Journal of Bacteriology
We describe the presence and characteristics of two self-splicing group I introns in the sole 23S rRNA gene of Coxiella burnetii. The two group I introns, Cbu.L1917 and Cbu.L1951, are inserted at sites 1917 and 1951 (Escherichia coli numbering), respectively, in the 23S rRNA gene of C. bumetii. Both introns were found to be self-splicing in vivo and in vitro even though the terminal nucleotide of Cbu.L1917 is adenine and not the canonical conserved guanine, termed Omega G, found in Cbu.L1951 and all other group I introns described to date. Predicted secondary structures for both introns were constructed and revealed that Cbu.L1917 and Cbu.L1951 were group IB2 and group I43 introns, respectively. We analyzed strains belonging to eight genomic groups of C bumetii to determine sequence variation and the presence or absence of the elements and found both introns to be highly conserved (>= 99%) among them. Although phylogenetic analysis did not identify the specific identities of donors, it indicates that the introns were likely acquired independently; Cbu.L1917 was acquired from other bacteria like Thermotoga subterranea and Cbu.L1951 from lower eukaryotes like Acanthamoeba castellanii. We also confirmed the fragmented nature of mature 23S rRNA in C. bumetii due to the presence of an intervening sequence. The presence of three selfish elements in C. bumetii's 23S rRNA gene is very unusual for an obligate intracellular bacterium and suggests a recent shift to its current lifestyle from a previous niche with greater opportunities for lateral gene transfer.