Species of the phylum Aquificae are of great interest due to their strict extreme thermophilic growth characteristics. Presently, there is no known molecular characteristic which is unique to this group of bacteria. This work describes six conserved inserts and deletions (indels or signature sequences) in four widely distributed proteins that are distinctive features of species from the phylum Aquificae. These include three signatures consisting of a 2 aa insert, a 5-6 aa insert and a 6 aa deletion in DNA polymerase I (PolA), a 6-7 aa insert in glucose-inhibited protein A (GidA), a 52 aa insert in the RNA polymerase beta'-subunit (RpoC) and a 4 aa insert in elongation factor Tu (EF-Tu). Fragments of these genes were amplified in most cases from Hydrogenobacter hydrogenophilus, Hydrogenothermus marinus and Thermocrinis ruber and combined with available sequence data from 'Aquifex aeolicus' and Sulfurihydrogenibium azorense. The presence of the PolA, GidA and RpoC indels in all of the species sequenced provides evidence that they are probably distinctive characteristics of the entire phylum. The indel in EF-Tu, which is shared by Aquifex species and Hydrogenobacter but not Hydrogenothermus and Sulfurihydrogenibium, may provide a molecular marker for the family Aquificaceae. We have also identified a 51 aa insert in SecA preprotein translocase that is commonly shared by various species of the Aquificae as well as two Thermotoga species (Thermotoga maritima and Thermotoga neapolitana) which may be due to lateral gene transfer between these groups. In phylogenetic trees based on a concatenated dataset of fragments from eight different proteins as well as 16S rRNA, the observed branching pattern of these species was very similar and it was consistent with the relationships inferred from various indels. The identified indels provide a novel means for distinguishing species of the Aquificae from all other bacteria in molecular terms and may prove useful for functional studies aimed at understanding the unique biochemical and physiological characteristics of the Aquificae.
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