Publications in peer reviewed journals

119 Publications found
  • Colocalization and potential interactions of and chlamydiae in microbial aggregates of the coral Pocillopora acuta

    Maire J, Tandon K, Collingro A, van de Meene A, Damjanovic K, Gotze CR, Stephenson S, Philip GK, Horn M, Cantin NE, Blackall LL, van Oppen MJH
    2023 - Sci Adv, 20: eadg0773


    Corals are associated with a variety of bacteria, which occur in the surface mucus layer, gastrovascular cavity, skeleton, and tissues. Some tissue-associated bacteria form clusters, termed cell-associated microbial aggregates (CAMAs), which are poorly studied. Here, we provide a comprehensive characterization of CAMAs in the coral . Combining imaging techniques, laser capture microdissection, and amplicon and metagenome sequencing, we show that (i) CAMAs are located in the tentacle tips and may be intracellular; (ii) CAMAs contain (Gammaproteobacteria) and (Chlamydiota) bacteria; (iii) may provide vitamins to its host and use secretion systems and/or pili for colonization and aggregation; (iv) and occur in distinct, but adjacent, CAMAs; and (v) may receive acetate and heme from neighboring . Our study provides detailed insight into coral endosymbionts, thereby improving our understanding of coral physiology and health and providing important knowledge for coral reef conservation in the climate change era.

  • One to host them all: genomics of the diverse bacterial endosymbionts of the spider Oedothorax gibbosus

    Halter T, Köstlbacher S, Rattei T, Hendrickx F, Manzano-Marín A, Horn M
    2023 - Microb. Genomics, 9: 10.1099/mgen.0.00094


    Bacterial endosymbionts of the groups Wolbachia, Cardinium and Rickettsiaceae are well known for their diverse effects on their arthropod hosts, ranging from mutualistic relationships to reproductive phenotypes. Here, we analysed a unique system in which the dwarf spider Oedothorax gibbosus is co-infected with up to five different endosymbionts affiliated with Wolbachia, ‘Candidatus Tisiphia’ (formerly Torix group Rickettsia), Cardinium and Rhabdochlamydia. Using short-read genome sequencing data, we show that the endosymbionts are heterogeneously distributed among O. gibbosus populations and are frequently found co-infecting spider individuals. To study this intricate host–endosymbiont system on a genome-resolved level, we used long-read sequencing to reconstruct closed genomes of the Wolbachia, ‘Ca. Tisiphia’ and Cardinium endosymbionts. We provide insights into the ecology and evolution of the endosymbionts and shed light on the interactions with their spider host. We detected high quantities of transposable elements in all endosymbiont genomes and provide evidence that ancestors of the Cardinium, ‘Ca. Tisiphia’ and Wolbachia endosymbionts have co-infected the same hosts in the past. Our findings contribute to broadening our knowledge about endosymbionts infecting one of the largest animal phyla on Earth and show the usefulness of transposable elements as an evolutionary ‘contact-tracing’ tool.

  • Gene gain facilitated endosymbiotic evolution of Chlamydiae.

    Dharamshi JE, Köstlbacher S, Schön ME, Collingro A, Ettema TJG, Horn M
    2023 - Nat Microbiol, 1: 40-54


    Chlamydiae is a bacterial phylum composed of obligate animal and protist endosymbionts. However, other members of the Planctomycetes-Verrucomicrobia-Chlamydiae superphylum are primarily free living. How Chlamydiae transitioned to an endosymbiotic lifestyle is still largely unresolved. Here we reconstructed Planctomycetes-Verrucomicrobia-Chlamydiae species relationships and modelled superphylum genome evolution. Gene content reconstruction from 11,996 gene families suggests a motile and facultatively anaerobic last common Chlamydiae ancestor that had already gained characteristic endosymbiont genes. Counter to expectations for genome streamlining in strict endosymbionts, we detected substantial gene gain within Chlamydiae. We found that divergence in energy metabolism and aerobiosis observed in extant lineages emerged later during chlamydial evolution. In particular, metabolic and aerobic genes characteristic of the more metabolically versatile protist-infecting chlamydiae were gained, such as respiratory chain complexes. Our results show that metabolic complexity can increase during endosymbiont evolution, adding an additional perspective for understanding symbiont evolutionary trajectories across the tree of life.

  • A novel widespread MITE wlement in the repeat-rich genome of the endosymbiont of the spider Oedothorax gibbosus

    Halter T, Hendrickx F, Horn M, Manzano-Marín A
    2022 - Microbiol Spectr, e0262722


    Free-living bacteria have evolved multiple times to become host-restricted endosymbionts. The transition from a free-living to a host-restricted lifestyle comes with a number of different genomic changes, including a massive loss of genes. In host-restricted endosymbionts, gene inactivation and genome reduction are facilitated by mobile genetic elements, mainly insertion sequences (ISs). ISs are small autonomous mobile elements, and one of, if not the most, abundant transposable elements in bacteria. Proliferation of ISs is common in some facultative endosymbionts, and is likely driven by the transmission bottlenecks, which increase the level of genetic drift. In this study, we present a manually curated genome annotation for a Cardinium endosymbiont of the dwarf spider Oedothorax gibbosus. Cardinium species are host-restricted endosymbionts that, similarly to Colbachia spp., include strains capable of manipulating host reproduction. Through the focus on mobile elements, the annotation revealed a rampant spread of ISs, extending earlier observations in other Cardinium genomes. We found that a large proportion of IS elements are pseudogenized, with many displaying evidence of recent inactivation. Most notably, we describe the lineage-specific emergence and spread of a novel IS-derived Miniature Inverted repeat Transposable Element (MITE), likely being actively maintained by intact copies of its parental IS982-family element. This study highlights the relevance of manual curation of these repeat-rich endosymbiont genomes for the discovery of novel MITEs, as well as the possible role these understudied elements might play in genome streamlining.

    IMPORTANCE: Cardinium bacteria, a widespread symbiont lineage found across insects and nematodes, have been linked to reproductive manipulation of their hosts. However, the study of Cardinium has been hampered by the lack of comprehensive genomic resources. The high content of mobile genetic elements, namely, insertion sequences (ISs), has long complicated the analyses and proper annotations of these genomes. In this study, we present a manually curated annotation of the Cardinium symbiont of the spider Oedothorax gibbosus. Most notably, we describe a novel IS-like element found exclusively in this strain. We show that this mobile element likely evolved from a defective copy of its parental IS and then spread throughout the genome, contributing to the pseudogenization of several other mobile elements. We propose this element is likely being maintained by the intact copies of its parental IS element and that other similar elements in the genome could potentially follow this route.

  • Defensive symbiosis against giant viruses in amoebae

    Arthofer P, Delafont V, Willemsen A, Panhölzl F, Horn M
    2022 - PNAS, 119: e2205856119


    Protists are important regulators of microbial communities and key components in food webs with impact on nutrient cycling and ecosystem functioning. In turn, their activity is shaped by diverse intracellular parasites, including bacterial symbionts and viruses. Yet, bacteria–virus interactions within protists are poorly understood. Here, we studied the role of bacterial symbionts of free-living amoebae in the establishment of infections with nucleocytoplasmic large DNA viruses (Nucleocytoviricota). To investigate these interactions in a system that would also be relevant in nature, we first isolated and characterized a giant virus (Viennavirus, family Marseilleviridae) and a sympatric potential Acanthamoeba host infected with bacterial symbionts. Subsequently, coinfection experiments were carried out, using the fresh environmental isolates as well as additional amoeba laboratory strains. Employing fluorescence in situ hybridization and qPCR, we show that the bacterial symbiont, identified as Parachlamydia acanthamoebae, represses the replication of the sympatric Viennavirus in both recent environmental isolates as well as Acanthamoeba laboratory strains. In the presence of the symbiont, virions are still taken up, but viral factory maturation is inhibited, leading to survival of the amoeba host. The symbiont also suppressed the replication of the more complex Acanthamoeba polyphaga mimivirus and Tupanvirus deep ocean (Mimiviridae). Our work provides an example of an intracellular bacterial symbiont protecting a protist host against virus infections. The impact of virus–symbiont interactions on microbial population dynamics and eventually ecosystem processes requires further attention.

  • CT295 Is Chlamydia trachomatis’ phosphoglucomutase and a type 3 secretion substrate

    Triboulet A, N’Gadjaga MD, Niragire B, Köstlbacher S, Horn M, Aimanianda V, Subtil A
    2022 - Front Cell Infect Microbiol, 12: 866729


    The obligate intracellular bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis store glycogen in the lumen of the vacuoles in which they grow. Glycogen catabolism generates glucose-1-phosphate (Glc1P), while the bacteria can take up only glucose-6-phosphate (Glc6P). We tested whether the conversion of Glc1P into Glc6P could be catalyzed by a phosphoglucomutase (PGM) of host or bacterial origin. We found no evidence for the presence of the host PGM in the vacuole. Two C. trachomatis proteins, CT295 and CT815, are potential PGMs. By reconstituting the reaction using purified proteins, and by complementing PGM deficient fibroblasts, we demonstrated that only CT295 displayed robust PGM activity. Intriguingly, we showed that glycogen accumulation in the lumen of the vacuole of a subset of Chlamydia species (C. trachomatis, C. muridarum, C. suis) correlated with the presence, in CT295 orthologs, of a secretion signal recognized by the type three secretion (T3S) machinery of Shigella. C. caviae and C. pneumoniae do not accumulate glycogen, and their CT295 orthologs lack T3S signals. In conclusion, we established that the conversion of Glc1P into Glc6P was accomplished by a bacterial PGM, through the acquisition of a T3S signal in a “housekeeping” protein. Acquisition of this signal likely contributed to shaping glycogen metabolism within Chlamydiaceae.

  • Ecology and evolution of chlamydial symbionts of arthropods

    Halter T, Koestlbacher S, Collingro A, Sixt BS, Toenshoff ER, Hendrickx F, Kostanjšek R, Horn M
    2022 - ISME Commun., 2: 45


    The phylum Chlamydiae consists of obligate intracellular bacteria including major human pathogens and diverse environmental representatives. Here we investigated the Rhabdochlamydiaceae, which is predicted to be the largest and most diverse chlamydial family, with the few described members known to infect arthropod hosts. Using published 16S rRNA gene sequence data we identified at least 388 genus-level lineages containing about 14 051 putative species within this family. We show that rhabdochlamydiae are mainly found in freshwater and soil environments, suggesting the existence of diverse, yet unknown hosts. Next, we used a comprehensive genome dataset including metagenome assembled genomes classified as members of the family Rhabdochlamydiaceae, and we added novel complete genome sequences of Rhabdochlamydia porcellionis infecting the woodlouse Porcellio scaber, and of 'Candidatus R. oedothoracis' associated with the linyphiid dwarf spider Oedothorax gibbosus. Comparative analysis of basic genome features and gene content with reference genomes of well-studied chlamydial families with known host ranges, namely Parachlamydiaceae (protist hosts) and Chlamydiaceae (human and other vertebrate hosts) suggested distinct niches for members of the Rhabdochlamydiaceae. We propose that members of the family represent intermediate stages of adaptation of chlamydiae from protists to vertebrate hosts. Within the genus Rhabdochlamydia, pronounced genome size reduction could be observed (1.49-1.93 Mb). The abundance and genomic distribution of transposases suggests transposable element expansion and subsequent gene inactivation as a mechanism of genome streamlining during adaptation to new hosts. This type of genome reduction has never been described before for any member of the phylum Chlamydiae. This study provides new insights into the molecular ecology, genomic diversity, and evolution of representatives of one of the most divergent chlamydial families.

  • The life cycle-dependent transcriptional profile of the obligate intracellular amoeba symbiont Amoebophilus asiaticus.

    Selberherr E, Penz T, König L, Conrady B, Siegl A, Horn M, Schmitz-Esser S
    2022 - FEMS Microbiol Ecol, 98: fiac001


    Free-living amoebae often harbor obligate intracellular bacterial symbionts. Amoebophilus (A.) asiaticus is a representative of a lineage of amoeba symbionts in the phylum Bacteroidota. Here, we analyze the transcriptome of A. asiaticus strain 5a2 at four time points during its infection cycle and replication within the Acanthamoeba host using RNA sequencing. Our results reveal a dynamic transcriptional landscape throughout different A. asiaticus life cycle stages. Many intracellular bacteria and pathogens utilize eukaryotic-like proteins (ELPs) for host cell interaction and the A. asiaticus 5a2 genome shows a particularly high abundance of ELPs. We show the expression of all genes encoding ELPs and found many ELPs to be differentially expressed. At the replicative stage of A. asiaticus, ankyrin repeat proteins and tetratricopeptide/Sel1-like repeat proteins were upregulated. At the later time points, high expression levels of a type 6 secretion system that likely prepares for a new infection cycle after lysing its host, were found. This study reveals comprehensive insights into the intracellular lifestyle of A. asiaticus and highlights candidate genes for host cell interaction. The results from this study have implications for other intracellular bacteria such as other amoeba-associated bacteria and the arthropod symbionts forming the sister lineage of A. asiaticus.

  • Evolutionarily recent dual obligatory symbiosis among adelgids indicates a transition between fungus- and insect-associated lifestyles.

    Szabó G, Schulz F, Manzano-Marín A, Toenshoff ER, Horn M
    2022 - ISME J, 1: 247-256


    Adelgids (Insecta: Hemiptera: Adelgidae) form a small group of insects but harbor a surprisingly diverse set of bacteriocyte-associated endosymbionts, which suggest multiple replacement and acquisition of symbionts over evolutionary time. Specific pairs of symbionts have been associated with adelgid lineages specialized on different secondary host conifers. Using a metagenomic approach, we investigated the symbiosis of the Adelges laricis/Adelges tardus species complex containing betaproteobacterial ("Candidatus Vallotia tarda") and gammaproteobacterial ("Candidatus Profftia tarda") symbionts. Genomic characteristics and metabolic pathway reconstructions revealed that Vallotia and Profftia are evolutionary young endosymbionts, which complement each other's role in essential amino acid production. Phylogenomic analyses and a high level of genomic synteny indicate an origin of the betaproteobacterial symbiont from endosymbionts of Rhizopus fungi. This evolutionary transition was accompanied with substantial loss of functions related to transcription regulation, secondary metabolite production, bacterial defense mechanisms, host infection, and manipulation. The transition from fungus to insect endosymbionts extends our current framework about evolutionary trajectories of host-associated microbes.

  • Pangenomics reveals alternative environmental lifestyles among chlamydiae

    Köstlbacher S, Collingro A, Halter T, Schulz F, Jungbluth SP, Horn M
    2021 - Nature Commun, 12: 4021


    Chlamydiae are highly successful strictly intracellular bacteria associated with diverse eukaryotic hosts. Here we analysed metagenome-assembled genomes of the “Genomes from Earth’s Microbiomes” initiative from diverse environmental samples, which almost double the known phylogenetic diversity of the phylum and facilitate a highly resolved view at the chlamydial pangenome. Chlamydiae are defined by a relatively large core genome indicative of an intracellular lifestyle, and a highly dynamic accessory genome of environmental lineages. We observe chlamydial lineages that encode enzymes of the reductive tricarboxylic acid cycle and for light-driven ATP synthesis. We show a widespread potential for anaerobic energy generation through pyruvate fermentation or the arginine deiminase pathway, and we add lineages capable of molecular hydrogen production. Genome-informed analysis of environmental distribution revealed lineage-specific niches and a high abundance of chlamydiae in some habitats. Together, our data provide an extended perspective of the variability of chlamydial biology and the ecology of this phylum of intracellular microbes.

  • Coevolving plasmids drive gene flow and genome plasticity in host-associated intracellular bacteria

    Köstlbacher S, Collingro A, Halter T, Domman D, Horn M
    2021 - Curr Biol, 2: 346-357.e3


    Plasmids are important in microbial evolution and adaptation to new environments. Yet, carrying a plasmid can be costly, and long-term association of plasmids with their hosts is poorly understood. Here, we provide evidence that the Chlamydiae, a phylum of strictly host-associated intracellular bacteria, have coevolved with their plasmids since their last common ancestor. Current chlamydial plasmids are amalgamations of at least one ancestral plasmid and a bacteriophage. We show that the majority of plasmid genes are also found on chromosomes of extant chlamydiae. The most conserved plasmid gene families are predominantly vertically inherited, while accessory plasmid gene families show significantly increased mobility. We reconstructed the evolutionary history of plasmid gene content of an entire bacterial phylum over a period of around one billion years. Frequent horizontal gene transfer and chromosomal integration events illustrate the pronounced impact of coevolution with these extrachromosomal elements on bacterial genome dynamics in host-dependent microbes.

  • Molecular causes of an evolutionary shift along the parasitism-mutualism continuum in a bacterial symbiont.

    Herrera P, Schuster L, Wentrup C, König L, Kempinger T, Na H, Schwarz J, Köstlbacher S, Wascher F, Zojer M, Rattei T, Horn M
    2020 - Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 117: 21658-21666


    Symbiosis with microbes is a ubiquitous phenomenon with a massive impact on all living organisms, shaping the world around us today. Theoretical and experimental studies show that vertical transmission of symbionts leads to the evolution of mutualistic traits, whereas horizontal transmission facilitates the emergence of parasitic features. However, these studies focused on phenotypic data, and we know little about underlying molecular changes at the genomic level. Here, we combined an experimental evolution approach with infection assays, genome resequencing, and global gene expression analysis to study the effect of transmission mode on an obligate intracellular bacterial symbiont. We show that a dramatic shift in the frequency of genetic variants, coupled with major changes in gene expression, allow the symbiont to alter its position in the parasitism-mutualism continuum depending on the mode of between-host transmission. We found that increased parasitism in horizontally transmitted chlamydiae residing in amoebae was a result of processes occurring at the infectious stage of the symbiont's developmental cycle. Specifically, genes involved in energy production required for extracellular survival and the type III secretion system-the symbiont's primary virulence mechanism-were significantly up-regulated. Our results identify the genomic and transcriptional dynamics sufficient to favor parasitic or mutualistic strategies.

  • Chlamydiae in the Environment.

    Collingro A, Köstlbacher S, Horn M
    2020 - Trends Microbiol, 11: 877-888


    Chlamydiae have been known for more than a century as major pathogens of humans. Yet they are also found ubiquitously in the environment where they thrive within protists and in an unmatched wide range of animals. This review summarizes recent advances in understanding chlamydial diversity and distribution in nature. Studying these environmental chlamydiae provides a novel perspective on basic chlamydial biology and evolution. A picture is beginning to emerge with chlamydiae representing one of the evolutionarily most ancient and successful groups of obligate intracellular bacteria.

  • Mitigating Anticipated Effects of Systematic Errors Supports Sister-Group Relationship between Xenacoelomorpha and Ambulacraria.

    Philippe H, Poustka AJ, Chiodin M, Hoff KJ, Dessimoz C, Tomiczek B, Schiffer PH, Müller S, Domman D, Horn M, Kuhl H, Timmermann B, Satoh N, Hikosaka-Katayama T, Nakano H, Rowe ML, Elphick MR, Thomas-Chollier M, Hankeln T, Mertes F, Wallberg A, Rast JP, Copley RR, Martinez P, Telford MJ
    2019 - Curr. Biol., 11: 1818-1826.e6
     Xenoturbella japonica


    Xenoturbella and the acoelomorph worms (Xenacoelomorpha) are simple marine animals with controversial affinities. They have been placed as the sister group of all other bilaterian animals (Nephrozoa hypothesis), implying their simplicity is an ancient characteristic; alternatively, they have been linked to the complex Ambulacraria (echinoderms and hemichordates) in a clade called the Xenambulacraria, suggesting their simplicity evolved by reduction from a complex ancestor. The difficulty resolving this problem implies the phylogenetic signal supporting the correct solution is weak and affected by inadequate modeling, creating a misleading non-phylogenetic signal. The idea that the Nephrozoa hypothesis might be an artifact is prompted by the faster molecular evolutionary rate observed within the Acoelomorpha. Unequal rates of evolution are known to result in the systematic artifact of long branch attraction, which would be predicted to result in an attraction between long-branch acoelomorphs and the outgroup, pulling them toward the root. Other biases inadequately accommodated by the models used can also have strong effects, exacerbated in the context of short internal branches and long terminal branches. We have assembled a large and informative dataset to address this problem. Analyses designed to reduce or to emphasize misleading signals show the Nephrozoa hypothesis is supported under conditions expected to exacerbate errors, and the Xenambulacraria hypothesis is preferred in conditions designed to reduce errors. Our reanalyses of two other recently published datasets produce the same result. We conclude that the Xenacoelomorpha are simplified relatives of the Ambulacraria.

