AbstractsBiology & Animal Science

Computational genomics of lactobacilli

by Matti Kankainen

Institution: University of Helsinki
Department: Department of Biosciences, Genetics
Year: 2015
Keywords: genetics
Record ID: 1130092
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/153951


Lactobacilli are generally harmless gram-positive lactic acid bacteria and well known for their broad spectrum of beneficial effects on human health and usage in food production. However, relatively little is known at the molecular level about the relationships between lactobacilli and humans and about their food processing abilities. The aim of this thesis was to establish bioinformatics approaches for classifying proteins involved in the health effects and food production abilities of lactobacilli and to elucidate the functional potential of two biomedically important Lactobacillus species using whole-genome sequencing. To facilitate the genome-based analysis of lactobacilli, two new bioinformatics approaches were developed for the systematic analysis of protein function. The first approach, called LOCP, fulfilled the need for accurate genome-wide annotation of putative pilus operons in gram-positive bacteria, whereas the second approach, BLANNOTATOR, represented an improved homology-based solution for general function annotation of bacterial proteins. Importantly, both approaches showed superior accuracy in evaluation tests and proved to be useful in finding information ignored by other homology-search methods, illustrating their added value to the current repertoire of function classification systems. Their application also led to the discovery of several putative pilus operons and new potential effector molecules in lactobacilli, including many of the key findings of this thesis work. Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is one of the clinically best-studied Lactobacillus strains and has a long history of safe use in the food industry. The whole-genome sequencing of the strain GG and a closely related dairy strain L. rhamnosus LC705 revealed two almost identical genomes, despite the physiological differences between the strains. Nevertheless of the extensive genomic similarity, present only in GG was a genomic region containing genes for three pilin subunits and a pilin-dedicated sortase. The presence of these pili on the cell surface of L. rhamnosus GG was also confirmed, and one of the GG-specific pilins was demonstrated to be central for the mucus interaction of strain GG. These discoveries established the presence of gram-positive pilus structures also in non-pathogenic bacteria and provided a long-awaited explanation for the highly efficient adhesion of the strain GG to the intestinal mucosa. The other Lactobacillus species investigated in this thesis was Lactobacillus crispatus. To gain insights into its physiology and to identify components by which this important constituent of the healthy human vagina may promote urogenital health, the genome of a representative L. crispatus strain was sequenced and compared to those of nine others. These analyses provided an accurate account of features associated with vaginal health and revealed a set of 1,224 gene families that were universally conserved across all the ten strains, and, most likely, also across the entire L. crispatus species. Importantly, this set of…