-proficient, putative prophages 
BMC Microbiology  2006;6:34.
Bacillus anthracis is considered to be a recently emerged clone within the Bacillus cereus sensu lato group. The B. anthracis genome sequence contains four putative lambdoid prophages. We undertook this study in order to understand whether the four prophages are unique to B. anthracis and whether they produce active phages.
More than 300 geographically and temporally divergent isolates of B. anthracis and its near neighbors were screened by PCR for the presence of specific DNA sequences from each prophage region. Every isolate of B. anthracis screened by PCR was found to produce all four phage-specific amplicons whereas none of the non-B. anthracis isolates, produced more than one phage-specific amplicon. Excision of prophages could be detected by a PCR based assay for attP sites on extra-chromosomal phage circles and for attB sites on phage-excised chromosomes. SYBR-green real-time PCR assays indicated that prophage excision occurs at very low frequencies (2 × 10-5 - 8 × 10-8/cell). Induction with mitomycin C increased the frequency of excision of one of the prophages by approximately 250 fold. All four prophages appear to be defective since, mitomycin C induced culture did not release any viable phage particle or lyse the cells or reveal any phage particle under electron microscopic examination.
The retention of all four putative prophage regions across all tested strains of B. anthracis is further evidence of the very recent emergence of this lineage and the prophage regions may be useful for differentiating the B. anthracis chromosome from that of its neighbors. All four prophages can excise at low frequencies, but are apparently defective in phage production.
PMCID: PMC1475869  PMID: 16600039
14.  Discrimination of Bacillus anthracis and Closely Related Microorganisms by Analysis of 16S and 23S rRNA with Oligonucleotide Microarray 
Chemico-biological interactions  2007;171(2):212-235.
Analysis of 16S rRNA sequences is a commonly used method for the identification and discrimination of microorganisms. However, the high similarity of 16S and 23S rRNA sequences of Bacillus cereus group organisms (up to 99-100%) and repeatedly failed attempts to develop molecular typing systems that would use DNA sequences to discriminate between species within this group have resulted in several suggestions to consider B. cereus and B. thuringiensis, or these two species together with B. anthracis, as one species. Recently, we divided the B. cereus group into seven subgroups, Anthracis, Cereus A and B, Thuringiensis A and B, and Mycoides A and B, based on 16S rRNA, 23S rRNA and gyrB gene sequences and identified subgroup-specific makers in each of these three genes. Here we for the first time demonstrated discrimination of these seven subgroups, including subgroup Anthracis, with a 3D gel element microarray of oligonucleotide probes targeting 16S and 23S rRNA markers. This is the first microarray enabled identification of B. anthracis and discrimination of these seven subgroups in pure cell cultures and in environmental samples using rRNA sequences. The microarray bearing perfect match/mismatch (p/mm) probe pairs was specific enough to discriminate single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and was able to identify targeted organisms in 5 minutes. We also demonstrated the ability of the microarray to determine subgroup affiliations for B. cereus group isolates without rRNA sequencing. Correlation of these seven subgroups with groupings based on multilocus sequence typing (MLST), fluorescent amplified fragment length polymorphism analysis (AFLP) and multilocus enzyme electrophoresis (MME) analysis of a wide spectrum of different genes, and the demonstration of subgroup-specific differences in toxin profiles, psychrotolerance, and the ability to harbor some plasmids, suggest that these seven subgroups are not based solely on neutral genomic polymorphisms, but instead reflect differences in both the genotypes and phenotypes of the B. cereus group organisms.
PMCID: PMC3188417  PMID: 17950718
B. anthracis; 16S rRNA; 23S rRNA; microarray; SNP; environmental sample
15.  Analysis of the Life Cycle of the Soil Saprophyte Bacillus cereus in Liquid Soil Extract and in Soil‡  
Bacillus is commonly isolated from soils, with organisms of Bacillus cereus sensu lato being prevalent. Knowledge of the ecology of B. cereus and other Bacillus species in soil is far from complete. While the older literature favors a model of growth on soil-associated organic matter, the current paradigm is that B. cereus sensu lato germinates and grows in association with animals or plants, resulting in either symbiotic or pathogenic interactions. An in terra approach to study soil-associated bacteria is described, using filter-sterilized soil-extracted soluble organic matter (SESOM) and artificial soil microcosms (ASM) saturated with SESOM. B. cereus ATCC 14579 displayed a life cycle, with the ability to germinate, grow, and subsequently sporulate in both the liquid SESOM extract and in ASM inserted into wells in agar medium. Cells grew in liquid SESOM without separating, forming multicellular structures that coalesced to form clumps and encasing the ensuing spores in an extracellular matrix. Bacillus was able to translocate from the point of inoculation through soil microcosms as shown by the emergence of outgrowths on the surrounding agar surface. Microscopic inspection revealed bundles of parallel chains inside the soil. The motility inhibitor l-ethionine failed to suppress outgrowth, ruling out translocation by a flagellar-mediated mechanism such as swimming or swarming. Bacillus subtilis subsp. subtilis Marburg and four Bacillus isolates taken at random from soils also displayed a life cycle in SESOM and ASM and were all able to translocate through ASM, even in presence of l-ethionine. These data indicate that B. cereus is a saprophytic bacterium that is able to grow in soil and furthermore that it is adapted to translocate by employing a multicellular mode of growth.