  • Symbiont-mediated defense against Legionella pneumophila in amoebae

    König L, Wentrup C, Schulz F, Wascher F, Escola S, Swanson MS, Buchrieser C, Horn M
    2019 - mBio, 10: e00333-19


    Legionella pneumophila is an important opportunistic pathogen for which environmental reservoirs are crucial for the infection of humans. In the environment, free-living amoebae represent key hosts providing nutrients and shelter for highly efficient intracellular proliferation of L. pneumophila, which eventually leads to lysis of the protist. However, the significance of other bacterial players for L. pneumophila ecology is poorly understood. In this study, we used a ubiquitous amoeba and bacterial endosymbiont to investigate the impact of this common association on L. pneumophilainfection. We demonstrate that L. pneumophila proliferation was severely suppressed in Acanthamoeba castellanii harboring the chlamydial symbiont Protochlamydia amoebophila. The amoebae survived the infection and were able to resume growth. Different environmental amoeba isolates containing the symbiont were equally well protected as different L. pneumophila isolates were diminished, suggesting ecological relevance of this symbiont-mediated defense. Furthermore, protection was not mediated by impaired L. pneumophila uptake. Instead, we observed reduced virulence of L. pneumophila released from symbiont-containing amoebae. Pronounced gene expression changes in the presence of the symbiont indicate that interference with the transition to the transmissive phase impedes the L. pneumophila infection. Finally, our data show that the defensive response of amoebae harboring P. amoebophila leaves the amoebae with superior fitness reminiscent of immunological memory. Given that mutualistic associations between bacteria and amoebae are widely distributed, P. amoebophila and potentially other amoeba endosymbionts could be key in shaping environmental survival, abundance, and virulence of this important pathogen, thereby affecting the frequency of human infection.

  • The cooling tower water microbiota: Seasonal dynamics and co-occurrence of bacterial and protist phylotypes.

    Tsao HF, Scheikl U, Herbold CW, Indra A, Walochnik J, Horn M
    2019 - Water Res., 464-479


    Cooling towers for heating, ventilation and air conditioning are ubiquitous in the built environment. Often located on rooftops, their semi-open water basins provide a suitable environment for microbial growth. They are recognized as a potential source of bacterial pathogens and have been associated with disease outbreaks such as Legionnaires' disease. While measures to minimize public health risks are in place, the general microbial and protist community structure and dynamics in these systems remain largely elusive. In this study, we analysed the microbiome of the bulk water from the basins of three cooling towers by 16S and 18S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing over the course of one year. Bacterial diversity in all three towers was broadly comparable to other freshwater systems, yet less diverse than natural environments; the most abundant taxa are also frequently found in freshwater or drinking water. While each cooling tower had a pronounced site-specific microbial community, taxa shared among all locations mainly included groups generally associated with biofilm formation. We also detected several groups related to known opportunistic pathogens, such as Legionella, Mycobacterium, and Pseudomonas species, albeit at generally low abundance. Although cooling towers represent a rather stable environment, microbial community composition was highly dynamic and subject to seasonal change. Protists are important members of the cooling tower water microbiome and known reservoirs for bacterial pathogens. Co-occurrence analysis of bacteria and protist taxa successfully captured known interactions between amoeba-associated bacteria and their hosts, and predicted a large number of additional relationships involving ciliates and other protists. Together, this study provides an unbiased and comprehensive overview of microbial diversity of cooling tower water basins, establishing a framework for investigating and assessing public health risks associated with these man-made freshwater environments.

  • Coexistence of novel gammaproteobacterial and Arsenophonus symbionts in the scale insect Greenisca brachypodii (Hemiptera, Coccomorpha: Eriococcidae).

    Michalik A, Schulz F, Michalik K, Wascher F, Horn M, Szklarzewicz T
    2018 - Environ. Microbiol., 3: 1148-1157


    Scale insects are commonly associated with obligate, intracellular microorganisms which play important roles in complementing their hosts with essential nutrients. Here we characterized the symbiotic system of Greenisca brachypodii, a member of the family Eriococcidae. Histological and ultrastructural analyses have indicated that G. brachypodii is stably associated with coccoid and rod-shaped bacteria. Phylogenetic analyses have revealed that the coccoid bacteria represent a sister group to the secondary symbiont of the mealybug Melanococcus albizziae, whereas the rod-shaped symbionts are close relatives of Arsenophonus symbionts in insects - to our knowledge, this is the first report of the presence of Arsenophonus bacterium in scale insects. As a comparison of 16S and 23S rRNA genes sequences of the G. brachypodii coccoid symbiont with other gammaprotebacterial sequences showed only low similarity (∼90%), we propose the name 'Candidatus Kotejella greeniscae' for its tentative classification. Both symbionts are transovarially transmitted from one generation to the next. The infection takes place in the neck region of the ovariole. The bacteria migrate between follicular cells, as well as through the cytoplasm of those cells to the perivitelline space, where they form a characteristic 'symbiont ball'. Our findings provide evidence for a polyphyletic origin of symbionts of Eriococcidae.

  • In situ architecture, function, and evolution of a contractile injection system.

    Böck D, Medeiros JM, Tsao HF, Penz T, Weiss GL, Aistleitner K, Horn M, Pilhofer M
    2017 - Science, 6352: 713-717


    Contractile injection systems mediate bacterial cell-cell interactions by a bacteriophage tail-like structure. In contrast to extracellular systems, the type 6 secretion system (T6SS) is defined by intracellular localization and attachment to the cytoplasmic membrane. Here we used cryo-focused ion beam milling, electron cryotomography, and functional assays to study a T6SS in Amoebophilus asiaticus The in situ architecture revealed three modules, including a contractile sheath-tube, a baseplate, and an anchor. All modules showed conformational changes upon firing. Lateral baseplate interactions coordinated T6SSs in hexagonal arrays. The system mediated interactions with host membranes and may participate in phagosome escape. Evolutionary sequence analyses predicted that T6SSs are more widespread than previously thought. Our insights form the basis for understanding T6SS key concepts and exploring T6SS diversity.

  • Unexpected genomic features in widespread intracellular bacteria: evidence for motility of marine chlamydiae.

    Collingro A, Köstlbacher S, Mussmann M, Stepanauskas R, Hallam SJ, Horn M
    2017 - ISME J, 10: 2334-2344


    Chlamydiae are obligate intracellular bacteria comprising important human pathogens and symbionts of protists. Molecular evidence indicates a tremendous diversity of chlamydiae particularly in marine environments, yet our current knowledge is based mainly on terrestrial representatives. Here we provide first insights into the biology of marine chlamydiae representing three divergent clades. Our analysis of single-cell amplified genomes revealed hallmarks of the chlamydial lifestyle, supporting the ancient origin of their characteristic developmental cycle and major virulence mechanisms. Surprisingly, these chlamydial genomes encode a complete flagellar apparatus, a previously unreported feature. We show that flagella are an ancient trait that was subject to differential gene loss among extant chlamydiae. Together with a chemotaxis system, these marine chlamydiae are likely motile, with flagella potentially playing a role during host cell infection. This study broadens our view on chlamydial biology and indicates a largely underestimated potential to adapt to different hosts and environments.

  • 'Candidatus Cochliophilus cryoturris' (Coxiellaceae), a symbiont of the testate amoeba Cochliopodium minus.

    Tsao HF, Scheikl U, Volland JM, Köhsler M, Bright M, Walochnik J, Horn M
    2017 - Sci Rep, 1: 3394


    Free-living amoebae are well known for their role in controlling microbial community composition through grazing, but some groups, namely Acanthamoeba species, also frequently serve as hosts for bacterial symbionts. Here we report the first identification of a bacterial symbiont in the testate amoeba Cochliopodium. The amoeba was isolated from a cooling tower water sample and identified as C. minus. Fluorescence in situ hybridization and transmission electron microscopy revealed intracellular symbionts located in vacuoles. 16S rRNA-based phylogenetic analysis identified the endosymbiont as member of a monophyletic group within the family Coxiellaceae (Gammaprotebacteria; Legionellales), only moderately related to known amoeba symbionts. We propose to tentatively classify these bacteria as 'Candidatus Cochliophilus cryoturris'. Our findings add both, a novel group of amoeba and a novel group of symbionts, to the growing list of bacteria-amoeba relationships.

  • Biphasic Metabolism and Host Interaction of a Chlamydial Symbiont.

    König L, Siegl A, Penz T, Haider S, Wentrup C, Polzin J, Mann E, Schmitz-Esser S, Domman D, Horn M
    2017 - mSystems, 2: e00202-16


    Chlamydiae are obligate intracellular bacteria comprising well-known human pathogens and ubiquitous symbionts of protists, which are characterized by a unique developmental cycle. Here we comprehensively analyzed gene expression dynamics of Protochlamydia amoebophila during infection of its Acanthamoeba host by RNA sequencing. This revealed a highly dynamic transcriptional landscape, where major transcriptional shifts are conserved among chlamydial symbionts and pathogens. Our data served to propose a time-resolved model for type III protein secretion during the developmental cycle, and we provide evidence for a biphasic metabolism of P. amoebophila during infection, which involves energy parasitism and amino acids as the carbon source during initial stages and a postreplicative switch to endogenous glucose-based ATP production. This fits well with major transcriptional changes in the amoeba host, where upregulation of complex sugar breakdown precedes the P. amoebophila metabolic switch. The biphasic chlamydial metabolism represents a unique adaptation to exploit eukaryotic host cells, which likely contributed to the evolutionary success of this group of microbes. IMPORTANCE Chlamydiae are known as major bacterial pathogens of humans, causing the ancient disease trachoma, but they are also frequently found in the environment where they infect ubiquitous protists such as amoebae. All known chlamydiae require a eukaryotic host cell to thrive. Using the environmental chlamydia Protochlamydia amoebophila within its natural host, Acanthamoeba castellanii, we investigated gene expression dynamics in vivo and throughout the complete chlamydial developmental cycle for the first time. This allowed us to infer how a major virulence mechanism, the type III secretion system, is regulated and employed, and we show that the physiology of chlamydiae undergoes a complete shift regarding carbon metabolism and energy generation. This study provides comprehensive insights into the infection strategy of chlamydiae and reveals a unique adaptation to life within a eukaryotic host cell.

  • Giant viruses with an expanded complement of translation system components.

    Schulz F, Yutin N, Ivanova NN, Ortega DR, Lee TK, Vierheilig J, Daims H, Horn M, Wagner M, Jensen GJ, Kyrpides NC, Koonin EV, Woyke T
    2017 - Science, 6333: 82-85


    The discovery of giant viruses blurred the sharp division between viruses and cellular life. Giant virus genomes encode proteins considered as signatures of cellular organisms, particularly translation system components, prompting hypotheses that these viruses derived from a fourth domain of cellular life. Here we report the discovery of a group of giant viruses (Klosneuviruses) in metagenomic data. Compared with other giant viruses, the Klosneuviruses encode an expanded translation machinery, including aminoacyl transfer RNA synthetases with specificities for all 20 amino acids. Notwithstanding the prevalence of translation system components, comprehensive phylogenomic analysis of these genes indicates that Klosneuviruses did not evolve from a cellular ancestor but rather are derived from a much smaller virus through extensive gain of host genes.

  • Variant profiling of evolving prokaryotic populations.

    Zojer M, Schuster LN, Schulz F, Pfundner A, Horn M, Rattei T
    2017 - PeerJ, e2997


    Genomic heterogeneity of bacterial species is observed and studied in experimental evolution experiments and clinical diagnostics, and occurs as micro-diversity of natural habitats. The challenge for genome research is to accurately capture this heterogeneity with the currently used short sequencing reads. Recent advances in NGS technologies improved the speed and coverage and thus allowed for deep sequencing of bacterial populations. This facilitates the quantitative assessment of genomic heterogeneity, including low frequency alleles or haplotypes. However, false positive variant predictions due to sequencing errors and mapping artifacts of short reads need to be prevented. We therefore created VarCap, a workflow for the reliable prediction of different types of variants even at low frequencies. In order to predict SNPs, InDels and structural variations, we evaluated the sensitivity and accuracy of different software tools using synthetic read data. The results suggested that the best sensitivity could be reached by a union of different tools, however at the price of increased false positives. We identified possible reasons for false predictions and used this knowledge to improve the accuracy by post-filtering the predicted variants according to properties such as frequency, coverage, genomic environment/localization and co-localization with other variants. We observed that best precision was achieved by using an intersection of at least two tools per variant. This resulted in the reliable prediction of variants above a minimum relative abundance of 2%. VarCap is designed for being routinely used within experimental evolution experiments or for clinical diagnostics. The detected variants are reported as frequencies within a VCF file and as a graphical overview of the distribution of the different variant/allele/haplotype frequencies. The source code of VarCap is available at In order to provide this workflow to a broad community, we implemeted VarCap on a Galaxy webserver, which is accessible at

  • Happens in the best of subfamilies: establishment and repeated replacements of co-obligate secondary endosymbionts within Lachninae aphids.

    Manzano-Marín A, Szabó G, Simon JC, Horn M, Latorre A
    2017 - Environ. Microbiol., 1: 393-408


    Virtually all aphids maintain an obligate mutualistic symbiosis with bacteria from the Buchnera genus, which produce essential nutrients for their aphid hosts. Most aphids from the Lachninae subfamily have been consistently found to house additional endosymbionts, mainly Serratia symbiotica. This apparent dependence on secondary endosymbionts was proposed to have been triggered by the loss of the riboflavin biosynthetic capability by Buchnera in the Lachninae last common ancestor. However, an integral large-scale analysis of secondary endosymbionts in the Lachninae is still missing, hampering the interpretation of the evolutionary and genomic analyses of these endosymbionts. Here, we analysed the endosymbionts of selected representatives from seven different Lachninae genera and nineteen species, spanning four tribes, both by FISH (exploring the symbionts' morphology and tissue tropism) and 16S rRNA gene sequencing. We demonstrate that all analysed aphids possess dual symbiotic systems, and while most harbour S. symbiotica, some have undergone symbiont replacement by other phylogenetically-distinct bacterial taxa. We found that these secondary associates display contrasting cell shapes and tissue tropism, and some appear to be lineage-specific. We propose a scenario for symbiont establishment in the Lachninae, followed by changes in the symbiont's tissue tropism and symbiont replacement events, thereby highlighting the extraordinary versatility of host-symbiont interactions.

  • Convergent patterns in the evolution of mealybug symbioses involving different intrabacterial symbionts.

    Szabó G, Schulz F, Toenshoff ER, Volland JM, Finkel OM, Belkin S, Horn M
    2017 - ISME J, 3: 715-726
    Mealybugs (Trabutina mannipara) enveloped in a wax cover feeding on Tamarix twig


    Mealybugs (Insecta: Hemiptera: Pseudococcidae) maintain obligatory relationships with bacterial symbionts, which provide essential nutrients to their insect hosts. Most pseudococcinae mealybugs harbor a unique symbiosis setup with enlarged betaproteobacterial symbionts ('Candidatus Tremblaya princeps'), which themselves contain gammaproteobacterial symbionts. Here we investigated the symbiosis of the manna mealybug, Trabutina mannipara, using a metagenomic approach. Phylogenetic analyses revealed that the intrabacterial symbiont of T. mannipara represents a novel lineage within the Gammaproteobacteria, for which we propose the tentative name 'Candidatus Trabutinella endobia'. Combining our results with previous data available for the nested symbiosis of the citrus mealybug Planococcus citri, we show that synthesis of essential amino acids and vitamins and translation-related functions partition between the symbiotic partners in a highly similar manner in the two systems, despite the distinct evolutionary origin of the intrabacterial symbionts. Bacterial genes found in both mealybug genomes and complementing missing functions in both symbioses were likely integrated in ancestral mealybugs before T. mannipara and P. citri diversified. The high level of correspondence between the two mealybug systems and their highly intertwined metabolic pathways are unprecedented. Our work contributes to a better understanding of the only known intracellular symbiosis between two bacteria and suggests that the evolution of this unique symbiosis included the replacement of intrabacterial symbionts in ancestral mealybugs.

  • IMNGS: A comprehensive open resource of processed 16S rRNA microbial profiles for ecology and diversity studies.

    Lagkouvardos I, Joseph D, Kapfhammer M, Giritli S, Horn M, Haller D, Clavel T
    2016 - Sci Rep, 33721


    The SRA (Sequence Read Archive) serves as primary depository for massive amounts of Next Generation Sequencing data, and currently host over 100,000 16S rRNA gene amplicon-based microbial profiles from various host habitats and environments. This number is increasing rapidly and there is a dire need for approaches to utilize this pool of knowledge. Here we created IMNGS (Integrated Microbial Next Generation Sequencing), an innovative platform that uniformly and systematically screens for and processes all prokaryotic 16S rRNA gene amplicon datasets available in SRA and uses them to build sample-specific sequence databases and OTU-based profiles. Via a web interface, this integrative sequence resource can easily be queried by users. We show examples of how the approach allows testing the ecological importance of specific microorganisms in different hosts or ecosystems, and performing targeted diversity studies for selected taxonomic groups. The platform also offers a complete workflow for de novo analysis of users' own raw 16S rRNA gene amplicon datasets for the sake of comparison with existing data. IMNGS can be accessed at

  • Free-living amoebae and their associated bacteria in Austrian cooling towers: a 1-year routine screening

    Scheikl U, Tsao HF, Horn M, Indra A, Walochnik J
    2016 - Parasitol Res, 115: 3365-74


    Free-living amoebae (FLA) are widely spread in the environment and known to cause rare but often serious infections. Besides this, FLA may serve as vehicles for bacterial pathogens. In particular, Legionella pneumophila is known to replicate within FLA thereby also gaining enhanced infectivity. Cooling towers have been the source of outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease in the past and are thus usually screened for legionellae on a routine basis, not considering, however, FLA and their vehicle function. The aim of this study was to incorporate a screening system for host amoebae into a Legionella routine screening. A new real-time PCR-based screening system for various groups of FLA was established. Three cooling towers were screened every 2 weeks over the period of 1 year for FLA and Legionella spp., by culture and molecular methods in parallel. Altogether, 83.3 % of the cooling tower samples were positive for FLA, Acanthamoeba being the dominating genus. Interestingly, 69.7 % of the cooling tower samples were not suitable for the standard Legionella screening due to their high organic burden. In the remaining samples, positivity for Legionella spp. was 25 % by culture, but overall positivity was 50 % by molecular methods. Several amoebal isolates revealed intracellular bacteria.

  • Trophosome of the deep-sea tubeworm Riftia pachyptila inhibits bacterial growth

    Klose J, Aistleitner K, Horn M, Krenn L, Dirsch V, Zehl M, Bright M
    2016 - PLoS One, 11: e0146446


    The giant tubeworm Riftia pachyptila lives in symbiosis with the chemoautotrophic gammaproteobacterium Cand. Endoriftia persephone. Symbionts are released back into the environment upon host death in high-pressure experiments, while microbial fouling is not involved in trophosome degradation. Therefore, we examined the antimicrobial effect of the tubeworm's trophosome and skin. The growth of all four tested Gram-positive, but only of one of the tested Gram-negative bacterial strains was inhibited by freshly fixed and degrading trophosome (incubated up to ten days at either warm or cold temperature), while no effect on Saccharomyces cerevisiae was observed. The skin did not show antimicrobial effects. A liquid chromatography-mass spectrometric analysis of the ethanol supernatant of fixed trophosomes lead to the tentative identification of the phospholipids 1-palmitoleyl-2-lyso-phosphatidylethanolamine, 2-palmitoleyl-1-lyso-phosphatidylethanolamine and the free fatty acids palmitoleic, palmitic and oleic acid, which are known to have an antimicrobial effect. As a result of tissue autolysis, the abundance of the free fatty acids increased with longer incubation time of trophosome samples. This correlated with an increasing growth inhibition of Bacillus subtilis and Listeria welshimeri, but not of the other bacterial strains. Therefore, the free fatty acids produced upon host degradation could be the cause of inhibition of at least these two bacterial strains.

  • probeBase - an online resource for rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes and primers: new features 2016

    Greuter D, Loy A, Horn M, Rattei T
    2016 - Nucleic Acids Res, 44: D586-D589


    probeBase is a manually maintained and curated database of rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes and primers. Contextual information and multiple options for evaluating in silico hybridization performance against the most recent rRNA sequence databases are provided for each oligonucleotide entry, which makes probeBase an important and frequently used resource for microbiology research and diagnostics. Here we present a major update of probeBase, which was last featured in the NAR Database Issue 2007. This update describes a complete remodeling of the database architecture and environment to accommodate computationally efficient access. Improved search functions, sequence match tools, and data output now extend the opportunities for finding suitable hierarchical probe sets that target an organism or taxon at different taxonomic levels. To facilitate the identification of complementary probe sets for organisms represented by short rRNA sequence reads generated by amplicon sequencing or metagenomic analysis with next generation sequencing technologies such as Illumina and IonTorrent, we introduce a novel tool that recovers surrogate near full-length rRNA sequences for short query sequences and finds matching oligonucleotides in probeBase.

  • Chlamydial seasonal dynamics and isolation of 'Candidatus Neptunochlamydia vexilliferae' from a Tyrrhenian coastal lake.

