, Volume 55, Issue 5, pp 534-543

Evolutionary Implications of Phylogenetic Analyses of the Gene Transfer Agent (GTA) of Rhodobacter capsulatus

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The gene transfer agent (GTA) of the a-proteobacterium Rhodobacter capsulatus is a cell-controlled genetic exchange vector. Genes that encode the GTA structure are clustered in a 15-kb region of the R. capsulatus chromosome, and some of these genes show sequence similarity to known bacteriophage head and tail genes. However, the production of GTA is controlled at the level of transcription by a cellular two-component signal transduction system. This paper describes homologues of both the GTA structural gene cluster and the GTA regulatory genes in the a-proteobacteria Rhodopseudomonas palustris, Rhodobacter sphaeroides, Caulobacter crescentus, Agrobacterium tumefaciens and Brucella melitensis. These sequences were used in a phylogenetic tree approach to examine the evolutionary relationships of selected GTA proteins to these homologues and (pro)phage proteins, which was compared to a 16S rRNA tree. The data indicate that a GTA-like element was present in a single progenitor of the extant species that contain both GTA structural cluster and regulatory gene homologues. The evolutionary relationships of GTA structural proteins to (pro)phage proteins indicated by the phylogenetic tree patterns suggest a predominantly vertical descent of GTA-like sequences in the a-proteobacteria and little past gene exchange with (pro)phages.