PMCID: PMC1489341  PMID: 16820495
16.  Distinct Mutations in PlcR Explain Why Some Strains of the Bacillus cereus Group Are Nonhemolytic 
Journal of Bacteriology  2004;186(11):3531-3538.
Bacillus thuringiensis, Bacillus cereus, and Bacillus anthracis are closely related species belonging to the Bacillus cereus group. B. thuringiensis and B. cereus generally produce extracellular proteins, including phospholipases and hemolysins. Transcription of the genes encoding these factors is controlled by the pleiotropic regulator PlcR. Disruption of plcR in B. cereus and B. thuringiensis drastically reduces the hemolytic, lecithinase, and cytotoxic properties of these organisms. B. anthracis does not produce these proteins due to a nonsense mutation in the plcR gene. We screened 400 B. thuringiensis and B. cereus strains for their hemolytic and lecithinase properties. Eight Hly− Lec− strains were selected and analyzed to determine whether this unusual phenotype was due to a mutation similar to that found in B. anthracis. Sequence analysis of the DNA region including the plcR and papR genes of these strains and genetic complementation of the strains with functional copies of plcR and papR indicated that different types of mutations were responsible for these phenotypes. We also found that the plcR genes of three B. anthracis strains belonging to different phylogenetic groups contained the same nonsense mutation, suggesting that this mutation is a distinctive trait of this species.
PMCID: PMC415780  PMID: 15150241
17.  Blue and Red Light Modulates SigB-Dependent Gene Transcription, Swimming Motility and Invasiveness in Listeria monocytogenes 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(1):e16151.
In a number of gram-positive bacteria, including Listeria, the general stress response is regulated by the alternative sigma factor B (SigB). Common stressors which lead to the activation of SigB and the SigB-dependent regulon are high osmolarity, acid and several more. Recently is has been shown that also blue and red light activates SigB in Bacillus subtilis.
Methodology/Principal Findings
By qRT-PCR we analyzed the transcriptional response of the pathogen L. monocytogenes to blue and red light in wild type bacteria and in isogenic deletion mutants for the putative blue-light receptor Lmo0799 and the stress sigma factor SigB. It was found that both blue (455 nm) and red (625 nm) light induced the transcription of sigB and SigB-dependent genes, this induction was completely abolished in the SigB mutant. The blue-light effect was largely dependent on Lmo0799, proving that this protein is a genuine blue-light receptor. The deletion of lmo0799 enhanced the red-light effect, the underlying mechanism as well as that of SigB activation by red light remains unknown. Blue light led to an increased transcription of the internalin A/B genes and of bacterial invasiveness for Caco-2 enterocytes. Exposure to blue light also strongly inhibited swimming motility of the bacteria in a Lmo0799- and SigB-dependent manner, red light had no effect there.
Our data established that visible, in particular blue light is an important environmental signal with an impact on gene expression and physiology of the non-phototrophic bacterium L. monocytogenes. In natural environments these effects will result in sometimes random but potentially also cyclic fluctuations of gene activity, depending on the light conditions prevailing in the respective habitat.
PMCID: PMC3019169  PMID: 21264304
18.  Complete Genome Sequence of Bacillus cereus Sensu Lato Bacteriophage Bcp1 
Genome Announcements  2014;2(3):e00334-14.
Bacillus cereus sensu lato organisms are an ecologically diverse group that includes etiologic agents of food poisoning, periodontal disease, and anthrax. The recently identified Bcp1 bacteriophage infects B. cereus sensu lato and is being developed as a therapeutic decontamination agent and diagnostic countermeasure. We announce the complete genome sequence of Bcp1.