    Pizzetti I, Schulz F, Tyml T, Fuchs BM, Amann R, Horn M, Fazi S
    2016 - Environ. Microbiol., 8: 2405-17


    The Chlamydiae are a phylum of obligate intracellular bacteria comprising important human and animal pathogens, yet their occurrence in the environment, their phylogenetic diversity and their host range has been largely underestimated. We investigated the seasonality of environmental chlamydiae in a Tyrrhenian coastal lake. By catalysed reporter deposition fluorescence in situ hybridization, we quantified the small planktonic cells and detected a peak in the abundance of environmental chlamydiae in early autumn with up to 5.9 × 10(4) cells ml(-1) . Super-resolution microscopy improved the visualization and quantification of these bacteria and enabled the detection of pleomorphic chlamydial cells in their protist host directly in an environmental sample. To isolate environmental chlamydiae together with their host, we applied a high-throughput limited dilution approach and successfully recovered a Vexillifera sp., strain harbouring chlamydiae (93% 16S rRNA sequence identity to Simkania negevensis), tentatively named 'Candidatus Neptunochlamydia vexilliferae'. Transmission electron microscopy in combination with fluorescence in situ hybridization was used to prove the intracellular location of these bacteria representing the first strain of marine chlamydiae stably maintained alongside with their host in a laboratory culture. Taken together, this study contributes to a better understanding of the distribution and diversity of environmental chlamydiae in previously neglected marine environments.

  • A Rickettsiales symbiont of amoebae with ancient features.

    Schulz F, Martijn J, Wascher F, Lagkouvardos I, Kostanjšek R, Ettema TJ, Horn M
    2016 - Environ. Microbiol., 8: 2326-42


    The Rickettsiae comprise intracellular bacterial symbionts and pathogens infecting diverse eukaryotes. Here, we provide a detailed characterization of 'Candidatus Jidaibacter acanthamoeba', a rickettsial symbiont of Acanthamoeba. The bacterium establishes the infection in its amoeba host within 2 h where it replicates within vacuoles. Higher bacterial loads and accelerated spread of infection at elevated temperatures were observed. The infection had a negative impact on host growth rate, although no increased levels of host cell lysis were seen. Phylogenomic analysis identified this bacterium as member of the Midichloriaceae. Its 2.4 Mb genome represents the largest among Rickettsiales and is characterized by a moderate degree of pseudogenization and a high coding density. We found an unusually large number of genes encoding proteins with eukaryotic-like domains such as ankyrins, leucine-rich repeats and tetratricopeptide repeats, which likely function in host interaction. There are a total of three divergent, independently acquired type IV secretion systems, and 35 flagellar genes representing the most complete set found in an obligate intracellular Alphaproteobacterium. The deeply branching phylogenetic position of 'Candidatus Jidaibacter acanthamoeba' together with its ancient features place it closely to the rickettsial ancestor and helps to better understand the transition from a free-living to an intracellular lifestyle.

  • Following the footsteps of chlamydial gene regulation

    Domman D, Horn M
    2015 - Mol. Biol. Evol., 32: 3035-3046


    Regulation of gene expression ensures an organism responds to stimuli and undergoes proper development. Although the regulatory networks in bacteria have been investigated in model microorganisms, nearly nothing is known about the evolution and plasticity of these networks in obligate, intracellular bacteria. The phylum Chlamydiae contains a vast array of host-associated microbes, including several human pathogens. The Chlamydiae are unique among obligate, intracellular bacteria as they undergo a complex biphasic developmental cycle in which large swaths of genes are temporally regulated. Coupled with the low number of transcription factors, these organisms offer a model to study the evolution of regulatory networks in intracellular organisms. We provide the first comprehensive analysis exploring the diversity and evolution of regulatory networks across the phylum. We utilized a comparative genomics approach to construct predicted coregulatory networks, which unveiled genus- and family-specific regulatory motifs and architectures, most notably those of virulence-associated genes. Surprisingly, our analysis suggests that few regulatory components are conserved across the phylum, and those that are conserved are involved in the exploitation of the intracellular niche. Our study thus lends insight into a component of chlamydial evolution that has otherwise remained largely unexplored.

  • Marine amoebae with cytoplasmic and perinuclear symbionts deeply branching in the Gammaproteobacteria

    Schulz F, Tyml T, Pizzetti I, Dyková I, Fazi S, Kostka M, Horn M
    2015 - Sci Rep, 5: 13381


    Amoebae play an important ecological role as predators in microbial communities. They also serve as niche for bacterial replication, harbor endosymbiotic bacteria and have contributed to the evolution of major human pathogens. Despite their high diversity, marine amoebae and their association with bacteria are poorly understood. Here we describe the isolation and characterization of two novel marine amoebae together with their bacterial endosymbionts, tentatively named 'Candidatus Occultobacter vannellae' and 'Candidatus Nucleophilum amoebae'. While one amoeba strain is related to Vannella, a genus common in marine habitats, the other represents a novel lineage in the Amoebozoa. The endosymbionts showed only low similarity to known bacteria (85-88% 16S rRNA sequence similarity) but together with other uncultured marine bacteria form a sister clade to the Coxiellaceae. Using fluorescence in situ hybridization and transmission electron microscopy, identity and intracellular location of both symbionts were confirmed; one was replicating in host-derived vacuoles, whereas the other was located in the perinuclear space of its amoeba host. This study sheds for the first time light on a so far neglected group of protists and their bacterial symbionts. The newly isolated strains represent easily maintainable model systems and pave the way for further studies on marine associations between amoebae and bacterial symbionts.

  • Prediction of microbial phenotypes based on comparative genomics

    Feldbauer R, Schulz F, Horn M, Rattei T
    2015 - BMC Bioinformatics, 16: S1


    The accessibility of almost complete genome sequences of uncultivable microbial species from metagenomes necessitates computational methods predicting microbial phenotypes solely based on genomic data. Here we investigate how comparative genomics can be utilized for the prediction of microbial phenotypes. The PICA framework facilitates application and comparison of different machine learning techniques for phenotypic trait prediction. We have improved and extended PICA's support vector machine plug-in and suggest its applicability to large-scale genome databases and incomplete genome sequences

  • Draft genome sequence of 'Candidatus Hepatoplasma crinochetorum Ps' – a bacterial symbiont in the hepatopancreas of the terrestrial isopod Porcellio scaber

    Collingro A, Kostanjšek R, Toenshoff ER, Schulz F, Schuster L, Domann D, Horn M
    2015 - Genome Announc, 3: e00674-15


    'Candidatus Hepatoplasma crinochetorum Ps' is an extracellular symbiont residing in the hepatopancreas of the terrestrial isopod Porcellio scaber. Its genome is highly similar to that of the close relative 'Cand. Hepatoplasma crinochetorum Av' from Armadillidium vulgare. However, instead of a CRISPR/Cas system it encodes a type I restriction modification system.

  • Single-cell genomics of a rare environmental alphaproteobacterium provides unique insights into Rickettsiaceae evolution

    Martijn J, Schulz F, Zaremba-Niedzwiedzka K, Viklund J, Stepanauskas R, Andersson SG, Horn M, Guy L, Ettema TJ
    2015 - ISME J, 9: 2373-85


    The bacterial family Rickettsiaceae includes a group of well-known etiological agents of many human and vertebrate diseases, including epidemic typhus-causing pathogen Rickettsia prowazekii. Owing to their medical relevance, rickettsiae have attracted a great deal of attention and their host-pathogen interactions have been thoroughly investigated. All known members display obligate intracellular lifestyles, and the best-studied genera, Rickettsia and Orientia, include species that are hosted by terrestrial arthropods. Their obligate intracellular lifestyle and host adaptation is reflected in the small size of their genomes, a general feature shared with all other families of the Rickettsiales. Yet, despite that the Rickettsiaceae and other Rickettsiales families have been extensively studied for decades, many details of the origin and evolution of their obligate host-association remain elusive. Here we report the discovery and single-cell sequencing of 'Candidatus Arcanobacter lacustris', a rare environmental alphaproteobacterium that was sampled from Damariscotta Lake that represents a deeply rooting sister lineage of the Rickettsiaceae. Intriguingly, phylogenomic and comparative analysis of the partial 'Candidatus Arcanobacter lacustris' genome revealed the presence chemotaxis genes and vertically inherited flagellar genes, a novelty in sequenced Rickettsiaceae, as well as several host-associated features. This finding suggests that the ancestor of the Rickettsiaceae might have had a facultative intracellular lifestyle. Our study underlines the efficacy of single-cell genomics for studying microbial diversity and evolution in general, and for rare microbial cells in particular.

  • Plastid establishment did not require a chlamydial partner

    Domman D, Horn M, Embley TM, Williams TA
    2015 - Nat Commun, 6: 6421


    Primary plastids descend from the cyanobacterial endosymbiont of an ancient eukaryotic host, but the initial selective drivers that stabilized the association between these two cells are still unclear. One hypothesis that has achieved recent prominence suggests that the first role of the cyanobiont was in energy provision for a host cell whose reserves were being depleted by an intracellular chlamydial pathogen. A pivotal claim is that it was chlamydial proteins themselves that converted otherwise unusable cyanobacterial metabolites into host energy stores. We test this hypothesis by investigating the origins of the key enzymes using sophisticated phylogenetics. Here we show a mosaic origin for the relevant pathway combining genes with host, cyanobacterial or bacterial ancestry, but we detect no strong case for Chlamydiae to host transfer under the best-fitting models. Our conclusion is that there is no compelling evidence from gene trees that Chlamydiae played any role in establishing the primary plastidendosymbiosis.

  • Intranuclear bacteria: inside the cellular control center of eukaryotes

    Schulz F, Horn M
    2015 - Trends Cell Biol, 25: 339-346


    Intracellular bacteria including major pathogens live in the cytoplasm or in cytoplasmic vacuoles within their host cell. However, some can invade more unusual intracellular niches such as the eukaryotic nucleus. Phylogenetically diverse intranuclear bacteria have been discovered in various protist, arthropod, marine invertebrate, and mammalian hosts. Although targeting the same cellular compartment, they have apparently developed fundamentally-different infection strategies. The nucleus provides a rich pool of nutrients and protection against host cytoplasmic defense mechanisms; intranuclear bacteria can directly manipulate the host by interfering with nuclear processes. The impact on their host cells ranges from stable associations with a neutral or beneficial effect on host fitness to rapid host lysis. The analysis of the intranuclear lifestyle will extend our current framework for understanding host-pathogen interactions.

  • Emendation of the family Chlamydiaceae: Proposal of a single genus, Chlamydia, to include all currently recognized species

    Sachse K, Bavoil PM, Kaltenboeck B, Stephens RS, Kuo CC, Rosselló-Móra R, Horn M
    2015 - Syst Appl Microbiol, 38: 99-103


    The family Chlamydiaceae (order Chlamydiales, phylum Chlamydiae) comprises important, obligate intracellular bacterial pathogens of humans and animals. Subdivision of the family into the two genera Chlamydia and Chlamydophila has been discussed controversially during the past decade. Here, we have revisited the current classification in the light of recent genomic data and in the context of the unique biological properties of these microorganisms. We conclude that neither generally used 16S rRNA sequence identity cut-off values nor parameters based on genomic similarity consistently separate the two genera. Notably, no easily recognizable phenotype such as host preference or tissue tropism is available that would support a subdivision. In addition, the genus Chlamydophila is currently not well accepted and not used by a majority of research groups in the field. Therefore, we propose the classification of all 11 currently recognized Chlamydiaceae species in a single genus, the genus Chlamydia. Finally, we provide emended descriptions of the family Chlamydiaceae, the genus Chlamydia, as well as the species Chlamydia abortus, Chlamydia caviae and Chlamydia felis.

  • Conserved features and major differences in the outer membrane protein composition of chlamydiae

    Aistleitner K, Anrather D, Schott T, Klose J, Bright M, Ammerer G, Horn M
    2015 - Environ Microbiol, 7: 1397-413


    Chlamydiae are a highly successful group of obligate intracellular bacteria infecting a variety of eukaryotic hosts. Outer membrane proteins involved in attachment to and uptake into host cells, and cross-linking of these proteins via disulfide bonds are key features of the biphasic chlamydial developmental cycle. In this study, we used a consensus approach to predict outer membrane proteins in the genomes of members of three chlamydial families. By analysing outer membrane protein fractions of purified chlamydiae with highly sensitive mass spectrometry, we show that theprotein composition differs strongly between these organisms. Large numbers of major outer membrane protein-like proteins are present at high abundance in the outer membrane of Simkania negevensis and Waddlia chondrophila, whereas yet uncharacterized putative porins dominate in Parachlamydia acanthamoebae. Simkania represents the first case of a chlamydia completely lacking stabilizing cysteine-rich proteins in its outermembrane. In agreement with this, and in contrast to Parachlamydia and Waddlia, the cellular integrity of Simkania is not impaired by conditions that reduce disulfide bonds of these proteins. The observed differences in the protein composition of the outer membrane among members of divergent chlamydial families suggest different stabilities of these organisms in the environment, probably due to adaption to different niches or transmission routes.

  • The pine bark adelgid Pineus strobi contains two novel bacteriocyte-associated gammaproteobacterial symbionts

    Toenshoff ER, Szabó G, Gruber D, Horn M
    2014 - Appl Environ Microbiol., 80: 878-85


    Bacterial endosymbionts of the pine bark adelgid, Pineus strobi (Insecta: Hemiptera: Adelgidae), were investigated using transmission electron microscopy, 16S and 23S rRNA-based phylogeny, and fluorescence in situ hybridization. Two morphologically different symbionts affiliated with the Gammaproteobacteria were present in distinct bacteriocytes. One of them ("Candidatus Annandia pinicola") is most closely related to an endosymbiont of Adelges tsugae, suggesting that they originate from a lineage already present in ancient adelgids before the hosts diversified into the two major clades, Adelges and Pineus. The other P. strobi symbiont ("Candidatus Hartigia pinicola") represents a novel symbiont lineage in members of the Adelgidae. Our findings lend further support for a complex evolutionary history of the association of adelgids with a phylogenetically diverse set of bacterial symbionts.

  • Tracing the primordial Chlamydiae: extinct parasites of plants?

    Subtil A, Collingro A, Horn M
    2014 - Trends Plant Sci., 19: 36-43


    Chlamydiae are obligate intracellular bacteria found as symbionts and pathogens in a wide range of eukaryotes, including protists, invertebrates, and vertebrates. It was recently proposed that an ancient chlamydial symbiont facilitated the establishment of primary plastids in a tripartite symbiosis with cyanobacteria and early eukaryotes. In this review, we summarize recent advances in understanding of the lifestyle and the evolutionary history of extant Chlamydiae. We reconstruct and describe key features of the ancient chlamydial symbiont. We propose that it was already adapted to an intracellular lifestyle before the emergence of Archaeplastida, and that several observations are compatible with an essential contribution of Chlamydiae to the evolution of algae and plants.

  • Life in an unusual intracellular niche: a bacterial symbiont infecting the nucleus of amoebae

    Schulz F, Lagkouvardos I, Wascher F, Aistleitner K, Kostanjšek R, Horn M
    2014 - ISME J., 8: 1634-44


    Amoebae serve as hosts for various intracellular bacteria, including human pathogens. These microbes are able to overcome amoebal defense mechanisms and successfully establish a niche for replication, which is usually the cytoplasm. Here, we report on the discovery of a bacterialsymbiont that is located inside the nucleus of its Hartmannella sp. host. This symbiont, tentatively named 'Candidatus Nucleicultrix amoebiphila', is only moderately related to known bacteria (∼90% 16S and 23S rRNA sequence similarity) and member of a novel clade of protist symbionts affiliated with the Rickettsiales and Rhodospirillales. Screening of 16S rRNA amplicon data sets revealed a broad distribution of these bacteria in freshwater and soil habitats. 'Candidatus Nucleicultrix amoebiphila' traffics within 6 h post infection to the host nucleus. Maximum infection levels are reached after 96-120 h, at which time point the nucleus is pronouncedly enlarged and filled with bacteria. Transmission of the symbionts occurs vertically upon host cell division but may also occur horizontally through host cell lysis. Although we observed no impact on the fitness of the original Hartmannella sp. host, the bacteria are rather lytic for Acanthamoeba castellanii. Intranuclear symbiosis is an exceptional phenomenon, and amoebae represent an ideal model system to further investigate evolution and underlying molecular mechanisms of these unique microbial associations.

  • Architecture and host interface of environmental chlamydiae revealed by electron cryotomography

    Pilhofer M, Aistleitner K, Ladinsky MS, König L, Horn M, Jensen GJ
    2014 - Environ Microbiol., 16: 417-29


    Chlamydiae comprise important pathogenic and symbiotic bacteria that alternate between morphologically and physiologically different life stages during their developmental cycle. Using electron cryotomography, we characterize the ultrastructure of the developmental stages of threeenvironmental chlamydiae: Parachlamydia acanthamoebae, Protochlamydia amoebophila and Simkania negevensis. We show that chemical fixation and dehydration alter the cell shape of Parachlamydia and that the crescent body is not a developmental stage, but an artefact of conventional electron microscopy. We further reveal type III secretion systems of environmental chlamydiae at macromolecular resolution and find support for a chlamydial needle-tip protein. Imaging bacteria inside their host cells by cryotomography for the first time, we observe marked differences in inclusion morphology and development as well as host organelle recruitment between the three chlamydial organisms, with Simkania inclusions being tightly enveloped by the host endoplasmic reticulum. The study demonstrates the power of electron cryotomographyto reveal structural details of bacteria-host interactions that are not accessible using traditional methods.

  • Chlamydial metabolism revisited: interspecies metabolic variability and developmental stage-specific physiologic activities

    Omsland A, Sixt BS, Horn M, Hackstadt T
    2014 - FEMS Microbiol Rev., 38: 779-801


    Chlamydiae are a group of obligate intracellular bacteria comprising important human and animal pathogens as well as symbionts of ubiquitous protists. They are characterized by a developmental cycle including two main morphologically and physiologically distinct stages, the replicating reticulate body and the infectious nondividing elementary body. In this review, we reconstruct the history of studies that have led to our current perception of chlamydial physiology, focusing on their energy and central carbon metabolism. We then compare the metabolic capabilities of pathogenic and environmental chlamydiae highlighting interspecies variability among the metabolically more flexible environmental strains. We discuss recent findings suggesting that chlamydiae may not live as energy parasites throughout the developmental cycle and that elementary bodies are not metabolically inert but exhibit metabolic activity under appropriate axenic conditions. The observed host-free metabolic activity of elementary bodies may reflect adequate recapitulation of the intracellular environment, but there is evidence that this activity is biologically relevant and required for extracellular survival and maintenance of infectivity. The recent discoveries call for a reconsideration of chlamydial metabolism and future in-depth analyses to better understand how species- and stage-specific differences in chlamydial physiology may affect virulence, tissue tropism, and host adaptation.

  • Integrating metagenomic and amplicon databases to resolve the phylogenetic and ecological diversity of the Chlamydiae.

    Lagkouvardos I, Weinmaier T, Lauro FM, Cavicchioli R, Rattei T, Horn M
    2014 - ISME J, 1: 115-25


    In the era of metagenomics and amplicon sequencing, comprehensive analyses of available sequence data remain a challenge. Here we describe an approach exploiting metagenomic and amplicon data sets from public databases to elucidate phylogenetic diversity of defined microbial taxa. We investigated the phylum Chlamydiae whose known members are obligate intracellular bacteria that represent important pathogens of humans and animals, as well as symbionts of protists. Despite their medical relevance, our knowledge about chlamydial diversity is still scarce. Most of the nine known families are represented by only a few isolates, while previous clone library-based surveys suggested the existence of yet uncharacterized members of this phylum. Here we identified more than 22,000 high quality, non-redundant chlamydial 16S rRNA gene sequences in diverse databases, as well as 1900 putative chlamydial protein-encoding genes. Even when applying the most conservative approach, clustering of chlamydial 16S rRNA gene sequences into operational taxonomic units revealed an unexpectedly high species, genus and family-level diversity within the Chlamydiae, including 181 putative families. These in silico findings were verified experimentally in one Antarctic sample, which contained a high diversity of novel Chlamydiae. In our analysis, the Rhabdochlamydiaceae, whose known members infect arthropods, represents the most diverse and species-rich chlamydial family, followed by the protist-associated Parachlamydiaceae, and a putative new family (PCF8) with unknown host specificity. Available information on the origin of metagenomic samples indicated that marine environments contain the majority of the newly discovered chlamydial lineages, highlighting this environment as an important chlamydial reservoir.

  • Improved axenization method reveals complexity of symbiotic associations between bacteria and acanthamoebae.

    Lagkouvardos I, Shen J, Horn M
    2014 - Environ Microbiol Rep., 6: 383-8


    Bacteria associated with free-living amoebae have attracted considerable attention because of their role in human disease and as models for studying endosymbiosis. However, the identification and analysis of such novel associations are hindered by the limitations of methods for isolation and axenization of amoebae. Here, we replaced the heat-inactivated Escherichia coli, which is typically used as food source during axenization, with a live E. coli tolC knockout mutant strain hypersensitive to antibiotics. Together with the addition of otherwise sublethal amounts of ampicillin, this approach tripled the success rate and reduced the time required for axenization by at least 3 days. Using this method for two environmental samples, 10 Acanthamoeba strains were isolated, seven of which contained bacterial symbionts. In three cases, amoebae harbouring two phylogenetically distinct symbionts were recovered, supporting a more widespread occurrence of multi-partner symbiotic associations among free-living amoebae.

