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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 10, 2023
  2. Burbank, Lindsey Price (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Liberibacter pathogens are the causative agents of several severe crop diseases worldwide, including citrus Huanglongbing and potato zebra chip. These bacteria are endophytic and nonculturable, which makes experimental approaches challenging and highlights the need for bioinformatic analysis in advancing our understanding about Liberibacter pathogenesis. Here, we performed an in-depth comparative phylogenomic analysis of the Liberibacter pathogens and their free-living, nonpathogenic, ancestral species, aiming to identify major genomic changes and determinants associated with their evolutionary transitions in living habitats and pathogenicity. Using gene neighborhood analysis and phylogenetic classification, we systematically uncovered, annotated, and classified all prophage loci into four types, including one previously unrecognized group. We showed that these prophages originated through independent gene transfers at different evolutionary stages of Liberibacter and only the SC-type prophage was associated with the emergence of the pathogens. Using ortholog clustering, we vigorously identified two additional sets of genomic genes, which were either lost or gained in the ancestor of the pathogens. Consistent with the habitat change, the lost genes were enriched for biosynthesis of cellular building blocks. Importantly, among the gained genes, we uncovered several previously unrecognized toxins, including new toxins homologous to the EspG/VirA effectors, a YdjM phospholipase toxin, and a secretedmore »endonuclease/exonuclease/phosphatase (EEP) protein. Our results substantially extend the knowledge of the evolutionary events and potential determinants leading to the emergence of endophytic, pathogenic Liberibacter species, which will facilitate the design of functional experiments and the development of new methods for detection and blockage of these pathogens. IMPORTANCE Liberibacter pathogens are associated with several severe crop diseases, including citrus Huanglongbing, the most destructive disease to the citrus industry. Currently, no effective cure or treatments are available, and no resistant citrus variety has been found. The fact that these obligate endophytic pathogens are not culturable has made it extremely challenging to experimentally uncover the genes/proteins important to Liberibacter pathogenesis. Further, earlier bioinformatics studies failed to identify key genomic determinants, such as toxins and effector proteins, that underlie the pathogenicity of the bacteria. In this study, an in-depth comparative genomic analysis of Liberibacter pathogens along with their ancestral nonpathogenic species identified the prophage loci and several novel toxins that are evolutionarily associated with the emergence of the pathogens. These results shed new light on the disease mechanism of Liberibacter pathogens and will facilitate the development of new detection and blockage methods targeting the toxins.« less