PMCID: PMC4056285  PMID: 24926042
19.  Bacillus anthracis, Bacillus cereus, and Bacillus thuringiensis—One Species on the Basis of Genetic Evidence 
Bacillus anthracis, Bacillus cereus, and Bacillus thuringiensis are members of the Bacillus cereus group of bacteria, demonstrating widely different phenotypes and pathological effects. B. anthracis causes the acute fatal disease anthrax and is a potential biological weapon due to its high toxicity. B. thuringiensis produces intracellular protein crystals toxic to a wide number of insect larvae and is the most commonly used biological pesticide worldwide. B. cereus is a probably ubiquitous soil bacterium and an opportunistic pathogen that is a common cause of food poisoning. In contrast to the differences in phenotypes, we show by multilocus enzyme electrophoresis and by sequence analysis of nine chromosomal genes that B. anthracis should be considered a lineage of B. cereus. This determination is not only a formal matter of taxonomy but may also have consequences with respect to virulence and the potential of horizontal gene transfer within the B. cereus group.
PMCID: PMC110590  PMID: 10831447
20.  Temperature-Dependent Production of Various PlcR-Controlled Virulence Factors in Bacillus weihenstephanensis Strain KBAB4 
The Bacillus cereus sensu lato complex has recently been divided into several phylogenetic groups with clear differences in growth temperature range. However, only a few studies have investigated the actual pathogenic potential of the psychrotolerant strains of the B. cereus group at low temperature, and little information is available concerning gene expression at low temperature. We found that vegetative cells of the psychrotolerant B. weihenstephanensis strain KBAB4 were pathogenic against the model insect Galleria mellonella at 15°C but not at 30°C. A similar temperature-dependent difference also was observed for the supernatant, which was cytotoxic to Vero epithelial cell lines and to murine macrophage J774 cells at 15°C but not at 30°C. We therefore determined the effect of low temperature on the production of various proteins putatively involved in virulence using two-dimensional protein gel electrophoresis, and we showed that the production of the Hbl enterotoxin and of two proteases, NprB and NprP2, was greater at a growth temperature of 15°C than at 30°C. The quantification of the mRNA levels for these virulence genes by real-time quantitative PCR at both temperatures showed that there was also more mRNA present at 15°C than at 30°C. We also found that at 15°C, hbl mRNA levels were maximal in the mid- to late exponential growth phase. In conclusion, we found that the higher virulence of the B. cereus KBAB4 strain at low temperature was accompanied by higher levels of the production of various known PlcR-controlled virulence factors and by a higher transcriptional activity of the corresponding genes.
PMCID: PMC3318839  PMID: 22307282
21.  Deletion of the sigB Gene in Bacillus cereus ATCC 14579 Leads to Hydrogen Peroxide Hyperresistance 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2005;71(10):6427-6430.
The sigB gene of Bacillus cereus ATCC 14579 encodes the alternative sigma factor σB. Deletion of sigB in B. cereus leads to hyperresistance to hydrogen peroxide. The expression of katA, which encodes one of the catalases of B. cereus, is upregulated in the sigB deletion mutant, and this may contribute to the hydrogen peroxide-resistant phenotype.
PMCID: PMC1265915  PMID: 16204573
22.  Population Structure and Evolution of the Bacillus cereus Group†  
Journal of Bacteriology  2004;186(23):7959-7970.
Representative strains of the Bacillus cereus group of bacteria, including Bacillus anthracis (11 isolates), B. cereus (38 isolates), Bacillus mycoides (1 isolate), Bacillus thuringiensis (53 isolates from 17 serovars), and Bacillus weihenstephanensis (2 isolates) were assigned to 59 sequence types (STs) derived from the nucleotide sequences of seven alleles, glpF, gmk, ilvD, pta, pur, pycA, and tpi. Comparisons of the maximum likelihood (ML) tree of the concatenated sequences with individual gene trees showed more congruence than expected by chance, indicating a generally clonal structure to the population. The STs followed two major lines of descent. Clade 1 comprised B. anthracis strains, numerous B. cereus strains, and rare B. thuringiensis strains, while clade 2 included the majority of the B. thuringiensis strains together with some B. cereus strains. Other species were allocated to a third, heterogeneous clade. The ML trees and split decomposition analysis were used to assign STs to eight lineages within clades 1 and 2. These lineages were defined by bootstrap analysis and by a preponderance of fixed differences over shared polymorphisms among the STs. Lineages were named with reference to existing designations: Anthracis, Cereus I, Cereus II, Cereus III, Kurstaki, Sotto, Thuringiensis, and Tolworthi. Strains from some B. thuringiensis serovars were wholly or largely assigned to a single ST, for example, serovar aizawai isolates were assigned to ST-15, serovar kenyae isolates were assigned to ST-13, and serovar tolworthi isolates were assigned to ST-23, while other serovars, such as serovar canadensis, were genetically heterogeneous. We suggest a revision of the nomenclature in which the lineage and clone are recognized through name and ST designations in accordance with the clonal structure of the population.