  • Signature protein of the PVC superphylum

    Lagkouvardos I, Jehl MA, Rattei T, Horn M
    2014 - Appl Environ Microbiol., 80: 440-5


    The phyla Planctomycetes, Verrucomicrobia, Chlamydiae, Lentisphaerae, and "Candidatus Omnitrophica (OP3)" comprise bacteria that share an ancestor but show highly diverse biological and ecological features. Together, they constitute the PVC superphylum. Using large-scale comparative genome sequence analysis, we identified a protein uniquely shared among all of the known members of the PVC superphylum. We provide evidence that this signature protein is expressed by representative members of the PVC superphylum. Its predicted structure, physicochemical characteristics, and overexpression in Escherichia coli and gel retardation assays with purified signature protein suggest a housekeeping function with unspecific DNA/RNA binding activity. Phylogenetic analysis demonstrated that the signature protein is a suitable phylogenetic marker for members of the PVC superphylum, and the screening of published metagenome data indicated the existence of additional PVC members. This study provides further evidence of a common evolutionary history of the PVC superphylum and presents a unique case in which a single protein serves as an evolutionary link among otherwise highly diverse members of major bacterial groups.

  • Massive expansion of ubiquitination-related gene families within the Chlamydiae

    Domman D, Collingro A, Lagkouvardos I, Gehre L, Weinmaier T, Rattei T, Subtil A, Horn M
    2014 - Mol Biol Evol., 31: 2890-904


    Gene loss, gain, and transfer play an important role in shaping the genomes of all organisms; however, the interplay of these processes in isolated populations, such as in obligate intracellular bacteria, is less understood. Despite a general trend towards genome reduction in these microbes, our phylogenomic analysis of the phylum Chlamydiae revealed that within the family Parachlamydiaceae, gene family expansions have had pronounced effects on gene content. We discovered that the largest gene families within the phylum are the result of rapid gene birth-and-death evolution. These large gene families are comprised of members harboring eukaryotic-like ubiquitination-related domains, such as F-box and BTB-box domains, marking the largest reservoir of these proteins found among bacteria. A heterologous type III secretion system assay suggests that these proteins function as effectors manipulating the host cell. The large disparity in copy number of members in these families between closely related organisms suggests that nonadaptive processes might contribute to the evolution of these gene families. Gene birth-and-death evolution in concert with genomic drift might represent a previously undescribed mechanism by which isolated bacterial populations diversify.

  • Discovery of chlamydial peptidoglycan reveals bacteria with murein sacculi but without FtsZ

    Pilhofer M, Aistleitner K, Biboy J, Gray J, Kuru E, Hall E, Brun YV, VanNieuwenhze MS, Vollmer W, Horn M, Jensen GJ
    2013 - Nat. Commun., 4: 2856


    Chlamydiae are important pathogens and symbionts with unique cell biological features. They lack the cell-division protein FtsZ, and the existence of peptidoglycan (PG) in their cell wall has been highly controversial. FtsZ and PG together function in orchestrating cell division and maintaining cell shape in almost all other bacteria. Using electron cryotomography, mass spectrometry and fluorescent labelling dyes, here we show that some environmental chlamydiae have cell wall sacculi consisting of a novel PG type. Treatment with fosfomycin (a PG synthesis inhibitor) leads to lower infection rates and aberrant cell shapes, suggesting that PG synthesis is crucial for the chlamydial life cycle. Our findings demonstrate for the first time the presence of PG in a member of the Chlamydiae. They also present a unique example of a bacterium with a PG sacculus but without FtsZ, challenging the current hypothesis that it is the absence of a cell wall that renders FtsZ non-essential.

  • Developmental cycle and host interaction of Rhabdochlamydia porcellionis, an intracellular parasite of terrestrial isopods

    Sixt BS, Kostanjek R, Mustedanagic A, Toenshoff ER, Horn M
    2013 - Environ. Microbiol., 15: 2980-2993


    Environmental chlamydiae are a diverse group of obligate intracellular bacteria related to well-known pathogens of humans. To date, only very little is known about chlamydial species infecting arthropods. In this study, we used co-cultivation with insect cells for recovery and maintenance of Rhabdochlamydia porcellionis, a parasite of the crustacean host Porcellio scaber. In vitro, the infection cycle of R. porcellionis was completed within seven days, resulting in the release of infectious particles by host cell lysis. Lack of apoptosis induction during the entire course of infection, combined with a reduced sensitivity of infected cultures to experimentally induced programmed cell death, indicates that R. porcellionis like its human pathogenic relatives counteracts this host defense mechanism. Interestingly, the rod-shaped variant of R. porcellionis, proposed to represent their mature infective stage, was not detected in cell culture, suggesting that its development may require pro-longed maturation or may be triggered by specific conditions encountered only in the animal host. This first cell culture-based system for the cultivation and investigation of an arthropod-associated chlamydial species will help to better understand the biology of a so far neglected group of chlamydiae and its recently suggested potential to cause disease in humans.

  • Metabolic features of Protochlamydia amoebophila elementary bodies - a link between activity and infectivity in Chlamydiae

    Sixt BS, Siegl A, Müller C, Watzka M, Wultsch A, Tziotis D, Montanaro J, Richter A, Schmitt-Kopplin P, Horn M
    2013 - PLoS Pathogens, 9: e1003553


    The Chlamydiae are a highly successful group of obligate intracellular bacteria, whose members are remarkably diverse, ranging from major pathogens of humans and animals to symbionts of ubiquitous protozoa. While their infective developmental stage, the elementary body (EB), has long been accepted to be completely metabolically inert, it has recently been shown to sustain some activities, including uptake of amino acids and protein biosynthesis. In the current study, we performed an in-depth characterization of the metabolic capabilities of EBs of the amoeba symbiont Protochlamydia amoebophila. A combined metabolomics approach, including fluorescence microscopy-based assays, isotope-ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS), ion cyclotron resonance Fourier transform mass spectrometry (ICR/FT-MS), and ultra-performance liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (UPLC-MS) was conducted, with a particular focus on the central carbon metabolism. In addition, the effect of nutrient deprivation on chlamydial infectivity was analyzed. Our investigations revealed that host-free P. amoebophila EBs maintain respiratory activity and metabolize D-glucose, including substrate uptake as well as host-free synthesis of labeled metabolites and release of labeled CO2 from 13C-labeled D-glucose. The pentose phosphate pathway was identified as major route of D-glucose catabolism and host-independent activity of the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle was observed. Our data strongly suggest anabolic reactions in P. amoebophila EBs and demonstrate that under the applied conditions D-glucose availability is essential to sustain metabolic activity. Replacement of this substrate by L-glucose, a non-metabolizable sugar, led to a rapid decline in the number of infectious particles. Likewise, infectivity of Chlamydia trachomatis, a major human pathogen, also declined more rapidly in the absence of nutrients. Collectively, these findings demonstrate that D-glucose is utilized by P. amoebophila EBs and provide evidence that metabolic activity in the extracellular stage of chlamydiae is of major biological relevance as it is a critical factor affecting maintenance of infectivity.

  • The endosymbiont Amoebophilus asiaticus encodes an S-adenosylmethionine carrier compensating for its missing methylation cycle

    Haferkamp I, Penz T, Geier M, Ast M, Mushak T, Horn M, Schmitz-Esser S
    2013 - J. Bacteriol., 195: 3183-3192


    All organisms require SAM as methyl group donor and cofactor for various biologically important processes. However, certain obligate intracellular parasitic bacteria and also the amoeba symbiont Amoebophilus asiaticus have lost the capacity to synthesize this cofactor and hence rely on its uptake from host cells. Genome analyses revealed that A. asiaticus encodes a putative S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) transporter. The corresponding protein was functionally characterized in E. coli: Import studies demonstrated that it is specific for SAM and S-adenosylhomocysteine (SAH) - the end product of methylation. SAM transport activity was shown to be highly dependent on the presence of a membrane potential and by targeted analyses we obtained direct evidence for a proton-driven SAM/SAH antiport mechanism. Sequence analyses suggest that SAM carriers from Rickettsiales might operate in a similar way, in contrast to chlamydial SAM transporters. SAM/SAH antiport is of high physiological importance as it allows for compensation of the missing methylation cycle. The identification of a SAM transporter in A. asiaticus belonging to the Bacteroidetes phylum demonstrates that SAM transport is more widely spread than previously assumed and occurs in bacteria belonging to three different phyla (Proteobacteria, Chlamydiae and Bacteroidetes).

  • ´Candidatus Branchiomonas cysticola' is a common agent of epitheliocysts in seawater farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) in Norway and Ireland

    Mitchell SO, Steinum TM, Toenshoff ER, Kvellestad A, Falk K, Horn M, Colquhoun DJ.Mitchell SO, Colquhoun DJ
    2013 - Dis. Aquat. Organ., 103: 35-43


    The prevalence and geographical distribution of the recently described endosymbiont 'Candidatus Branchiomonas cysticola' in Atlantic salmon Salmo salar gill epithelial cell cysts was investigated in seawater-farmed fish suffering proliferative gill inflammation (PGI). To this end, we developed a specific and sensitive real-time PCR assay for detection of the bacterium. 'Ca. B. cysticola' was found to be highly prevalent in Atlantic salmon gills sampled over 7 yr and from 17 geographically distant seawater locations in Norway and Ireland. 'Ca. B. cysticola' was found in significantly greater quantities in fish with large numbers of epitheliocysts, and fluorescence in situ hybridization confirmed its localisation within cysts. 'Ca. Piscichlamydia salmonis', a bacterium previously linked to epitheliocysts, was identified at relatively low levels of infection, apparently independent of epitheliocyst prevalence. These results suggest that 'Ca. B. cysticola' is the main cyst-forming bacterium in seawater-farmed Atlantic salmon in the studied countries. Our results also suggest a relationship between load of 'Ca. B. cysticola' and extent of pathological changes. Taken together with a previously described association between epitheliocyst load and severity of PGI in Norwegian salmon, the results could indicate a role for 'Ca. B. cysticola' in gill diseases such as PGI.

  • Identification and characterization of a novel porin family highlights a major difference in the outer membrane of chlamydial symbionts and pathogens

    Aistleitner K, Heinz C, Hörmann A, Heinz E, Montanaro J, Schulz F, Maier E, Pichler P, Benz R, Horn M
    2013 - PLoS One, 8: e55010


    The Chlamydiae constitute an evolutionary well separated group of intracellular bacteria comprising important pathogens of humans as well as symbionts of protozoa. The amoeba symbiont Protochlamydia amoebophila lacks a homologue of the most abundant outer membrane protein of the Chlamydiaceae, the major outer membrane protein MOMP, highlighting a major difference between environmental chlamydiae and their pathogenic counterparts. We recently identified a novel family of putative porins encoded in the genome of P. amoebophila by in silico analysis. Two of these Protochlamydia outer membrane proteins, PomS (pc1489) and PomT (pc1077), are highly abundant in outer membrane preparations of this organism. Here we show that all four members of this putative porin family are toxic when expressed in the heterologous host Escherichia coli. Immunofluorescence analysis using antibodies against heterologously expressed PomT and PomS purified directly from elementary bodies, respectively, demonstrated the location of both proteins in the outer membrane of P. amoebophila. The location of the most abundant protein PomS was further confirmed by immuno-transmission electron microscopy. We could show that pomS is transcribed, and the corresponding protein is present in the outer membrane throughout the complete developmental cycle, suggesting an essential role for P. amoebophila. Lipid bilayer measurements demonstrated that PomS functions as a porin with anion-selectivity and a pore size similar to the Chlamydiaceae MOMP. Taken together, our results suggest that PomS, possibly in concert with PomT and other members of this porin family, is the functional equivalent of MOMP in P. amoebophila. This work contributes to our understanding of the adaptations of symbiotic and pathogenic chlamydiae to their different eukaryotic hosts.

  • Genome of Acanthamoeba castellanii highlights extensive lateral gene transfer and early evolution of tyrosine kinase signaling.

    Clarke M, Lohan AJ, Liu B, Lagkouvardos I, Roy S, Zafar N, Bertelli C, Schilde C, Kianianmomeni A, Bürglin TR, Frech C, Turcotte B, Kopec KO, Synnott JM, Choo C, Paponov I, Finkler A, Heng Tan CS, Hutchins AP, Weinmeier T, Rattei T, Chu JS, Gimenez G, Irimia M, Rigden DJ, Fitzpatrick DA, Lorenzo-Morales J, Bateman A, Chiu CH, Tang P, Hegemann P, Fromm H, Raoult D, Greub G, Miranda-Saavedra D, Chen N, Nash P, Ginger ML, Horn M, Schaap P, Caler L, Loftus BJ
    2013 - Genome Biol., 2: R11


    The Amoebozoa constitute one of the primary divisions of eukaryotes, encompassing taxa of both biomedical and evolutionary importance, yet its genomic diversity remains largely unsampled. Here we present an analysis of a whole genome assembly of Acanthamoeba castellanii (Ac) the first representative from a solitary free-living amoebozoan.
    Ac encodes 15,455 compact intron-rich genes, a significant number of which are predicted to have arisen through inter-kingdom lateral gene transfer (LGT). A majority of the LGT candidates have undergone a substantial degree of intronization and Ac appears to have incorporated them into established transcriptional programs. Ac manifests a complex signaling and cell communication repertoire, including a complete tyrosine kinase signaling toolkit and a comparable diversity of predicted extracellular receptors to that found in the facultatively multicellular dictyostelids. An important environmental host of a diverse range of bacteria and viruses, Ac utilizes a diverse repertoire of predicted pattern recognition receptors, many with predicted orthologous functions in the innate immune systems of higher organisms.
    Our analysis highlights the important role of LGT in the biology of Ac and in the diversification of microbial eukaryotes. The early evolution of a key signaling facility implicated in the evolution of metazoan multicellularity strongly argues for its emergence early in the Unikont lineage. Overall, the availability of an Ac genome should aid in deciphering the biology of the Amoebozoa and facilitate functional genomic studies in this important model organism and environmental host.

  • Evaluation of general 16S ribosomal RNA gene PCR primers for classical and next generation sequencing based diversity studies

    Klindworth A, Pruesse E, Schweer T, Peplies J, Quast C, Horn M, Glöckner FO
    2013 - Nucleic Acids Res., 41: e1


    16S ribosomal RNA gene (rDNA) amplicon analysis remains the standard approach for the cultivation independent investigation of microbial diversity. The accuracy of these analyses depends strongly on the choice of primers. The overall coverage and phylum spectrum of 175 primers and 512 primer pairs were evaluated in silico with respect to the SILVA 16S/18S rDNA non-redundant reference dataset (SSURef 108 NR). Based on this evaluation a selection of best available primer pairs for Bacteria and Archaea for three amplicon size classes (100-400 bp, 400-1000 bp, ≥1000 bp) is provided. The most promising bacterial primer pair (S-D-Bact-0341-b-S-17/S-D-Bact-0785-a-A-21), with an amplicon size of 464 bp,was experimentally evaluated by comparing the taxonomic distribution of the 16S rDNA amplicons with 16S rDNA fragments from directly sequenced metagenomes. The results may be used as a guideline for selecting primer pairs with the best overall coverage and phylum spectrum for specific applications, therefore reducing the bias in PCR based microbial diversity studies.

  • Comparative genomics suggests an independent origin of cytoplasmic incompatibility in Cardinium hertigii

    Penz T, Schmitz-Esser S, Kelly SE, Cass BN, Müller A, Woyke T, Malfatti SE, Hunter MS, Horn M
    2012 - PLoS Genetics, 8: e1003012


    Terrestrial arthropods are commonly infected with maternally-inherited bacterial symbionts that cause cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI). In CI, the outcome of crosses between symbiont-infected males and uninfected females is reproductive failure, increasing the relative fitness of infected females, and leading to spread of the symbiont in the host population. CI symbionts have profound impacts on host genetic structure and ecology and may lead to speciation and the rapid evolution of sex determination systems. Cardinium hertigii, a member of the Bacteroidetes and symbiont of the parasitic wasp Encarsia pergandiella, is the only known bacterium other than the Alphaproteobacteria Wolbachia to cause CI. Here we report the genome sequence of Cardinium hertigii cEper1. Comparison with the genomes of CI-inducing Wolbachia pipientis strains wMel, wRi, and wPip provides a unique opportunity to pinpoint shared proteins mediating host cell interaction, including some candidate proteins for CI that have not previously been investigated. The genome of Cardinium lacks all major biosynthetic pathways but harbors a complete biotin biosynthesis pathway, suggesting a potential role for Cardinium in host nutrition. Cardinium lacks known protein secretion systems but encodes a putative phage-derived secretion system distantly related to the antifeeding prophage of the entomopathogen Serratia entomophila. Lastly, while Cardinium and Wolbachia genomes show only a functional overlap of proteins, they show no evidence of laterally transferred elements that would suggest common ancestry of CI in both lineages. Instead, comparative genomics suggests an independent evolution of CI in Cardinium and Wolbachia and provides a novel context for understanding the mechanistic basis of CI.

  • A novel betaproteobacterial agent of gill epitheliocystis in seawater farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)

    Toenshoff ER, Kvellestad A, Mitchell SO, Steinum T, Falk K, Colquhoun DJ, Horn M
    2012 - PLoS One, 7: e32696


    Epitheliocystis, a disease characterised by cytoplasmic bacterial inclusions (cysts) in the gill and less commonly skin epithelial cells, has been reported in many marine and freshwater fish species and may be associated with mortality. Previously, molecular and ultrastructural analyses have exclusively associated members of the Chlamydiae with such inclusions. Here we investigated a population of farmed Atlantic salmon from the west coast of Norway displaying gill epitheliocystis. Although ‘Candidatus Piscichlamydia salmonis’, previously reported to be present in such cysts, was detected by PCR in most of the gill samples analysed, this bacterium was found to be a rare member of the gill microbiota, and not associated with the observed cysts as demonstrated by fluorescence in situ hybridization assays. The application of a broad range 16S rRNA targeted PCR assay instead identified a novel betaproteobacterium as an abundant member of the gill microbiota. Fluorescence in situ hybridization demonstrated that this bacterium, tentatively classified as ‘Candidatus Branchiomonas cysticola’, was the cyst-forming agent in these samples. While histology and ultrastructure of ‘Ca. B. cysticola’ cysts revealed forms similar to the reticulate and intermediate bodies described in earlier reports from salmon in seawater, no elementary bodies typical of the chlamydial developmental cycle were observed. In conclusion, this study identified a novel agent of epitheliocystis in sea-farmed Atlantic salmon and demonstrated that these cysts can be caused by bacteria phylogenetically distinct from the Chlamydiae.

  • Coevolution and symbiont replacement shaped the symbiosis between adelgids (Hemiptera: Adelgidae) and their bacterial symbionts

    Toenshoff ER, Gruber D, Horn M
    2012 - Environ. Microbiol., 14: 1284-1295


    The Adelgidae (Insecta: Hemiptera), a small group of insects, are known as severe pests on various conifers of the northern hemisphere. Despite of this, little is known about their bacteriocyte-associated endosymbionts, which are generally important for the biology and ecology of plant sap-sucking insects. Here, we investigated the adelgid species complexes Adelges laricis/tardus, Adelges abietis/viridis, and Adelges cooleyi/coweni, identified based on their coI and ef1alpha genes. Each of these insect groups harboured two phylogenetically different bacteriocyte-associated symbionts belonging to the Betaproteobacteria and the Gammaproteobacteria, respectively, as inferred from phylogenetic analyses of 16S rRNA gene sequences and demonstrated by fluorescence in situ hybridization. The betaproteobacterial symbionts of all three adelgid complexes (‘Candidatus Vallotia tarda’, ‘Candidatus Vallotia virida’ and ‘Candidatus Vallotia cooleyia’) share a common ancestor and show a phylogeny congruent with that of their respective hosts. Similarly, there is evidence for co-evolution between the gammaproteobacterial symbionts (‘Candidatus Profftia tarda’, ‘Candidatus Profftia virida’) and A. laricis/tardus and A. abietis/viridis. In contrast, the gammaproteobacterial symbiont of A. cooleyi/coweni (‘Candidatus Gillettellia cooleyia’) is different from that of the other two adelgids but shows a moderate relationship to the symbiont ‘Candidatus Ecksteinia adelgidicola’ of A. nordmannianae/piceae. All symbionts were present in all adelgid populations and life stages analyzed, suggesting vertical transmission from mother to offspring. In sharp contrast to their sister group, the aphids, adelgids do not consistently contain a single obligate (primary) symbiont but have acquired phylogenetically different bacterial symbionts during their evolution, which included multiple infections and symbiont replacement.

