Evolutionary history of the genus Listeria and its virulence genes

Michael W. Schmid, Eva Y.W. Ng, Robert Lampidis, Melanie Emmerth, Marion Walcher, Jürgen Kreft, Werner Goebel, Michael Wagner, Karl Heinz Schleifer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


The genus Listeria contains the two pathogenic species Listeria monocytogenes and Listeria ivanovii and the four apparently apathogenic species Listeria innocua, Listeria seeligeri, Listeria welshimeri, and Listeria grayi. Pathogenicity of the former two species is enabled by an approximately 9 kb virulence gene cluster which is also present in a modified form in L. seeligeri. For all Listeria species, the sequence of the virulence gene cluster locus and its flanking regions was either determined in this study or assembled from public databases. Furthermore, some virulence-associated internalin loci were compared among the six species. Phylogenetic analyses were performed on a data set containing the sequences of prs, ldh, vclA, and vclB (all directly flanking the virulence gene cluster), as well as the iap gene and the 16S and 23S-rRNA coding genes which are located at different sites in the listerial chromosomes. L. grayi represents the deepest branch within the genus. The remaining five species form two groupings which have a high bootstrap support and which are consistently found by using different treeing methods. One lineage represents L. monocytogenes and L. innocua, while the other contains L. welshimeri, L. ivanovii and L. seeligeri, with L. welshimeri forming the deepest branch. Based on this perception, we tried to reconstruct the evolution of the virulence gene cluster. Since no traces of lateral gene transfer events could be detected the most parsimonious scenario is that the virulence gene cluster was present in the common ancestor of L. monocytogenes, L. innocua, L. ivanovii, L. seeligeri and L. welshimeri and that the pathogenic capability has been lost in two separate events represented by L. innocua and L. welshimeri. This hypothesis is also supported by the location of the putative deletion breakpoints of the virulence gene cluster within L. innocua and L. welshimeri.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalSystematic and Applied Microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 28 Jan 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Bacterial pathogen
  • Evolution of virulence
  • Internalins
  • Leucine-rich repeat proteins
  • Listeria
  • Phylogeny
  • Virulence gene cluster


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