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author:("Yin, yanbian")
1.  On the origin of microbial ORFans: quantifying the strength of the evidence for viral lateral transfer 
The origin of microbial ORFans, ORFs having no detectable homology to other ORFs in the databases, is one of the unexplained puzzles of the post-genomic era. Several hypothesis on the origin of ORFans have been suggested in the last few years, most of which based on selected, relatively small, subsets of ORFans. One of the hypotheses for the origin of ORFans is that they have been acquired thru lateral transfer from viruses. Here we carry out a comprehensive, genome-wide study on the origins of ORFans to quantify the strength of current evidence supporting this hypothesis.
We performed similarity searches by querying all current ORFans against the public virus protein database. Surprisingly, we found that only 2.8% of all microbial ORFans have detectable homologs in viruses, while the percentage of non-ORFans with detectable homologs in viruses is 7.9%, a significantly higher figure. This suggests that the current evidence for the origin of ORFans from lateral transfer from viruses is at best weak. However, an analysis of individual genomes revealed a number of organisms with much higher percentages, many of them belonging to the Firmicutes and Gamma-proteobacteria. We provide evidence suggesting that the current virus database may be biased towards those viruses attacking Firmicutes and Gamma-proteobacteria.
We conclude that as more viral genomes are sequenced, more microbial ORFans will find homologs in viruses, but this trend may vary much for individual genomes. Thus, lateral transfer from viruses alone is unlikely to explain the origin of the majority of ORFans in the majority of prokaryotes and consequently, other, not necessarily exclusive, mechanisms are likely to better explain the origin of the increasing number of ORFans.
PMCID: PMC1559721  PMID: 16914045
2.  Genomic characterization of ribitol teichoic acid synthesis in Staphylococcus aureus: genes, genomic organization and gene duplication 
BMC Genomics  2006;7:74.
Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA (Methicillin Resistant S. aureus), is an acquired pathogen and the primary cause of nosocomial infections worldwide. In S. aureus, teichoic acid is an essential component of the cell wall, and its biosynthesis is not yet well characterized. Studies in Bacillus subtilis have discovered two different pathways of teichoic acid biosynthesis, in two strains W23 and 168 respectively, namely teichoic acid ribitol (tar) and teichoic acid glycerol (tag). The genes involved in these two pathways are also characterized, tarA, tarB, tarD, tarI, tarJ, tarK, tarL for the tar pathway, and tagA, tagB, tagD, tagE, tagF for the tag pathway. With the genome sequences of several MRSA strains: Mu50, MW2, N315, MRSA252, COL as well as methicillin susceptible strain MSSA476 available, a comparative genomic analysis was performed to characterize teichoic acid biosynthesis in these S. aureus strains.
We identified all S. aureus tar and tag gene orthologs in the selected S. aureus strains which would contribute to teichoic acids sythesis.Based on our identification of genes orthologous to tarI, tarJ, tarL, which are specific to tar pathway in B. subtilis W23, we also concluded that tar is the major teichoic acid biogenesis pathway in S. aureus. Further analyses indicated that the S. aureus tar genes, different from the divergon organization in B. subtilis, are organized into several clusters in cis. Most interesting, compared with genes in B. subtilis tar pathway, the S. aureus tar specific genes (tarI,J,L) are duplicated in all six S. aureus genomes.
In the S. aureus strains we analyzed, tar (teichoic acid ribitol) is the main teichoic acid biogenesis pathway. The tar genes are organized into several genomic groups in cis and the genes specific to tar (relative to tag): tarI, tarJ, tarL are duplicated. The genomic organization of the S. aureus tar pathway suggests their regulations are different when compared to B. subtilis tar or tag pathway, which are grouped in two operons in a divergon structure.
PMCID: PMC1458327  PMID: 16595020

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