  • Lack of effective anti-apoptotic activities restricts growth of Parachlamydiaceae in insect cells

    Sixt BS, Hiess B, König L, Horn M
    2012 - PLoS One, 7: e29565


    The fundamental role of programmed cell death in host defense is highlighted by the multitude of anti-apoptotic strategies evolved by various microbes, including the well-known obligate intracellular bacterial pathogens Chlamydia trachomatis and Chlamydia (Chlamydophila) pneumoniae. As inhibition of apoptosis is assumed to be essential for a successful infection of humans by these chlamydiae, we analyzed the anti-apoptotic capacity of close relatives that occur as symbionts of amoebae and might represent emerging pathogens. While Simkania negevensis was able to efficiently replicate within insect cells, which served as model for metazoan-derived host cells, the Parachlamydiaceae (Parachlamydia acanthamoebae and Protochlamydia amoebophila) displayed limited intracellular growth, yet these bacteria induced typical features of apoptotic cell death, including formation of apoptotic bodies, nuclear condensation, internucleosomal DNA fragmentation, and effector caspase activity. Induction of apoptosis was dependent on bacterial activity, but not bacterial de novo protein synthesis, and was detectable already at very early stages of infection. Experimental inhibition of host cell death greatly enhanced parachlamydial replication, suggesting that lack of potent anti-apoptotic activities in Parachlamydiaceae may represent an important factor compromising their ability to successfully infect non-protozoan hosts. These findings highlight the importance of the evolution of anti-apoptotic traits for the success of chlamydiae as pathogens of humans and animals.

  • Bacteriocyte-associated gammaproteobacterial symbionts of the Adelges nordmannianae/piceae complex (Hemiptera: Adelgidae)

    Toenshoff ER, Penz T, Narzt T, Collingro A, Schmitz-Esser S, Pfeiffer S, Klepal W, Wagner M, Weinmaier T, Rattei T, Horn M
    2012 - ISME J., 6: 384-396


    Adelgids (Insecta: Hemiptera: Adelgidae) are known as severe pests of various conifers in North America, Canada, Europe and Asia. Here we present the first molecular identification of bacteriocyte-associated symbionts in these plant sap-sucking insects. Three geographically distant populations of members of the Adelges nordmannianae/piceae complex, identified based on coI and ef1alpha gene sequences, were investigated. Electron and light microscopy revealed two morphologically different endosymbionts, coccoid or polymorphic, that are located in distinct bacteriocytes. Phylogenetic analyses of their 16S and 23S rRNA gene sequences assigned both symbionts to novel lineages within the Gammaproteobacteria sharing less than 92% 16S rRNA sequence similarity with each other and showing no close relationship with known symbionts of insects. Their identity and intracellular location were confirmed by fluorescence in situ hybridisation, and the names ‘Candidatus Steffania adelgidicola’ and ‘Candidatus Ecksteinia adelgidicola’ are proposed for tentative classification. Both symbionts were present in all individuals of all investigated populations and in different adelgid life stages including eggs, suggesting vertical transmission from mother to offspring. An 85 kb genome fragment of ‘Candidatus Steffania adelgidicola’ was reconstructed based on a metagenomic library created from purified symbionts. Genomic features including the frequency of pseudogenes, the average length of intergenic regions and the presence of several genes, which are absent in other long-term obligate symbionts, suggested that ‘Candidatus Steffania adelgidicola’ is an evolutionary young bacteriocyte-associated symbiont, which has been acquired after the diversification of adelgids from their aphid sister group.

  • A bacterial genome in transition - an exceptional enrichment of IS elements but lack of evidence for recent transposition in the symbiont Amoebophilus asiaticus

    Schmitz-Esser S1, Penz T, Spang A, Horn M
    2011 - BMC Evol. Biol., 11: 270


    Insertion sequence (IS) elements are important mediators of genome plasticity and are widespread among bacterial and archaeal genomes. The 1.88 Mbp genome of the obligate intracellular amoeba symbiont Amoebophilus asiaticus contains an unusually large number of transposase genes (n = 354; 23% of all genes).


    The transposase genes in the A. asiaticus genome can be assigned to 16 different IS elements termed ISCaa1 to ISCaa16, which are represented by 2 to 24 full-length copies, respectively. Despite this high IS element load, the A. asiaticus genome displays a GC skew pattern typical for most bacterial genomes, indicating that no major rearrangements have occurred recently. Additionally, the high sequence divergence of some IS elements, the high number of truncated IS element copies (n = 143), as well as the absence of direct repeats in most IS elements suggest that the IS elements of A. asiaticus are transpositionally inactive. Although we could show transcription of 13 IS elements, we did not find experimental evidence for transpositional activity, corroborating our results from sequence analyses. However, we detected contiguous transcripts between IS elements and their downstream genes at nine loci in the A. asiaticus genome, indicating that some IS elements influence the transcription of downstream genes, some of which might be important for host cell interaction.


    Taken together, the IS elements in the A. asiaticus genome are currently in the process of degradation and largely represent reflections of the evolutionary past of A. asiaticus in which its genome was shaped by their activity.

  • Systematic spatial bias in DNA microarray hybridization is caused by probe spot position-dependent variability in lateral diffusion

    Steger D, Berry D, Haider S, Horn M, Wagner M, Stocker R, Loy A
    2011 - PLoS One, 6: e23727


    The hybridization of nucleic acid targets with surface-immobilized probes is a widely used assay for the parallel detection of multiple targets in medical and biological research. Despite its widespread application, DNA microarray technology still suffers from several biases and lack of reproducibility, stemming in part from an incomplete understanding of the processes governing surface hybridization. In particular, non-random spatial variations within individual microarray hybridizations are often observed, but the mechanisms underpinning this positional bias remain incompletely explained.


    This study identifies and rationalizes a systematic spatial bias in the intensity of surface hybridization, characterized by markedly increased signal intensity of spots located at the boundaries of the spotted areas of the microarray slide. Combining observations from a simplified single-probe block array format with predictions from a mathematical model, the mechanism responsible for this biasis found to be a position-dependent variation in lateral diffusion of target molecules. Numerical simulations reveal a strong influence of microarraywell geometry on the spatial bias.


    Reciprocal adjustment of the size of the microarray hybridization chamber to the area of surface-bound probes is a simple and effective measure to minimize or eliminate the diffusion-based bias, resulting in increased uniformity and accuracy of quantitative DNA microarrayhybridization.

  • Paracatenula, an ancient symbiosis between thiotrophic Alphaproteobacteria and catenulid flatworms

    Gruber-Vodicka HR, Dirks U, Leisch N, Baranyi C, Stoecker K, Bulgheresi S, Heindl NR, Horn M, Lott C, Loy A, Wagner M, Ott J
    2011 - Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 108: 12078-12083


    Harnessing chemosynthetic symbionts is a recurring evolutionary strategy. Eukaryotes from six phyla as well as one archaeon have acquired chemoautotrophic sulfur-oxidizing bacteria. In contrast to this broad host diversity, known bacterial partners apparently belong to two classes of bacteria-the Gamma- and Epsilonproteobacteria. Here, we characterize the intracellular endosymbionts of the mouthless catenulid flatworm genus Paracatenula as chemoautotrophic sulfur-oxidizing Alphaproteobacteria. The symbionts of Paracatenula galateia are provisionally classified as "Candidatus Riegeria galateiae" based on 16S ribosomal RNA sequencing confirmed by fluorescence in situ hybridization together with functional gene and sulfur metabolite evidence. 16S rRNA gene phylogenetic analysis shows that all 16 Paracatenula species examined harbor host species-specific intracellular Candidatus Riegeria bacteria that form a monophyletic group within the order Rhodospirillales. Comparing host and symbiont phylogenies reveals strict cocladogenesis and points to vertical transmission of the symbionts. Between 33% and 50% of the body volume of the various worm species is composed of bacterial symbionts, by far the highest proportion among all known endosymbiotic associations between bacteria and metazoans. This symbiosis, which likely originated more than 500 Mya during the early evolution of flatworms, is the oldest known animal-chemoautotrophic bacteria association. The distant phylogenetic position of the symbionts compared with other mutualistic or parasitic Alphaproteobacteria promises to illuminate the common genetic predispositions that have allowed several members of this class to successfully colonize eukaryote cells.

  • Unity in variety - the pan-genome of the Chlamydiae

    Collingro A, Tischler P, Weinmaier T, Penz T, Heinz E, Brunham RC, Read TD, Bavoil PM, Sachse K, Kahane S, Friedman MG, Rattei T, Myers GS, Horn M
    2011 - Mol. Biol. Evol., 28: 3253-3270


    Chlamydiae are evolutionarily well-separated bacteria that live exclusively within eukaryotic host cells. They include important human pathogens such as Chlamydia trachomatis as well as symbionts of protozoa. As these bacteria are experimentally challenging and genetically intractable, our knowledge about them is still limited. In this study, we obtained the genome sequences of Simkania negevensis Z, Waddlia chondrophila 2032/99 and Parachlamydia acanthamoebae UV-7. This enabled us to perform the first comprehensive comparative and phylogenomic analysis of representative members of four major families of the Chlamydiae, including the Chlamydiaceae. We identified a surprisingly large core gene set present in all genomes and a high number of diverse accessory genes in those Chlamydiae that do not primarily infect humans or animals, including a chemosensory system in P. acanthamoebae and a type IV secretion system. In S. negevensis, the type IV secretion system is encoded on a large conjugative plasmid (pSn, 132 kb). Phylogenetic analyses suggested that a plasmid similar to the S. negevensis plasmid was originally acquired by the last common ancestor of all four families and that it was subsequently reduced, integrated into the chromosome, or lost during diversification, ultimately giving rise to the extant virulence-associated plasmid of pathogenic chlamydiae. Other virulence factors, including a type III secretion system, are conserved among the Chlamydiae to variable degrees, and together with differences in the composition of the cell wall, reflect adaptation to different host cells including convergent evolution among the four chlamydial families. Phylogenomic analysis focusing on chlamydial proteins with homology to plant proteins provided evidence for the acquisition of 53 chlamydial genes by a plant progenitor, lending further support for the hypothesis of an early interaction between a chlamydial ancestor and the primary photosynthetic eukaryote.

  • Proteomic analysis reveals a virtually complete set of proteins for translation and energy generation in elementary bodies of the amoeba symbiont Protochlamydia amoebophila

    Sixt BS, Heinz C, Pichler P, Heinz E, Montanaro J, Op den Camp HJ, Ammerer G, Mechtler K, Wagner M, Horn M
    2011 - Proteomics, 11: 1868-1892


    Chlamydiae belong to the most successful intracellular bacterial pathogens. They display a complex developmental cycle and an extremely broad host spectrum ranging from vertebrates to protozoa. The family Chlamydiaceae comprises exclusively well-known pathogens of humans and animals, while members of its sister group, the Parachlamydiaceae, naturally occur as symbionts of free-living amoebae. Comparative analysis of these two groups provides valuable insights into chlamydial evolution and mechanisms for microbe-host interaction. Based on the complete genome sequence of the Acanthamoeba spp. symbiont Protochlamydia amoebophila UWE25, we performed the first detailed proteome analysis of the infectious stage of a symbiotic chlamydia. A 2-D reference proteome map was established and the analysis was extensively complemented by shotgun proteomics. In total, 472 proteins were identified, which represent 23.2% of all encoded proteins. These cover a wide range of functional categories, including typical house-keeping proteins, but also putative virulence-associated proteins. A number of proteins that are not encoded in genomes of Chlamydiaceae were observed and the expression of 162 proteins classified as hypothetical or unknown proteins could be demonstrated. Our findings indicate that P. amoebophila exploits its additional genetic repertoire (compared to the Chlamydiaceae), and that its elementary bodies are remarkably well equipped with proteins involved in transcription, translation, and energy generation.

  • Nucleotide parasitism by Simkania negevensis (Chlamydiae)

    Knab S, Mushak TM, Schmitz-Esser S, Horn M, Haferkamp I
    2011 - J. Bacteriol., 193: 225-235


    Intracellular bacteria live in an environment rich in most essential metabolites but need special mechanisms to access these substrates. Nucleotide transport proteins (NTTs) catalyze the import of ATP and other nucleotides from the eukaryotic host into the bacterial cell and render de novo synthesis of these compounds dispensable. The draft genome sequence of Simkania negevensis strain Z, a chlamydial organism considered as new-emerging pathogen, revealed four genes encoding putative nucleotide transport proteins (SnNTT1-SnNTT4), all of which are transcribed during growth of S. negevensis in Acanthamoeba host cells as confirmed by reverse transcription PCR. Using heterologous expression in Escherichia coli we could show that SnNTT1 functions as an ATP/ADP antiporter, SnNTT2 as a guanidine nucleotide/ATP/H+-symporter driven by the membrane potential and SnNTT3 as a nucleotide triphosphate antiporter. In addition, SnNTT3 is able to transport dCTP, which has not been shown for a prokaryotic transport protein before. No substrate could be identified for SnNTT4. Taken together, S. negevensis employs a set of nucleotide transport proteins to efficiently tap its host’s energy and nucleotide pools. Although similar to other chlamydiae, these transporters show distinct and unique adaptations with respect to substrate specificities and mode of transport.

  • The genome of the amoeba symbiont "Candidatus Amoebophilus asiaticus" encodes an afp-like prophage possibly used for protein secretion

    Penz T, Horn M, Schmitz-Esser S
    2010 - Virulence, 1: 1-5


    The recently sequenced genome of the obligate intracellular amoeba symbiont ‘Candidatus Amoebophilus asiaticus’ is unique among prokaryotic genomes due to its extremely large fraction of genes encoding proteins harboring eukaryotic domains such as ankyrin-repeats, TPR/SEL1 repeats, leucine-rich repeats, as well as F- and U-box domains, most of which likely serve in the interaction with the amoeba host. Here we provide evidence for the presence of additional proteins which are presumably presented extracellularly and should thus also be important for host cell interaction. Surprisingly, we did not find homologues of any of the well-known protein secretion systems required to translocate effector proteins into the host cell in the A. asiaticus genome, and the type six secretion systems seems to be incomplete. Here we describe the presence of a putative prophage in the A. asiaticus genome, which shows similarity to the antifeeding prophage from the insect pathogen Serratia entomophila. In S. entomophila this systems is used to deliver toxins into insect hosts. This putative antifeeding-like prophage might thus represent the missing protein secretion apparatus in A. asiaticus.

  • Proteomic analysis of the outer membrane of Protochlamydia amoebophila elementary bodies

    Heinz E, Pichler P, Heinz C, Op den Camp HJ, Toenshoff ER, Ammerer G, Mechtler K, Wagner M, Horn M
    2010 - Proteomics, 10: 4363-4376


    Chlamydiae are obligate intracellular bacteria, comprising some of the most important bacterial pathogens of animals and humans. During their unique developmental cycle they have to attach to and enter their eukaryotic host cells, a process mediated by proteins in the chlamydial outer membrane. So far the only experimental data for chlamydial outer membrane proteins is available from members of the Chlamydiaceae, a family comprising exclusively human and animal pathogens. To get further insights into the evolution of the protein composition of the chlamydial outer membrane and into host-dependent differences, we performed an extensive experimental analysis of outer membrane fractions of Protochlamydia amoebophila elementary bodies, which constitute the infectious form of this non-pathogenic member of the Chlamydiae that thrives as a symbiont in Acanthamoeba spp. We used 1D and 2D gel electrophoresis in combination with MALDI-TOF, MALDI-TOF/TOF and nanoLC-ESI-MS/MS, and compared our experimental results with a previously published in silico analysis of chlamydial outer membrane proteins. This resulted in the identification of 38 proteins supported by both studies and therefore very likely to be located in the P. amoebophila outer membrane. The obtained experimental data provide the first comprehensive overview of outer membrane proteins of a chlamydial organism outside the Chlamydiaceae. They reveal both fundamental differences and convergent evolution between pathogenic and symbiotic chlamydiae.

  • Mycobacterium avium infections of Acanthamoeba strains: host strain variability, grazing-acquired infections, and altered dynamics of inactivation with monochloramine

    Berry D, Horn M, Xi C, Raskin L
    2010 - Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 76: 6685-6688


    Stable Mycobacterium avium infections of several Acanthamoeba strains were characterized by increased infection resistance of recent environmental isolates and reduced infectivity in the presence of other bacteria. Exposure of M. avium in co-culture with Acanthamoeba castellanii to monochloramine yielded inactivation kinetics strikingly similar to those observed for A. castellanii alone.

  • Inclusion membrane proteins of Protochlamydia amoebophila UWE25 reveal a conserved mechanism for host cell interaction among the Chlamydiae

    Heinz E, Rockey DD, Montanaro J, Aistleitner K, Wagner M, Horn M
    2010 - J. Bacteriol., 192: 5093-5102


    Chlamydiae are a group of obligate intracellular bacteria comprising several important human pathogens. Inside the eukaryotic cell, chlamydiae remain within a host-derived vesicular compartment, termed the inclusion. They modify the inclusion membrane through insertion of unique proteins, which are involved in interaction with and manipulation of the host cell. Among chlamydiae, inclusion membrane proteins have been exclusively found in members of the family Chlamydiaceae, which predominantly infect mammalian and avian hosts. Here, the presence of inclusion membrane proteins in Protochlamydia amoebophila UWE25, a chlamydial endosymbiont of free-living amoebae, is reported. A genome-wide screening for secondary structure motifs resulted in the identification of 23 putative inclusion membrane proteins for this organism. Immunofluorescence analysis demonstrated that five of these proteins were expressed, and four of them could be localized to a halo surrounding the intracellular bacteria. Co-localisation studies showed an almost complete overlap of the signals obtained for the four putative inclusion membrane proteins, and immuno-transmission electron microscopy unambiguously demonstrated their location in the inclusion membrane. The presence of inclusion membrane proteins (designated IncA, IncQ, IncR, IncS) in P. amoebophila shows that this strategy for host cell interaction is conserved among the chlamydiae, and is used by chlamydial symbionts and pathogens alike.

  • Raman microspectroscopy reveals long-term extracellular activity of Chlamydiae.

    Haider S, Wagner M, Schmid MC, Sixt BS, Christian JG, Häcker G, Pichler P, Mechtler K, Müller A, Baranyi C, Toenshoff ER, Montanaro J, Horn M
    2010 - Mol. Microbiol., 3: 687-700


    The phylum Chlamydiae consists exclusively of obligate intracellular bacteria. Some of them are formidable pathogens of humans, while others occur as symbionts of amoebae. These genetically intractable bacteria possess a developmental cycle consisting of replicative reticulate bodies and infectious elementary bodies, which are believed to be physiologically inactive. Confocal Raman microspectroscopy was applied to differentiate between reticulate bodies and elementary bodies of Protochlamydia amoebophila and to demonstrate in situ the labelling of this amoeba symbiont after addition of isotope-labelled phenylalanine. Unexpectedly, uptake of this amino acid was also observed for both developmental stages for up to 3 weeks, if incubated extracellularly with labelled phenylalanine, and P. amoebophila remained infective during this period. Furthermore, P. amoebophila energizes its membrane and performs protein synthesis outside of its host. Importantly, amino acid uptake and protein synthesis after extended extracellular incubation could also be demonstrated for the human pathogen Chlamydia trachomatis, which synthesizes stress-related proteins under these conditions as shown by 2-D gel electrophoresis and MALDI-TOF/TOF mass spectrometry. These findings change our perception of chlamydial biology and reveal that host-free analyses possess a previously not recognized potential for direct experimental access to these elusive microorganisms.

  • The genome of the amoeba symbiont 'Candidatus Amoebophilus asiaticus' reveals common mechanisms for host cell interaction among amoeba-associated bacteria

    Schmitz-Esser S, Tischler P, Arnold R, Montanaro J, Wagner M, Rattei T, Horn M
    2010 - J. Bacteriol., 192: 1045-1057


    Protozoa play host for many intracellular bacteria and are important for the adaptation of pathogenic bacteria to eukaryotic cells. We analyzed the genome sequence of "Candidatus Amoebophilus asiaticus," an obligate intracellular amoeba symbiont belonging to the Bacteroidetes. The genome has a size of 1.89 Mbp, encodes 1,557 proteins, and shows massive proliferation of IS elements (24% of all genes), although the genome seems to be evolutionarily relatively stable. The genome does not encode pathways for de novo biosynthesis of cofactors, nucleotides, and almost all amino acids. "Ca. Amoebophilus asiaticus" encodes a variety of proteins with predicted importance for host cell interaction; in particular, an arsenal of proteins with eukaryotic domains, including ankyrin-, TPR/SEL1-, and leucine-rich repeats, which is hitherto unmatched among prokaryotes, is remarkable. Unexpectedly, 26 proteins that can interfere with the host ubiquitin system were identified in the genome. These proteins include F- and U-box domain proteins and two ubiquitin-specific proteases of the CA clan C19 family, representing the first prokaryotic members of this protein family. Consequently, interference with the host ubiquitin system is an important host cell interaction mechanism of "Ca. Amoebophilus asiaticus". More generally, we show that the eukaryotic domains identified in "Ca. Amoebophilus asiaticus" are also significantly enriched in the genomes of other amoeba-associated bacteria (including chlamydiae, Legionella pneumophila, Rickettsia bellii, Francisella tularensis, and Mycobacterium avium). This indicates that phylogenetically and ecologically diverse bacteria which thrive inside amoebae exploit common mechanisms for interaction with their hosts, and it provides further evidence for the role of amoebae as training grounds for bacterial pathogens of humans.

