Rickettsia bellii is an obligate intracellular bacterium that is one of the few rickettsiae that encode a complete set of conjugative transfer (tra) genes involved in bacterial conjugation and has been shown to exhibit pili-like structures. The reductive genomes of rickettsiae beg the question whether the tra genes are nonfunctional or functioning to enhance the genetic plasticity and biology of rickettsiae. We characterized the transcriptional dynamics of R. bellii tra genes in comparison to genes transcribed stably and above the background level to understand when and at what levels the tra genes are active or whether the tra genes are degenerative. We determined that the best reference genes, out of 10 tested, were methionyl tRNA ligase (metG) or a combination of metG and ribonucleoside diphosphate reductase 2 subunit beta (nrdF), using statistical algorithms from two different programs: Normfinder and BestKeeper. To validate the use of metG with other rickettsial genes exhibiting variable transcriptional patterns we examined its use with sca2 and rickA, genes involved in actin based motility. Both were shown to be up-regulated at different times of replication in Vero cells, showing variable and stable transcription levels of rickA and sca2, respectively. traATi was up-regulated at 72 hours post inoculation in the tick cell line ISE6, but showed no apparent changes in the monkey cell line Vero and mouse cell line L929. The transcription of tra genes was positively correlated with one another and up-regulated from 12 to 72 hours post inoculation (HPI) when compared to RBE-0422 (an inactivated transposase-derivative found within the tra cluster). Thus, the up-regulation of the tra genes indicated that the integrity and activity of each gene were intact and may facilitate the search for the optimal conditions necessary to demonstrate conjugation in rickettsiae.
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© 2015 Heu et al.