PMCID: PMC529064  PMID: 15547268
23.  Identification and Characterization of Psychrotolerant Sporeformers Associated with Fluid Milk Production and Processing 
Psychrotolerant spore-forming bacteria represent a major challenge to the goal of extending the shelf life of pasteurized dairy products. The objective of this study was to identify prominent phylogenetic groups of dairy-associated aerobic sporeformers and to characterize representative isolates for phenotypes relevant to growth in milk. Analysis of sequence data for a 632-nucleotide fragment of rpoB showed that 1,288 dairy-associated isolates (obtained from raw and pasteurized milk and from dairy farm environments) clustered into two major divisions representing (i) the genus Paenibacillus (737 isolates, including the species Paenibacillus odorifer, Paenibacillus graminis, and Paenibacillus amylolyticus sensu lato) and (ii) Bacillus (n = 467) (e.g., Bacillus licheniformis sensu lato, Bacillus pumilus, Bacillus weihenstephanensis) and genera formerly classified as Bacillus (n = 84) (e.g., Viridibacillus spp.). When isolates representing the most common rpoB allelic types (ATs) were tested for growth in skim milk broth at 6°C, 6/9 Paenibacillus isolates, but only 2/8 isolates representing Bacillus subtypes, grew >5 log CFU/ml over 21 days. In addition, 38/40 Paenibacillus isolates but only 3/47 Bacillus isolates tested were positive for β-galactosidase activity (including some isolates representing Bacillus licheniformis sensu lato, a common dairy-associated clade). Our study confirms that Paenibacillus spp. are the predominant psychrotolerant sporeformers in fluid milk and provides 16S rRNA gene and rpoB subtype data and phenotypic characteristics facilitating the identification of aerobic spore-forming spoilage organisms of concern. These data will be critical for the development of detection methods and control strategies that will reduce the introduction of psychrotolerant sporeformers and extend the shelf life of dairy products.
PMCID: PMC3298126  PMID: 22247129
24.  A Randomly Amplified Polymorphic DNA Marker Specific for the Bacillus cereus Group Is Diagnostic for Bacillus anthracis 
Aiming to develop a DNA marker specific for Bacillus anthracis and able to discriminate this species from Bacillus cereus, Bacillus thuringiensis, and Bacillus mycoides, we applied the randomly amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) fingerprinting technique to a collection of 101 strains of the genus Bacillus, including 61 strains of the B. cereus group. An 838-bp RAPD marker (SG-850) specific for B. cereus, B. thuringiensis, B. anthracis, and B. mycoides was identified. This fragment included a putative (366-nucleotide) open reading frame highly homologous to the ypuA gene of Bacillus subtilis. The restriction analysis of the SG-850 fragment with AluI distinguished B. anthracis from the other species of the B. cereus group.
PMCID: PMC91177  PMID: 10049896
25.  Use of 16S rRNA, 23S rRNA, and gyrB Gene Sequence Analysis To Determine Phylogenetic Relationships of Bacillus cereus Group Microorganisms 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2004;42(8):3711-3730.
In order to determine if variations in rRNA sequence could be used for discrimination of the members of the Bacillus cereus group, we analyzed 183 16S rRNA and 74 23S rRNA sequences for all species in the B. cereus group. We also analyzed 30 gyrB sequences for B. cereus group strains with published 16S rRNA sequences. Our findings indicated that the three most common species of the B. cereus group, B. cereus, Bacillus thuringiensis, and Bacillus mycoides, were each heterogeneous in all three gene sequences, while all analyzed strains of Bacillus anthracis were found to be homogeneous. Based on analysis of 16S and 23S rRNA sequence variations, the microorganisms within the B. cereus group were divided into seven subgroups, Anthracis, Cereus A and B, Thuringiensis A and B, and Mycoides A and B, and these seven subgroups were further organized into two distinct clusters. This classification of the B. cereus group conflicts with current taxonomic groupings, which are based on phenotypic traits. The presence of B. cereus strains in six of the seven subgroups and the presence of B. thuringiensis strains in three of the subgroups do not support the proposed unification of B. cereus and B. thuringiensis into one species. Analysis of the available phenotypic data for the strains included in this study revealed phenotypic traits that may be characteristic of several of the subgroups. Finally, our results demonstrated that rRNA and gyrB sequences may be used for discriminating B. anthracis from other microorganisms in the B. cereus group.
PMCID: PMC497648  PMID: 15297521

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