  • Deep sequencing reveals exceptional diversity and modes of transmission for bacterial sponge symbionts

    Webster NS, Taylor MW, Behnam F, Lücker S, Rattei T, Whalan S, Horn M, Wagner M
    2010 - Environ. Microbiol., 12: 2070-2082


    Marine sponges contain complex bacterial communities of considerable ecological and biotechnological importance, with many of these organisms postulated to be specific to sponge hosts. Testing this hypothesis in light of the recent discovery of the rare microbial biosphere, we investigated three Australian sponges by massively parallel 16S rRNA gene tag pyrosequencing. Here we show bacterial diversity that is unparalleled in an invertebrate host, with more than 250,000 sponge-derived sequence tags being assigned to 23 bacterial phyla and revealing up to 2996 operational taxonomic units (95% sequence similarity) per sponge species. Of the 33 previously described sponge-specific clusters that were detected in this study, 48% were found exclusively in adults and larvae implying vertical transmission of these groups. The remaining taxa, including Poribacteria, were also found at very low abundance among the 135,000 tags retrieved from surrounding seawater. Thus, members of the rare seawater biosphere may serve as seed organisms for widely occurring symbiont populations in sponges and their host association might have evolved much more recently than previously thought.

  • Comprehensive in silico prediction and analysis of chlamydial outer membrane proteins reflects evolution and life style of the Chlamydiae

    Heinz E, Tischler P, Rattei T, Myers G, Wagner M, Horn M
    2009 - BMC Genomics, 10: 634


    Chlamydiae are obligate intracellular bacteria comprising some of the most important bacterial pathogens of animals and humans. Although chlamydial outer membrane proteins play a key role for attachment to and entry into host cells, only few have been described so far. We developed a comprehensive, multiphasic in silico approach, including the calculation of clusters of orthologues, to predict outer membrane proteins using conservative criteria. We tested this approach using Escherichia coli (positive control) and Bacillus subtilis (negative control), and applied it to five chlamydial species; Chlamydia trachomatis, Chlamydia muridarum, Chlamydia (a.k.a. Chlamydophila) pneumoniae, Chlamydia (a.k.a. Chlamydophila) caviae, and Protochlamydia amoebophila. In total, 312 chlamydial outer membrane proteins and lipoproteins in 88 orthologous clusters were identified, including 238 proteins not previously recognized to be located in the outer membrane. Analysis of their taxonomic distribution revealed an evolutionary conservation among Chlamydiae, Verrucomicrobia, Lentisphaerae and Planctomycetes as well as lifestyle-dependent conservation of the chlamydial outer membrane protein composition. This analysis suggested a correlation between the outer membrane protein composition and the host range of chlamydiae and revealed a common set of outer membrane proteins shared by these intracellular bacteria. The collection of predicted chlamydial outer membrane proteins is available at the online database pCOMP ( and might provide future guidance in the quest for anti-chlamydial vaccines.

  • Sequence-based prediction of type III secreted proteins

    Arnold R, Brandmaier S, Kleine F, Tischler P, Heinz E, Behrens S, Niinikoski A, Mewes HW, Horn M, Rattei T
    2009 - PLoS Pathogens, 5: e1000376


    The type III secretion system (TTSS) is a key mechanism for host cell interaction used by a variety of bacterial pathogens and symbionts of plants and animals including humans. The TTSS represents a molecular syringe with which the bacteria deliver effector proteins directly into the host cell cytosol. Despite the importance of the TTSS for bacterial pathogenesis, recognition and targeting of type III secreted proteins has up until now been poorly understood. Several hypotheses are discussed, including an mRNA-based signal, a chaperon-mediated process, or an N-terminal signal peptide. In this study, we systematically analyzed the amino acid composition and secondary structure of N-termini of 100 experimentally verified effector proteins. Based on this, we developed a machine-learning approach for the prediction of TTSS effector proteins, taking into account N-terminal sequence features such as frequencies of amino acids, short peptides, or residues with certain physico-chemical properties. The resulting computational model revealed a strong type III secretion signal in the N-terminus that can be used to detect effectors with sensitivity of approximately 71% and selectivity of approximately 85%. This signal seems to be taxonomically universal and conserved among animal pathogens and plant symbionts, since we could successfully detect effector proteins if the respective group was excluded from training. The application of our prediction approach to 739 complete bacterial and archaeal genome sequences resulted in the identification of between 0% and 12% putative TTSS effector proteins. Comparison of effector proteins with orthologs that are not secreted by the TTSS showed no clear pattern of signal acquisition by fusion, suggesting convergent evolutionary processes shaping the type III secretion signal. The newly developed program EffectiveT3 ( is the first universal in silico prediction program for the identification of novel TTSS effectors. Our findings will facilitate further studies on and improve our understanding of type III secretion and its role in pathogen-host interactions.

  • Diatom plastids depend on nucleotide import from the cytosol

    Ast M, Gruber A, Schmitz-Esser S, Neuhaus HE, Kroth PG, Horn M, Haferkamp I
    2009 - Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 106: 3621-3626


    Diatoms are ecologically important algae that acquired their plastids by secondary endosymbiosis, resulting in a more complex cell structure and an altered distribution of metabolic pathways when compared with organisms with primary plastids. Diatom plastids are surrounded by 4 membranes; the outermost membrane is continuous with the endoplasmic reticulum. Genome analyses suggest that nucleotide biosynthesis is, in contrast to higher plants, not located in the plastid, but in the cytosol. As a consequence, nucleotides have to be imported into the organelle. However, the mechanism of nucleotide entry into the complex plastid is unknown. We identified a high number of putative nucleotide transporters (NTTs) in the diatoms Thalassiosira pseudonana and Phaeodactylum tricornutum and characterized the first 2 isoforms (NTT1 and NTT2). GFP-based localization studies revealed that both investigated NTTs are targeted to the plastid membranes, and that NTT1 most likely enters the innermost plastid envelope via the stroma. Heterologously expressed NTT1 acts as a proton-dependent adenine nucleotide importer, whereas NTT2 facilitates the counter exchange of (deoxy-)nucleoside triphosphates. Therefore, these transporters functionally resemble NTTs from obligate intracellular bacteria with an impaired nucleotide metabolism rather than ATP/ADP exchanging NTTs from primary plastids. We suggest that diatoms harbor a specifically-adapted nucleotide transport system and that NTTs are the key players in nucleotide supply to the complex plastid.

  • High genetic similarity between two geographically distinct strains of the sulfur-oxidizing symbiont 'Candidatus Thiobios zoothamnicoli'

    Rinke C, Schmitz-Esser S, Loy A, Horn M, Wagner M, Bright M
    2009 - FEMS Microbiol. Ecol., 67: 229-41


    The giant marine ciliate Zoothamnium niveum (Ciliophora, Oligohymenophora) is obligatorily covered by a monolayer of putative chemoautotrophicsulfur-oxidizing (thiotrophic) bacteria. For Z. niveum specimens from the Caribbean Sea it has been demonstrated that this ectosymbiotic population consists of only a single pleomorphic phylotype described as Candidatus Thiobios zoothamnicoli. The goal of our study was to identify and phylogenetically analyse the ectosymbiont(s) of a recently discovered Z. niveum population from the Mediterranean Sea, and to compare marker genes encoding key enzymes of the carbon and sulfur metabolism between the two symbiont populations. We identified a single bacterial phylotype representing the ectosymbiont of Z. niveum from the Mediterranean population showing 99.7% 16S rRNA gene (99.2% intergenic spacer region)similarity to the Caribbean Z. niveum ectosymbiont. Genes encoding enzymes typical for an inorganic carbon metabolism [ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RuBisCO)] and for sulfur metabolism (5'-adenylylsulfate reductase, dissimilatory sulfite reductase) were detected in both symbiotic populations. The very high amino acid sequence identity (97-100%) and the high nucleic acid sequence identity (90-98%) of these marker enzymes in two geographically distant symbiont populations suggests that the association of Z. niveum with Cand. Thiobios zoothamnicoli is very specific as well as temporally and spatially stable.

  • probeCheck - a central resource for evaluating oligonucleotide probe coverage and specificity

    Loy A, Arnold R, Tischler P, Rattei T, Wagner M, Horn M
    2008 - Environ. Microbiol., 10: 2894-2896


    The web server probeCheck, freely accessible at, provides a pivotal forum for rapid specificity and coverage evaluations of probes and primers against selected databases of phylogenetic and functional marker genes. Currently, 24 widely used sequence collections including the Ribosomal Database Project (RDP) II, Greengenes, SILVA, and the Functional Gene Pipeline/Repository can be queried. For this purpose, probeCheck integrates a new online version of the popular ARB probe match tool with free energy (ΔG) calculations for each perfectly-matched and mismatched probe-target hybrid, allowing assessment of the theoretical binding stabilities of oligo-target and non-target hybrids. For each output sequence, the accession number, the GenBank taxonomy, and a link to the respective entry at GenBank, EMBL, and, if applicable, the query database is displayed. Filtering options allow customizing results on the output page. In addition, probeCheck is linked with probe match tools of RDP II and Greengenes, NCBI Blast, the Oligonucleotide Properties Calculator, the two-state folding tool of the DINAMelt server, and the rRNA-targeted probe database probeBase. Taken together, these features provide a multifunctional platform with maximal flexibility for the user in the choice of databases and options for the evaluation of published and newly developed probes and primers.

  • Diversity of bacterial endosymbionts of environmental Acanthamoeba isolates

    Schmitz-Esser S, Toenshoff ER, Haider S, Heinz E, Hoenninger VM, Wagner M, Horn M
    2008 - Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 74: 5822-5831


    Free-living amoebae are frequent hosts for bacterial endosymbionts. In this study, the symbionts of eight novel environmental Acanthamoeba strains isolated from different locations worldwide were characterized. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that they were related to either of four evolutionary lineages of amoeba symbionts recognized previously. This study provides evidence for the existence of only a small number of phylogenetically well separated groups of obligate intracellular endosymbionts of acanthamoebae with global distribution.

  • Lawsonia intracellularis encodes a functional rickettsia-like ATP/ADP translocase for host exploitation

    Schmitz-Esser S, Haferkamp I, Knab S, Penz T, Ast M, Kohl C, Wagner M, Horn M
    2008 - J. Bacteriol., 190: 5746-5752


    ATP/ADP translocases are a hallmark of obligate intracellular pathogens related to chlamydiae and rickettsiae. These proteins catalyze the highly specific exchange of bacterial ADP against host ATP and thus allow bacteria to exploit the hosts’ energy pool, a process also referred to as energy parasitism. The genome sequence of the obligate intracellular pathogen Lawsonia intracellularis (Deltaproteobacteria), responsible for one of the most economically important diseases in swine industry worldwide, revealed the presence of a putative ATP/ADP translocase most similar to known ATP/ADP translocases of chlamydiae and rickettsiae (around 47% amino acid sequence identity). The gene coding for the putative ATP/ADP translocase of L. intracellularis (LiNTT1) was cloned and expressed in the heterologous host Escherichia coli. Transport properties of LiNTT1 were determined by measuring uptake of radioactively labeled substrates into E. coli. LiNTT1 transported ATP in a counter exchange mode with ADP in a highly specific manner; determined substrate affinities were 236.3 (± 36.5) µM for ATP and 275.2 (± 28.1) µM for ADP, identifying this protein as functional ATP/ADP translocase. LiNTT1 is the first ATP/ADP translocase from a bacterium not related to Chlamydiae or Rickettsiales, showing that energy parasitism by ATP/ADP translocases is more widespread than previously recognized. The occurrence of an ATP/ADP translocase in L. intracellularis is explained by a relatively recent horizontal gene transfer event, with rickettsiae as donor.

  • Chlamydiae as symbionts in eukaryotes

    2008 - Ann. Rev. Microbiol., 62: 113-131


    Members of the phylum Chlamydiae are obligate intracellular bacteria that were discovered about a century ago. Although Chlamydiae are major pathogens of humans and animals, they were long recognized only as a phylogenetically well-separated, small group of closely related microorganisms. The diversity of chlamydiae, their host range, and their occurrence in the environment had been largely underestimated. Today, several chlamydia-like bacteria have been described as symbionts of free-living amoebae and other eukaryotic hosts. Some of these environmental chlamydiae might also be of medical relevance for humans. Their analysis has contributed to a broader understanding of chlamydial biology and to novel insights into the evolution of these unique microorganisms.

  • Chlamydia-like bacteria in respiratory samples of community-acquired pneumonia patients

    Haider S, Collingro A, Walochnik J, Wagner M, Horn M
    2008 - FEMS Microbiol. Lett., 281: 198-202


    Chlamydia-like bacteria, obligate intracellular relatives of Chlamydia trachomatis and Chlamydophila pneumoniae, are widely distributed in nature. Using a two-step nested and semi-nested PCR approach targeting the 16S rRNA gene, we found DNA of chlamydia-like bacteria in respiratory samples from patients with community-acquired pneumonia. Four out of 387 cases (1.03%) tested positive if only sequences showing less than 99.9% 16S rRNA sequence similarity to known chlamydiae were considered. These included for the first time Protochlamydia amoebophila, Waddlia chondrophila, and ‘Candidatus Rhabdochlamydia porcellionis’-related sequences. This study extends previous findings suggesting an association of chlamydia-like bacteria with respiratory disease, but a causal link between these microorganisms and respiratory tract infections has yet to be established.

  • Enlightening energy parasitism by analysis of an ATP/ADP transporter from chlamydiae

    Trentmann O, Horn M, van Scheltinga AC, Neuhaus HE, Haferkamp I
    2007 - PLoS Biol., 9: e231


    Energy parasitism by ATP/ADP transport proteins is an essential, common feature of intracellular bacteria such as chlamydiae and rickettsiae, which are major pathogens of humans. Although several ATP/ADP transport proteins have so far been characterized, some fundamental questions regarding their function remained unaddressed. In this study, we focused on the detailed biochemical analysis of a representative ATP/ADP transporter (PamNTT1), from the amoeba symbiont Protochlamydia amoebophila (UWE25) to further clarify the principle of energy exploitation. We succeeded in the purification of the first bacterial nucleotide transporter (NTT) and its functional reconstitution into artificial lipid vesicles. Reconstituted PamNTT1 revealed high import velocities for ATP and an unexpected and previously unobserved stimulating effect of the luminal ADP on nucleotide import affinities. Latter preference of the nucleotide hetero-exchange is independent of the membrane potential, and therefore, PamNTT1 not only structurally but also functionally differs from the well-characterized mitochondrial ADP/ATP carriers. Reconstituted PamNTT1 exhibits a bidirectional orientation in lipid vesicles, but interestingly, only carriers inserted with the N-terminus directed to the proteoliposomal interior are functional. The data presented here comprehensively explain the functional basis of how the intracellular P. amoebophila manages to exploit the energy pool of its host cell effectively by using the nucleotide transporter PamNTT1. This membrane protein mediates a preferred import of ATP, which is additionally stimulated by a high internal (bacterial) ADP/ATP ratio, and the orientation-dependent functionality of the transporter ensures that it is not working in a mode that is detrimental to P. amoebophila. Heterologous expression and purification of high amounts of PamNTT1 provides the basis for its crystallization and detailed structure/function analyses. Furthermore, functional reconstitution of this essential chlamydial protein paves the way for high-throughput uptake studies in order to screen for specific inhibitors potentially suitable as anti-chlamydial drugs.

  • An Acanthamoeba sp. containing two phylogenetically different bacterial endosymbionts

    Heinz E, Kolarov I, Kästner C, Toenshoff ER, Wagner M, Horn M
    2007 - Environ. Microbiol., 9: 1604-1609


    Acanthamoebae are ubiquitous free-living amoebae and important predators of microbial communities. They frequently contain obligate intracellular bacterial symbionts, which show a world-wide distribution. All Acanthamoeba spp. described so far harboured no or only a single specific endosymbiont phylotype, and in some cases evidence for co-evolution between the symbiotic bacteria and the amoeba host has been reported. In this study we have isolated and characterized an Acanthamoeba sp. (strain OEW1) showing a stable symbiotic relationship with two morphologically different endosymbionts. 16S rRNA sequence analysis assigned these symbionts to the candidate genus Procabacter (Betaproteobacteria) and the genus Parachlamydia (Chlamydiae), respectively. Fluorescence in situ hybridization and transmission electron microscopy confirmed the affiliation of the endosymbionts and showed their co-occurrence in the amoeba host cells and their intracellular location within separate compartments enclosed by host-derived membranes. Further analysis of this stable relationship should provide novel insights into the complex interactions of intracellular multiple-partner associations.

  • probeBase - an online resource for rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes: new features 2007

    Loy A, Maixner F, Wagner M, Horn M
    2007 - Nucleic Acids Res., 35: D800-D804


    probeBase is a curated database of annotated rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes and supporting information. Rapid access to probe, microarray and reference data is achieved by powerful search tools and via different lists that are based on selected categories such as functional or taxonomic properties of the target organism(s), or the hybridization format (fluorescence in situ hybridization or microarray) in which the probes were applied. Additional information on probe coverage and specificity is available through direct submissions of probe sequences from probeBase to RDP-II and Greengenes, two major rRNA sequence databases. A freely-editable user comments field for each probe entry allows any user to add, modify, or remove information, or to report errors in real-time. probeBase entries increased from 700 to more than 1,200 during the past three years. Several options for submission of single probes or entire probe sets, even prior to publication of newly developed probes, should further contribute to keeping probeBase an up-to-date and useful resource. probeBase is freely accessible at Email correspondence can be addressed to

  • Tapping the nucleotide pool of the host: novel nucleotide carrier proteins of Protochlamydia amoebophila

    Haferkamp I, Schmitz-Esser S, Wagner M, Neigel N, Horn M, Neuhaus HE
    2006 - Mol. Microbiol., 60: 1534-1545


    Protochlamydia amoebophila UWE25 is related to the Chlamydiaceae comprising major pathogens of humans, but thrives as obligate intracellular symbiont in the protozoan host Acanthamoeba sp. The genome of P. amoebophila encodes five paralogous carrier proteins belonging to the nucleotide transporter (NTT) family. Here we report on three P. amoebophila NTT isoforms, PamNTT2, PamNTT3, and PamNTT5, which possess several conserved amino acid residues known to be critical for nucleotide transport. We demonstrated that these carrier proteins are able to transport nucleotides, although substrate specificities and mode of transport differ in an unexpected manner and are unique among known NTTs. PamNTT2 is a counter exchange transporter exhibiting sub-millimolar apparent affinities for all four RNA nucleotides, PamNTT3 catalyses an unidirectional proton-coupled transport confined to UTP, whereas PamNTT5 mediates a proton-energized GTP and ATP import. All NTT genes of P. amoebophila are transcribed during intracellular multiplication in acanthamoebae. The biochemical characterization of all five NTT proteins from P. amoebophila in this and previous studies uncovered that these metabolically impaired bacteria are intimately connected with their host cell’s metabolism in a surprisingly complex manner.

  • The Planctomycetes, Verrucomicrobia, Chlamydiae and sister phyla comprise a superphylum with biotechnological and medical relevance.

    2006 - Curr. Opin. Biotechnol., 3: 241-9


    In the rRNA-based tree of life four bacterial phyla, comprising the Planctomycetes, Verrucomicrobia, Chlamydiae and Lentisphaerae, form together with the candidate phyla Poribacteria and OP3 a monophyletic group referred to as the PVC superphylum. This assemblage contains organisms that possess dramatically different lifestyles and which colonize sharply contrasting habitats. Some members of this group are among the most successful human pathogens, others are abundant soil microbes, and others still are of major importance for the marine nitrogen cycle and hold much promise for sustainable wastewater treatment. Recent comparative genomic and metagenomic analyses of a few representatives of this group revealed many unusual features and generated unexpected hypotheses regarding their physiology, some of which have already been confirmed experimentally. Furthermore, the availability of these genome sequences offered new insights into the evolutionary history of this peculiar group of microbes with major medical, ecological and biotechnological relevance.

  • Deciphering the evolution and metabolism of an anammox bacterium from a community genome

    Strous M, Pelletier E, Mangenot S, Rattei T, Lehner A, Taylor MW, Horn M, Daims H, Collingro A, 25 other authors, Schmid MC, Wagner M, Le Paslier D
    2006 - Nature, 440: 790-794


    Anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) has become a main focus in oceanography and wastewater treatment. It is also the nitrogen cycle's major remaining biochemical enigma. Among its features, the occurrence of hydrazine as a free intermediate of catabolism, the biosynthesis of ladderane lipids and the role of cytoplasm differentiation are unique in biology. Here we use environmental genomics the reconstruction of genomic data directly from the environment to assemble the genome of the uncultured anammox bacterium Kuenenia stuttgartiensis from a complex bioreactor community. The genome data illuminate the evolutionary history of the Planctomycetes and allow us to expose the genetic blueprint of the organism's special properties. Most significantly, we identified candidate genes responsible for ladderane biosynthesis and biological hydrazine metabolism, and discovered unexpected metabolic versatility.

