From a common ancestor, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Streptococcus mitis evolved in parallel into one of the most important pathogens and a mutualistic colonizer of humans, respectively. This evolutionary scenario provides a unique basis for studies of both infection-associated properties and properties important for harmonious coexistence with the host. We performed detailed comparisons of 60 genomes of S. pneumoniae, S. mitis, Streptococcus pseudopneumoniae, the three Streptococcus oralis subspecies oralis, tigurinus, and dentisani, and Streptococcus infantis. Nonfunctional remnants of ancestral genes in both S. pneumoniae and in S. mitis support the evolutionary model and the concept that evolutionary changes on both sides were required to reach their present relationship to the host. Confirmed by screening of >7,500 genomes, we identified 224 genes associated with virulence. The striking difference to commensal streptococci was the diversity of regulatory mechanisms, including regulation of capsule production, a significantly larger arsenal of enzymes involved in carbohydrate hydrolysis, and proteins known to interfere with innate immune factors. The exclusive presence of the virulence factors in S. pneumoniae enhances their potential as vaccine components, as a direct impact on beneficial members of the commensal microbiota can be excluded. In addition to loss of these virulence-associated genes, adaptation of S. mitis to a mutualistic relationship with the host apparently required preservation or acquisition of 25 genes lost or absent from S. pneumoniae. Successful adaptation of S. mitis and other commensal streptococci to a harmonious relationship with the host relied on genetic stability and properties facilitating life in biofilms.
Kilian, M., & Tettelin, H. (2019). Identification of virulence-associated properties by comparative genome analysis of streptococcus pneumoniae, S. Pseudopneumoniae, S. mitis, three S. oralis subspecies, and S. infantis. MBio, 10(5). https://doi.org/10.1128/mBio.01985-19