  • Candidatus Thiobios zoothamnicoli, an ectosymbiotic bacterium covering the giant marine ciliate Zoothamnium niveum

    Rinke C, Schmitz-Esser S, Stoecker K, Nussbaumer AD, Molnár DA, Vanura K, Wagner M, Horn M, Ott J, Bright M
    2006 - Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 72: 2014-2021


    Zoothamnium niveum is a giant, colonial marine ciliate from sulfide-rich habitats obligatorily covered with chemoautotrophic, sulfide-oxidizing bacteria which appear as coccoid rods and rods with a series of intermediate shapes. Comparative 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis and fluorescence in situ hybridization showed that the ectosymbiont of Z. niveum belongs to only one pleomorphic phylotype. The Z. niveum ectosymbiont is only moderately related to previously identified groups of thiotrophic symbionts within the Gammaproteobacteria, and shows highest 16S rRNA sequence similarity with the free-living sulfur-oxidizing bacterial strain ODIII6 from shallow-water hydrothermal vents of the Mediterranean Sea (94.5%) and an endosymbiont from a deep-sea hydrothermal vent gastropod of the Indian Ocean Ridge (93.1%). A replacement of this specific ectosymbiont by a variety of other bacteria was observed only for senescent basal parts of the host colonies. The taxonomic status "Candidatus Thiobios zoothamnicoli" is proposed for the ectosymbiont of Z. niveum based on its ultrastructure, its 16S rRNA gene, the intergenic spacer region, and its partial 23S rRNA gene sequence.

  • 'Candidatus Protochlamydia amoebophila', an endosymbiont of Acanthamoeba spp

    Collingro A, Toenshoff ER, Taylor MW, Fritsche TR, Wagner M, Horn M
    2005 - Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol., 55: 1863-1866


    The obligately intracellular coccoid bacterium UWE25, a symbiont of Acanthamoeba spp., was previously identified as being related to chlamydiae based upon the presence of a chlamydia-like developmental cycle and its 16S rRNA gene sequence. Analysis of its complete genome sequence demonstrated that UWE25 shows many characteristic features of chlamydiae, including dependency on host-derived metabolites, composition of the cell envelope and the ability to thrive as an energy parasite within the cells of its eukaryotic host. Phylogenetic analysis of 44 ribosomal proteins further confirmed the affiliation of UWE25 to the 'Chlamydiae'. Within this phylum, UWE25 could be assigned to the family Parachlamydiaceae based on comparative analyses of the 16S rRNA, 23S rRNA and endoribonuclease P RNA genes. The distinct dissimilarities from its closest relative, Parachlamydia acanthamoebae Bn(9)(T) (7.1, 9.7 and 28.8%, respectively), observed in this analysis justify its classification in a new genus. Therefore, the name 'Candidatus Protochlamydia amoebophila' is proposed for the designation of the Acanthamoeba sp. symbiont UWE25 (=ATCC PRA-7).

  • Novel chlamydiae in whiteflies and scale insects: endosymbionts "Candidatus Fritschea bemisiae" strain Falk and "Candidatus Fritschea eriococci" strain Elm

    Everett KDE, Thao M, Horn M, Dyszynski GLE, Baumann P
    2005 - Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol., 55: 1581-1587


    Bacteria called ‘Fritschea’ are endosymbionts of the plant-feeding whitefly Bemisia tabaci and scale insect Eriococcus spurius. In the gut of B. tabaci, these bacteria live within bacteriocyte cells that are transmitted directly from the parent to oocytes. Whiteflies cause serious economic damage to many agricultural crops; B. tabaci fecundity and host range are less than those of Bemisia argentifolii, possibly due to the presence of this endosymbiont. The B. tabaci endosymbiont has been characterized using electron microscopy and DNA analysis but has not been isolated or propagated outside of insects. The present study compared sequences for 11 endosymbiont genes to genomic data for chlamydial families Parachlamydiaceae, Chlamydiaceae and Simkaniaceae and to 16S rRNA gene signature sequences from 330 chlamydiae. We concluded that it was appropriate to propose ‘Candidatus Fritschea bemisiae’ strain Falk and ‘Candidatus Fritschea eriococci’ strain Elm as members of the family Simkaniaceae in the Chlamydiales.

  • Amoeba as training grounds intracellular bacterial pathogens

    Molmeret M, Horn M, Wagner M, Santic M, Abu Kwaik Y
    2005 - Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 71: 20-28
  • Recovery of an environmental chlamydia strain from activated sludge by co-cultivation with Acanthamoeba sp

    Collingro A, Poppert S, Heinz E, Schmitz-Esser S, Essig A, Schweikert M, Wagner M, Horn M
    2005 - Microbiology, 151: 301-309


    Chlamydiae are a unique group of obligate intracellular bacteria comprising important pathogens of vertebrates as well as symbionts of free-living amoebae. Although there is ample molecular evidence for a huge diversity and wide distribution of chlamydiae in nature, environmental chlamydiae are currently represented by only few isolates. This paper reports the recovery of a novel environmental chlamydia strain from activated sludge by co-cultivation with Acanthamoeba sp. The recovered environmental chlamydia strain UV-7 showed the characteristic morphology of chlamydial developmental stages as revealed by electron microscopy and was identified as a new member of the family Parachlamydiaceae (98.7 % 16S rRNA sequence similarity to Parachlamydia acanthamoebae). Infection studies suggested that Parachlamydia sp. UV-7 is not confined to amoeba hosts but is also able to invade mammalian cells. These findings outline a new straightforward approach to retrieving environmental chlamydiae from nature without prior, tedious isolation and cultivation of their natural host cells, and lend further support to suggested implications of environmental chlamydiae for public health.

  • Morphological and molecular investigations of Paramecium schewiakoffi sp. nov. (Ciliophora, Oligohymenophorea) and current status of distribution and taxonomy of Paramecium spp

    Fokin SI, Przybos E, Chivilev SM, Beier CL, Horn M, Skotarczak B, Wodecka B, Fujishima M
    2004 - Europ. J. Protist., 40: 225-243
  • Chlamydial endocytobionts of free-living amoebae differentially affect the growth rate of their hosts

    Collingro A, Walochnik J, Baranyi C, Michel R, Wagner M, Horn M, Aspöck H
    2004 - Europ. J. Protist., 40: 57-60
  • A candidate NAD+ transporter in an intracellular bacterial symbiont related to chlamydiae

    Haferkamp I, Schmitz-Esser S, Linka N, Urbany C, Collingro A, Wagner M, Horn M, Neuhaus HE
    2004 - Nature, 432: 622-625


    Bacteria living within eukaryotic cells can be essential for the survival or reproduction of the host but in other cases are among the most successful pathogens. Environmental Chlamydiae, including strain UWE25, thrive as obligate intracellular symbionts within protozoa; are recently discovered relatives of major bacterial pathogens of humans; and also infect human cells. Genome analysis of UWE25 predicted that this symbiont is unable to synthesize the universal electron carrier nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+). Compensation of limited biosynthetic capacity in intracellular bacteria is usually achieved by import of primary metabolites. Here, we report the identification of a candidate transporter protein from UWE25 that is highly specific for import of NAD+ when synthesized heterologously in Escherichia coli. The discovery of this candidate NAD+/ADP exchanger demonstrates that intact NAD+ molecules can be transported through cytoplasmic membranes. This protein acts together with a newly discovered nucleotide transporter and an ATP/ADP translocase, and allows UWE25 to exploit its host cell by means of a sophisticated metabolic parasitism.

  • Bacterial endosymbionts of free-living amoebae

    2004 - J. Euk. Microbiol., 51: 509-514


    The occurrence of bacterial endosymbionts in free-living amoebae has been known for decades, but their obligate intracellular lifestyle hampered their identification. Only recently, application of the full cycle rRNA approach including 16S rRNA gene sequencing and fluorescence in situ hybridization with 16S rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes assigned the symbionts of Acanthamoeba spp. and Hartmannella sp. to five different evolutionary lineages within the Proteobacteria, the Bacteroidetes, and the Chlamydiae, respectively. Some of these bacterial symbionts are most closely related to bacterial pathogens of humans, and it has been suggested that they should be considered potential emerging pathogens. Complete genome sequence analysis of a chlamydia-related symbiont of Acanthamoeba sp. showed that this endosymbiont uses similar mechanisms for interaction with its eukaryotic host cell as well known bacterial pathogens of humans. Furthermore, phylogenetic analysis suggested that these mechanisms have been invented by the ancestor of the amoeba symbionts in interplay with ancient unicellular eukaryotes.

  • Discovery of the novel candidate phylum "Poribacteria" in marine sponges

    Fieseler L, Horn M, Wagner M, Hentschel U
    2004 - Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 70: 3724-3732


    Marine sponges (Porifera) harbor large amounts of commensal microbial communities within the sponge mesohyl. We employed 16S rRNA gene library construction using specific PCR primers to provide insights into the phylogenetic identity of an abundant sponge-associated bacterium that is morphologically characterized by the presence of a membrane-bound nucleoid. In this study, we report the presence of a previously unrecognized evolutionary lineage branching deeply in the domain Bacteria that is moderately related to the Planctomycetes, Verrucomicrobia, and Chlamydia lines of decent. Because members of this lineage showed <75% 16S rRNA gene sequence similarity to known bacterial phyla, we suggest the status of a new candidate phylum, named "Poribacteria", to acknowledge the affiliation of the new bacterium with sponges. The affiliation of the morphologically conspicuous sponge bacterium with the novel phylogenetic lineage was confirmed by fluorescence in situ hybridization with newly designed probes targeting different sites of the poribacterial 16S rRNA. Consistent with electron microscopic observations of cell compartmentalization, the fluorescence signals appeared in a ring-shaped manner. PCR screening with "Poribacteria"-specific primers gave positive results for several other sponge species, while samples taken from the environment (seawater, sediments, and a filter-feeding tunicate) were PCR negative. In addition to a report for Planctomycetes, this is the second report of cell compartmentalization, a feature that was considered exclusive to the eukaryotic domain, in prokaryotes.

  • Abstract: 

    Chlamydiae are the major cause of preventable blindness and sexually transmitted disease. Genome analysis of a chlamydia-related symbiont of free-living amoebae revealed that it is twice as large as any of the pathogenic chlamydiae and had few signs of recent lateral gene acquisition. We showed that about 700 million years ago the last common ancestor of pathogenic and symbiotic chlamydiae was already adapted to intracellular survival in early eukaryotes and contained many virulence factors found in modern pathogenic chlamydiae, including a type III secretion system. Ancient chlamydiae appear to be the originators of mechanisms for the exploitation of eukaryotic cells.

  • ATP/ADP translocases: A common feature of obligate intracellular amoebal symbionts related to chlamydiae and rickettsiae

    Schmitz-Esser S, Linka N, Collingro A, Beier CL, Neuhaus HE, Wagner M, Horn M
    2004 - J. Bacteriol., 186: 683-691


    ATP/ADP translocases catalyze the highly specific transport of ATP across a membrane in an exchange mode with ADP. Such unique transport proteins are employed by plant plastids and have among the prokaryotes so far only been identified in few obligate intracellular bacteria belonging to the Chlamydiales and the Rickettsiales. In this study, 12 phylogenetically diverse bacterial endosymbionts of free-living amoebae and paramecia were screened for the presence of genes encoding ATP/ADP transport proteins. The occurrence of ATP/ADP translocase genes was found to be restricted to endosymbionts related to rickettsiae and chlamydiae. We showed that the ATP/ADP transport protein of the Parachlamydia-related endosymbiont of Acanthamoeba sp. strain UWE25, a recently identified relative of the important human pathogens Chlamydia trachomatis and Chlamydophila pneumoniae, is functional when expressed in the heterologous host Escherichia coli and demonstrated the presence of transcripts during the chlamydial developmental cycle. These findings indicate that the interaction between Parachlamydia-related endosymbionts and their amoeba hosts concerns energy parasitism similar to the interaction between pathogenic chlamydiae and their human host cells. Phylogenetic analysis of all known ATP/ADP translocases indicated that the genes encoding ATP/ADP translocases originated from a chlamydial ancestor and were, after an ancient gene duplication, transferred horizontally to rickettsiae and plants.

  • Monitoring microbial diversity and natural products profiles of the sponge Aplysina cavernicola following transplantation

    Thoms C, Horn M, Wagner M, Hentschel U, Proksch P
    2003 - Marine Biology, 142: 685-692
  • The isotope array, a new tool that employs substrate-mediated labeling of rRNA for determination of microbial community structure and function

    Adamczyk J, Hesselsoe M, Iversen N, Horn M, Lehner A, Nielsen PH, Schloter M, Roslev P, Wagner M
    2003 - Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 69: 6875-6887


    A new microarray method, the isotope array approach, for identifying microorganisms which consume a (14)C-labeled substrate within complex microbial communities was developed. Experiments were performed with a small microarray consisting of oligonucleotide probes targeting the 16S rRNA of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB). Total RNA was extracted from a pure culture of Nitrosomonas eutropha grown in the presence of [(14)C]bicarbonate. After fluorescence labeling of the RNA and microarray hybridization, scanning of all probe spots for fluorescence and radioactivity revealed that specific signals were obtained and that the incorporation of (14)C into rRNA could be detected unambiguously. Subsequently, we were able to demonstrate the suitability of the isotope array approach for monitoring community composition and CO(2) fixation activity of AOB in two nitrifying activated-sludge samples which were incubated with [(14)C]bicarbonate for up to 26 h. AOB community structure in the activated-sludge samples, as predicted by the microarray hybridization pattern, was confirmed by quantitative fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and comparative amoA sequence analyses. CO(2) fixation activities of the AOB populations within the complex activated-sludge communities were detectable on the microarray by (14)C incorporation and were confirmed independently by combining FISH and microautoradiography. AOB rRNA from activated sludge incubated with radioactive bicarbonate in the presence of allylthiourea as an inhibitor of AOB activity showed no incorporation of (14)C and thus was not detectable on the radioactivity scans of the microarray. These results suggest that the isotope array can be used in a PCR-independent manner to exploit the high parallelism and discriminatory power of microarrays for the direct identification of microorganisms which consume a specific substrate in the environment.

  • Fluorescence in situ hybridisation for the identification and charcterisation of prokaryotes

    2003 - Curr. Opin. Microbiol., 6: 302-309


    Fluorescence in situ hybridisation with rRNA-targeted nucleic acid probes can be used to directly identify microorganisms within complex samples in a few hours and therefore has widespread application in environmental and medical microbiology. The past year has seen significant methodological improvements in fluorescence in situ hybridisation, as well as in the combination of this method with other techniques for inferring functional traits of microorganisms within their environment.

  • Molecular analysis of bacteria in periodontitis: evaluation of clone libraries, novel phylotypes and putative pathogens

    Hutter G, Schlagenhauf U, Valenza G, Horn M, Burgemeister S, Claus H, Vogel U
    2003 - Microbiology, 149: 67-75


    Subgingival plaque samples were obtained from 26 subjects with advanced periodontal lesions. Bacterial diversity was analysed by amplification of the 16S rRNA genes with two different primer sets, and subsequent cloning and sequencing. A total of 578 sequences was analysed after the exclusion of chimeras. The authors found 148 phylotypes with the clone library 27f/519r (number of clones n=322; coverage, C=66 %) and 75 phylotypes with the clone library 515f/1525r (n=256; C=84 %). Comparative sequence analysis revealed that 70 % of all of the analysed sequences showed a similarity of at least 99 % to sequences deposited in public databases. The classes Actinobacteria, Bacilli, Bacteroidetes, Clostridia, Deferribacteres, Flavobacteria, Fusobacteria, Mollicutes, Spirochaetes and all classes of the Proteobacteria were represented. Sequences that were at least 99 % identical to Porphyromonas gingivalis, Filifactor alocis and Treponema socranskii were present in at least one-third of the patients. Libraries generated with the two PCR primer pairs differed significantly in their representation of the families Porphyromonadaceae, Prevotellaceae, Fusobacteriaceae, Eubacteriaceae, Streptococcaceae and ACIDAMINOCOCCACEAE: A total of 14 sequences exhibited less than 97 % identity to sequences published previously and were assigned to six different families within the phyla Bacteroidetes and FIRMICUTES: Twelve of 20 putative pathogens were recovered, which were recently proposed to be associated with periodontitis

  • probeBase - an online resource for rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes

    2003 - Nucleic Acids Res., 31: 514-516


    Ribosomal RNA-(rRNA)-targeted oligonucleotide probes are widely used for culture-independent identification of microorganisms in environmental and clinical samples. ProbeBase is a comprehensive database containing more than 700 published rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probe sequences (status August 2002) with supporting bibliographic and biological annotation that can be accessed through the internet at Each oligonucleotide probe entry contains information on target organisms, target molecule (small- or large-subunit rRNA) and position, G+C content, predicted melting temperature, molecular weight, necessity of competitor probes, and the reference that originally described the oligonucleotide probe, including a link to the respective abstract at PubMed. In addition, probes successfully used for fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) are highlighted and the recommended hybridization conditions are listed. ProbeBase also offers difference alignments for 16S rRNA-targeted probes by using the probe match tool of the ARB software and the latest small-subunit rRNA ARB database (release June 2002). The option to directly submit probe sequences to the probe match tool of the Ribosomal Database Project II (RDP-II) further allows one to extract supplementary information on probe specificities. The two main features of probeBase, 'search probeBase' and 'find probe set', help researchers to find suitable, published oligonucleotide probes for microorganisms of interest or for rRNA gene sequences submitted by the user. Furthermore, the 'search target site' option provides guidance for the development of new FISH probes.

  • The genus Caedibacter comprises endosymbionts of Paramecium spp. related to the Rickettsiales (Alphaproteobacteria) and to Francisella tularensis (Gammaproteobacteria)

    Beier CL, Horn M, Michel R, Schweikert M, Gortz HD, Wagner M
    2002 - Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 68: 6043-6050


    Obligate bacterial endosymbionts of paramecia able to form refractile inclusion bodies (R bodies), thereby conferring a killer trait upon their ciliate hosts, have traditionally been grouped into the genus CAEDIBACTER: Of the six species described to date, only the Paramecium caudatum symbiont Caedibacter caryophilus has been phylogenetically characterized by its 16S rRNA gene sequence, and it was found to be a member of the Alphaproteobacteria related to the RICKETTSIALES: In this study, the Caedibacter taeniospiralis type strain, an R-body-producing cytoplasmatic symbiont of Paramecium tetraurelia strain 51k, was investigated by comparative 16S rRNA sequence analysis and fluorescence in situ hybridization with specific oligonucleotide probes. C. taeniospiralis is not closely related to C. caryophilus (80% 16S rRNA sequence similarity) but forms a novel evolutionary lineage within the Gammaproteobacteria with the family Francisellaceae as a sister group (87% 16S rRNA sequence similarity). These findings demonstrate that the genus Caedibacter is polyphyletic and comprises at least two phylogenetically different bacterial species belonging to two different classes of the PROTEOBACTERIA: Comparative phylogenetic analysis of C. caryophilus, five closely related Acanthamoeba endosymbionts (including one previously uncharacterized amoebal symbiont identified in this study), and their hosts suggests that the progenitor of the alphaproteobacterial C. caryophilus lived within acanthamoebae prior to the infection of paramecia.

  • Molecular evidence for a uniform microbial community in sponges from different oceans

    Hentschel U, Hopke J, Horn M, Friedrich AB, Wagner M, Hacker J, Moore BS
    2002 - Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 68: 4431-4440


    Sponges (class Porifera) are evolutionarily ancient metazoans that populate the tropical oceans in great abundances but also occur in temperate regions and even in freshwater. Sponges contain large numbers of bacteria that are embedded within the animal matrix. The phylogeny of these bacteria and the evolutionary age of the interaction are virtually unknown. In order to provide insights into the species richness of the microbial community of sponges, we performed a comprehensive diversity survey based on 190 sponge-derived 16S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) sequences. The sponges Aplysina aerophoba and Theonella swinhoei were chosen for construction of the bacterial 16S rDNA library because they are taxonomically distantly related and they populate nonoverlapping geographic regions. In both sponges, a uniform microbial community was discovered whose phylogenetic signature is distinctly different from that of marine plankton or marine sediments. Altogether 14 monophyletic, sponge-specific sequence clusters were identified that belong to at least seven different bacterial divisions. By definition, the sequences of each cluster are more closely related to each other than to a sequence from nonsponge sources. These monophyletic clusters comprise 70% of all publicly available sponge-derived 16S rDNA sequences, reflecting the generality of the observed phenomenon. This shared microbial fraction represents the smallest common denominator of the sponges investigated in this study. Bacteria that are exclusively found in certain host species or that occur only transiently would have been missed. A picture emerges where sponges can be viewed as highly concentrated reservoirs of so far uncultured and elusive marine microorganisms.

  • Detection and differentiation of chlamydiae by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH)

    Poppert S, Essig A, Marre R, Wagner M, Horn M
    2002 - Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 68: 4081-4089


    Chlamydiae are important pathogens of humans and animals but diagnosis of chlamydial infections is still hampered by inadequate detection methods. Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) using rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes is widely used for the investigation of uncultured bacteria in complex microbial communities and has recently also been shown to be a valuable tool for the rapid detection of various bacterial pathogens in clinical specimens. Here we report on the development and evaluation of a hierarchic probe set for the specific detection and differentiation of chlamydiae, particularly C. pneumoniae, C. trachomatis, C. psittaci, and the recently described chlamydia-like bacteria comprising the novel genera Neochlamydia and PARACHLAMYDIA: The specificity of the nine newly developed probes was successfully demonstrated by in situ hybridization of experimentally infected amoebae and HeLa 229 cells, including HeLa 229 cells coinfected with C. pneumoniae and C. trachomatis. FISH reliably stained chlamydial inclusions as early as 12 h postinfection. The sensitivity of FISH was further confirmed by combination with direct fluorescence antibody staining. In contrast to previously established detection methods for chlamydiae, FISH was not susceptible to false-positive results and allows the detection of all recognized chlamydiae in one single step.

  • Various bacterial pathogens and symbionts infect the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum

    Skriwan C, Fajardo M, Hagele S, Horn M, Wagner M, Michel R, Krohne G, Schleicher M, Hacker J, Steinert M
    2002 - Int. J. Med. Microbiol., 291: 615-624


    The haploid soil amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum is a suitable model organism to study host-pathogen interactions with Legionella pneumophila. In this study we show that D. discoideum AX2 is also susceptible to infection with other important human pathogens and obligate intracellular symbionts. Infection assays demonstrated that Legionella-like amoebal pathogens (LLAP K62), Mycobacterium avium and the obligate intracellular endosymbionts of Acanthamoeba sp. strains TUME1, UWE25 and UWC6 were able to multiply within Dictyostelium. Salmonella typhimurium and Pseudomonas aeruginosa also invaded Dictyostelium, however were degraded shortly after uptake. Comitin-minus host cells were more permissive to infections with L. pneumophila and LLAP K62. Furthermore, this mutation significantly delayed the degradation of S. typhimurium. Accompanying electron and fluorescence microscopy of infected AX2 cells revealed that L. pneumophila and M. avium replicate within vacuoles, while LLAP K62, TUME1 and UWE25 were tightly enclosed by membranous structures within the cytoplasm. The beta-proteobacterium UWC6 was found to persist in the cytoplasm. The observed subcellular locations which correspond to the locations within the respective natural hosts suggest that D. discoideum is a representative model system for these pathogens and symbionts.

  • Obligate bacterial endosymbionts of Acanthamoeba spp. related to the ß-subclass of Proteobacteria: proposal of 'Candidatus Procabacter acanthamoebae' gen. nov., sp. nov

    Horn M, Fritsche TR, Linner T, Gautom RK, Harzenetter MD, Wagner M
    2002 - Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol., 52: 599–605


    All obligate bacterial endosymbionts of free-living amoebae currently described are affiliated with the alpha-Proteobacteria, the Chlamydiales or the phylum Cytophaga-Flavobacterium-Bacteroides. Here, six rod-shaped gram-negative obligate bacterial endosymbionts of clinical and environmental isolates of Acanthamoeba spp. from the USA and Malaysia are reported. Comparative 16S rDNA sequence analysis demonstrated that these endosymbionts form a novel, monophyletic lineage within the beta-Proteobacteria, showing less than 90% sequence similarity to all other recognized members of this subclass. 23S rDNA sequence analysis of two symbionts confirmed this affiliation and revealed the presence of uncommon putative intervening sequences of 146 bp within helix-25 that shared no sequence homology to any other bacterial rDNA. In addition, the 23S rRNA of these endosymbionts displayed one polymorphism at the target site of oligonucleotide probe BET42a that is conserved in all other sequenced beta-Proteobacteria. Intra-cytoplasmatic localization of the endosymbionts within the amoebal host cells was confirmed by electron microscopy and fluorescence in situ hybridization with a specific 16S rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probe. Based on these findings, the provisional name 'Candidatus Procabacter acanthamoebae' is proposed for classification of a representative of the six endosymbionts of Acanthamoeba spp. studied in this report. Comparative 18S rDNA sequence analysis of the Acanthamoeba host cells revealed their membership with either Acanthamoeba 18S rDNA sequence type T5 (Acanthamoeba lenticulata) or sequence type T4, which comprises the majority of all Acanthamoeba isolates.

  • Evidence for additional genus-level diversity of Chlamydiales in the environment

    2001 - FEMS Microbiol. Lett., 204: 71-74


    The medically important order Chlamydiales has long been considered to contain a few closely related bacteria which occur exclusively in animals and humans. This perception of diversity and habitat had to be revised with the recent identification of the genera Simkania, Waddlia, Parachlamydia, and Neochlamydia with the latter two comprising endosymbionts of amoebae. Application of a newly developed PCR assay for the specific amplification of a near full length 16S rDNA fragment of these novel Chlamydia-related bacteria on activated sludge samples revealed the existence of at least four additional, previously unknown evolutionary lineages of Chlamydiales (each showing less than 92% 16S rRNA sequence similarity with all recognized members of this order). These findings suggest that some waste water treatment plants represent reservoirs for a diverse assemblage of environmental chlamydiae, a discovery which might also be of relevance from the viewpoint of human public health.

  • Members of the Cytophaga-Flavobacterium-Bacteroides phylum as intracellular bacteria of acanthamoebae: proposal of 'Candidatus Amoebophilus asiaticus'

    Horn M, Harzenetter MD, Linner T, Schmid EN, Muller KD, Michel R, Wagner M
    2001 - Environ. Microbiol., 3: 440-449


    Three Gram-negative, rod-shaped bacteria that were found intracellularly in two environmental and one clinical Acanthamoeba sp. isolates were analysed. Two endocytobionts showing a parasitic behaviour were propagated successfully outside their amoebal host cells and were identified subsequently by comparative 16S rRNA sequence analysis as being most closely affiliated with Flavobacterium succinicans (99% 16S rRNA sequence similarity) or Flavobacterium johnsoniae (98% 16S rRNA sequence similarity). One endocytobiont could neither be cultivated outside its original Acanthamoeba host (Acanthamoeba sp. TUMSJ-321) nor transferred into other amoebae. Electron microscopy revealed that the amoebal trophozoites and cysts were almost completely filled with cells of this endosymbiont which are surrounded by a host-derived membrane. According to 16S rRNA sequence analysis, this endosymbiont could also be assigned to the Cytophaga-Flavobacterium-Bacteroides (CFB) phylum, but was not closely affiliated to any recognized species within this phylogenetic group (less than 82% 16S rRNA sequence similarity). Identity and intracellular localization of this endosymbiont were confirmed by application of a specific fluorescently labelled 16S rRNA-targeted probe. Based on these findings, we propose classification of this obligate Acanthamoeba endosymbiont as 'Candidatus Amoebophilus asiaticus'. Comparative 18S rRNA sequence analysis of the host of 'Candidatus Amoebophilus asiaticus' revealed its membership with Acanthamoeba 18S rDNA sequence type T4 that comprises the majority of all Acanthamoeba isolates.

  • Phylogenetic relationships of filamentous bacteria of the Eikelboom Type 021N isolated from bulking activated sludge and development of an encompassing set of 021N-specific oligonucleotide probes

    Kanagawa T, Kamagata Y, Aruga S, Kohno T, Horn M, Wagner M
    2000 - Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 66: 5043-5052


    Fifteen filamentous strains, morphologically classified as Eikelboom type 021N bacteria, were isolated from bulking activated sludges. Based on comparative 16S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) sequence analysis, all strains form a monophyletic cluster together with all recognized Thiothrix species (88.3 to 98.7% 16S rDNA sequence similarity) within the gamma-subclass of Proteobacteria. The investigated Eikelboom type 021N isolates were subdivided into three distinct groups (I to III) demonstrating a previously unrecognized genetic diversity hidden behind the uniform morphology of the filaments. For in situ detection of these bacteria, 16S rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes specific for the entire Eikelboom type 021N-Thiothrix cluster and the Eikelboom type 021N groups I, II, and III, respectively, were designed, evaluated, and successfully applied in activated sludge.

  • Neochlamydia hartmannellae gen. nov. sp. nov. (Parachlamydiaceae), an endoparasite of the amoeba Hartmannella vermiformis

    Horn M, Wagner M, Muller KD, Schmid EN, Fritsche TR, Schleifer KH, Michel R
    2000 - Microbiology, 146: 1231-1239


    Free-living amoebae are increasingly being recognized to serve as vehicles of dispersal for various bacterial human pathogens and as hosts for a variety of obligate bacterial endocytobionts. Several Chlamydia-like Acanthamoeba endocytobionts constituting the recently proposed family Parachlamydiaceae are of special interest as potential human pathogens. In this study coccoid bacterial endocytobionts of a Hartmannella vermiformis isolate were analysed. Infection of H. vermiformis with these bacteria resulted in prevention of cyst formation and subsequent host-cell lysis. Transfection experiments demonstrated that the parasites were not capable of propagating within other closely related free-living amoebae but were able to infect the distantly related species Dictyostelium discoideum. Electron microscopy of the parasites revealed typical morphological characteristics of the Chlamydiales, including the existence of a Chlamydia-like life-cycle, but indicated that these endocytobionts, in contrast to Chlamydia species, do not reside within a vacuole. Comparative 16S rRNA sequence analysis showed that the endocytobiont of H. vermiformis, classified as Neochlamydia hartmannellae gen. nov., sp. nov., is affiliated to the family Parachlamydiaceae. Confocal laser scanning microscopy in combination with fluorescence in situ hybridization using rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes confirmed the intracellular localization of the parasites and demonstrated the absence of other bacterial species within the Hartmannella host. These findings extend our knowledge of the phylogenetic diversity of the Parachlamydiaceae and demonstrate for the first time that these endocytobionts can naturally develop within amoebae of the genus Hartmannella.

  • Phylogenetic diversity among geographically dispersed Chlamydiales endosymbionts recovered from clinical and environmental isolates of Acanthamoeba spp

    Fritsche TR, Horn M, Wagner M, Herwig RP, Schleifer KH, Gautom RK
    2000 - Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 66: 2613-2619


    The recently proposed reorganization of the order Chlamydiales and description of new taxa are broadening our perception of this once narrowly defined taxon. We have recovered four strains of gram-negative cocci endosymbiotic in Acanthamoeba spp., representing 5% of the Acanthamoeba sp. isolates examined, which displayed developmental life cycles typical of members of the Chlamydiales. One of these endosymbiont strains was found stably infecting an amoebic isolate recovered from a case of amoebic keratitis in North America, with three others found in acanthamoebae recovered from environmental sources in North America (two isolates) and Europe (one isolate). Analyses of nearly full-length 16S rRNA gene sequences of these isolates by neighbor joining, parsimony, and distance matrix methods revealed their clustering with other members of the Chlamydiales but in a lineage separate from those of the genera Chlamydia, Chlamydophila, Simkania, and Waddlia (sequence similarities, <88%) and including the recently described species Parachlamydia acanthamoebae (sequence similarities, 91.2 to 93.1%). With sequence similarities to each other of 91.4 to 99.4%, these four isolates of intra-amoebal endosymbionts may represent three distinct species and, perhaps, new genera within the recently proposed family Parachlamydiaceae. Fluorescently labeled oligonucleotide probes targeted to 16S rRNA signature regions were able to readily differentiate two groups of intra-amoebal endosymbionts which corresponded to two phylogenetic lineages. These results reveal significant phylogenetic diversity occurring among the Chlamydiales in nontraditional host species and supports the existence of a large environmental reservoir of related species. Considering that all described species of Chlamydiales are known to be pathogenic, further investigation of intra-amoebal parachlamydiae as disease-producing agents is warranted.

  • In situ detection of novel bacterial endosymbionts of Acanthamoeba spp. phylogenetically related to members of the Rickettsiales

    Fritsche TR, Horn M, Seyedirashti S, Gautom RK, Schleifer KH, Wagner M
    1999 - Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 65: 206-212


    Acanthamoebae are ubiquitous soil and water bactivores which may serve as amplification vehicles for a variety of pathogenic facultative bacteria and as hosts to other, presently uncultured bacterial endosymbionts. The spectrum of uncultured endosymbionts includes gram-negative rods and gram-variable cocci, the latter recently shown to be members of the Chlamydiales. We report here the isolation from corneal scrapings of two Acanthamoeba strains that harbor gram-negative rod endosymbionts that could not be cultured by standard techniques. These bacteria were phylogenetically characterized following amplification and sequencing of the near-full-length 16S rRNA gene. We used two fluorescently labelled oligonucleotide probes targeting signature regions within the retrieved sequences to detect these organisms in situ. Phylogenetic analyses demonstrated that they displayed 99.6% sequence similarity and formed an independent and well-separated lineage within the Rickettsiales branch of the alpha subdivision of the Proteobacteria. Nearest relatives included members of the genus Rickettsia, with sequence similarities of approximately 85 to 86%, suggesting that these symbionts are representatives of a new genus and, perhaps, family. Distance matrix, parsimony, and maximum-likelihood tree-generating methods all consistently supported deep branching of the 16S rDNA sequences within the Rickettsiales. The oligonucleotide probes displayed at least three mismatches to all other available 16S rDNA sequences, and they both readily permitted the unambiguous detection of rod-shaped bacteria within intact acanthamoebae by confocal laser-scanning microscopy. Considering the long-standing relationship of most Rickettsiales with arthropods, the finding of a related lineage of endosymbionts in protozoan hosts was unexpected and may have implications for the preadaptation and/or recruitment of rickettsia-like bacteria to metazoan hosts.

  • Novel Bacterial Endosymbionts of Acanthamoeba isolates related to the Paramecium Symbiont Caedibacter caryophilus

    Horn M, Fritsche TR, Gautom RK, Schleifer KH, Wagner M
    1999 - Environ. Microbiol., 1: 357-367


    Acanthamoebae are increasingly being recognized as hosts for obligate bacterial endosymbionts, most of which are presently uncharacterized. In this study, the phylogeny of three Gram-negative, rod-shaped endosymbionts and their Acanthamoeba host cells was analysed by the rRNA approach. Comparative analyses of 16S rDNA sequences retrieved from amoebic cell lysates revealed that the endosymbionts of Acanthamoeba polyphaga HN-3, Acanthamoeba sp. UWC9 and Acanthamoeba sp. UWE39 are related to the Paramecium caudatum endosymbionts Caedibacter caryophilus, Holospora elegans and Holospora obtusa. With overall 16S rRNA sequence similarities to their closest relative, C. caryophilus, of between 87% and 93%, these endosymbionts represent three distinct new species. In situ hybridization with fluorescently labelled endosymbiont-specific 16S rRNA-targeted probes demonstrated that the retrieved 16S rDNA sequences originated from the endosymbionts and confirmed their intracellular localization. We propose to classify provisionally the endosymbiont of Acanthamoeba polyphaga HN-3 as 'Candidatus Caedibacter acanthamoebae', the endosymbiont of Acanthamoeba sp. strain UWC9 as 'Candidatus Paracaedibacter acanthamoebae' and the endosymbiont of Acanthamoeba sp. strain UWE39 as 'Candidatus Paracaedibacter symbiosus'. The phylogeny of the Acanthamoeba host cells was analysed by comparative sequence analyses of their 18S rRNA. Although Acanthamoeba polyphaga HN-3 clearly groups together with most of the known Acanthamoeba isolates (18S rRNA sequence type 4), Acanthamoeba sp. UWC9 and UWE39 exhibit <92% 18S rRNA sequence similarity to each other and to other Acanthamoeba isolates. Therefore, we propose two new sequence types (T13 and T14) within the genus Acanthamoeba containing, respectively, Acanthamoeba sp. UWC9 and Acanthamoeba sp. UWE39.

Book chapters and other publications

12 Publications found
  • Draft genome sequences of Chlamydiales bacterium STE3 and Neochlamydia sp. AcF84, endosymbionts of Acanthamoeba spp.

    Köstlbacher S, Michels S, Siegl A, Schulz F, Domman D, Jongwutiwes S, Putaporntip C, Horn M, Collingro A
    2020 - Microbiol Resour Announc, 9: e00220-20


    Chlamydiales bacterium STE3 and Neochlamydia sp. strain AcF84 are obligate intracellular symbionts of Acanthamoeba spp. isolated from the biofilm of a littoral cave wall and gills from striped tiger leaf fish, respectively. We report the draft genome sequences of these two environmental chlamydiae affiliated with the family Parachlamydiaceae.

  • Thinking outside the Chlamydia box

    Taylor-Brown, Halter T, Polkinghorne A, Horn M
    2020 - 429-458. in Chlamydia Biology. (M Tan, JH Hegemann, C Sütterlin). Caister Academic Press


    Chlamydiae have long been studied exclusively in the context of disease. Yet, accumulating evidence over nearly three decades shows that chlamydiae are ubiquitous in the environment, thriving as symbionts of unicellular eukaryotes such as amoeba and infecting a broad range of animal hosts. These chlamydiae share the characteristic chlamydial developmental cycle and other chlamydial hallmarks. Their discovery fundamentally changed our perspective on chlamydial diversity. Instead of a single genus, Chlamydia, including closely related pathogens, the chlamydiae comprise hundreds of families and genera. Investigating isolates and non-cultured representatives provided insights into features that are in common with or divergent from known Chlamydia species, and suggested that some of these chlamydiae may also be considered pathogens. Importantly, these studies have contributed to a better understanding of the biology of all chlamydiae, and they provide a framework for investigating the evolution of the chlamydial intracellular lifestyle and pathogenicity.

  • International Committee on Systematics of Prokaryotes (ICSP) Subcommittee on the taxonomy of Chlamydiae. Minutes of the closed meeting, 20 March 2019, Seattle, WA, USA.

    Borel N, Horn M, Greub G
    2019 - Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol., 69: 3654-3656
  • International Committee on Systematics of Prokaryotes
 - Subcommittee on the taxonomy of Chlamydiae. Meeting minutes

    Borel N, Bavoil P, Greub G, Horn M
    2018 - Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol., in press
  • Lessons from environmental chlamydiae

    Siegl A, Horn M
    2012 - 51-73. in Chlamydiales. (Tan M, Bavoil P). ASM Press, Washington DC


    This chapter summarizes work on environmental chlamydiae performed primarily between 2008 and early 2011. The first studies on environmental chlamydiae reported the discoveries of Waddlia chondrophila, which was isolated from an aborted bovine fetus. Traditionally, chlamydial elementary bodies (EBs) are regarded as spore-like forms which are metabolically inert. The extracellular activity of chlamydial EBs was dependent on the incubation medium used, which may explain why EBs have not been previously shown to be metabolically active. A key feature of the natural host of many environmental chlamydiae, Acanthamoeba spp., is its ability to form cysts under adverse environmental conditions. For obligate intracellular bacteria like the chlamydiae, the term “host cell interactions” can be subdivided into the following temporally and spatially separated stages: microbe-host recognition, internalization, replicative phase with host cell exploitation, and finally persistence within or release from the host cell to start another infectious cycle. Environmental chlamydiae have been detected in a wide variety of vertebrate and invertebrate hosts, and some members of this group of bacteria have been proposed to cause disease in animals. Genomic comparison of environmental chlamydiae has revealed that Waddlia and Parachlamydia may be the most suitable chlamydial candidates for host-free cultivation, since these organisms have the most versatile biosynthetic capabilities among the chlamydiae.

  • Environmental chlamydia genomics

    Horn M, Collingro A, Schmitz-Esser S, Wagner M
    2006 - 25-44. in Chlamydia: genomics and pathogenesis. (Bavoil PM, Wyrick PB). Horizon Scientific Press, Norfolk


    The discovery of chlamydia-related bacteria in the environment dramatically changed our perception of chlamydial diversity and their environmental occurrence. These so-called environmental chlamydiae display the unique chlamydial developmental cycle and mainly live as symbionts of free-living amoebae. Although there are some indications that environmental chlamydiae might also be able to infect humans, their pathogenic potential is still unclear. The first complete genome analysis of an environmental chlamydia strain, Protochlamydia amoebophila UWE25, provided novel insights into its biology, which, because of its larger genome compared to the Chlamydiaceae, opened a window on the genetic make-up of the chlamydial ancestor and the evolution of chlamydial virulence. The last common ancestor of the environmental chlamydiae and Chlamydiaceae was already adapted to intracellular survival in early eukaryotes, but was less dependent on its host cell. Several virulence factors required by Chlamydiaceae for interaction with their hosts evolved from genes of the last common ancestor of the environmental chlamydiae and the Chlamydiaceae.

  • Chlamydien als Symbionten frei lebender Amöben

    2005 - BioSpektrum, 4: 393-394
  • Die Evolution der Chlamydien - Einblicke in die Entwicklungsgeschichte bedeutender bakterieller Krankheitserreger aus einer genomischen Perspektive

    2004 - GenomXPress, 2: 13-14
  • Microbial diversity of sponges

    Hentschel U, Fieseler L, Wehrl M, Gernert C, Steinert M, Hacker J, Horn M
    2003 - 59-88. in Marine Molecular Biotechnology.. (Müller WEG). Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg
  • Dasein im Verborgenem. Bakterien, die in Acanthamöben leben

    2001 - Biologie in unserer Zeit, 31: 160-168
  • Direct detection of Legionellae in respiratory tract specimens using fluorescence in situ hybridization

    Hu J, Limaye AP, Fritsche TR, Horn M, Juretschko S, Gautom R
    2001 - 221-224. in Legionella.. (Marre R). Amer. Soc. Microbiol. Press, Washington, D.C.
  • Mikrobielle Vielfalt

    Schleifer KH, Horn M
    2000 - Biologen heute, 452: 1-5