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Whole-Genome Optical Mapping and Finished Genome Sequence of Sphingobacterium deserti sp. nov., a New Species Isolated from the Western Desert of China

  • Chao Teng ,

    Contributed equally to this work with: Chao Teng, Zhengfu Zhou

    Affiliation Biotechnology Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, P.R. China

  • Zhengfu Zhou ,

    Contributed equally to this work with: Chao Teng, Zhengfu Zhou

    Affiliation Biotechnology Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, P.R. China

  • István Molnár,

    Affiliation Natural Products Center, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, United States of America

  • Xinna Li,

    Affiliation Biotechnology Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, P.R. China

  • Ran Tang,

    Affiliation Biotechnology Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, P.R. China

  • Ming Chen,

    Affiliation Biotechnology Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, P.R. China

  • Lin Wang,

    Affiliations Biotechnology Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, P.R. China, Key Laboratory of Resource Biology and Biotechnology in Western China, Ministry of Education, Northwest University, Xi’an, P.R. China

  • Shiyou Su,

    Affiliation Biotechnology Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, P.R. China

  • Wei Zhang , (WZ); (ML)

    Affiliation Biotechnology Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, P.R. China

  • Min Lin (WZ); (ML)

    Affiliation Biotechnology Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, P.R. China

Whole-Genome Optical Mapping and Finished Genome Sequence of Sphingobacterium deserti sp. nov., a New Species Isolated from the Western Desert of China

  • Chao Teng, 
  • Zhengfu Zhou, 
  • István Molnár, 
  • Xinna Li, 
  • Ran Tang, 
  • Ming Chen, 
  • Lin Wang, 
  • Shiyou Su, 
  • Wei Zhang, 
  • Min Lin


A novel Gram-negative bacterium, designated ZWT, was isolated from a soil sample of the Western Desert of China, and its phenotypic properties and phylogenetic position were investigated using a polyphasic approach. Growth occurred on TGY medium at 5–42°C with an optimum of 30°C, and at pH 7.0–11.0 with an optimum of pH 9.0. The predominant cellular fatty acids were summed feature 3 (C16:1ω7c/C16:1ω6c or C16:1ω6c/C16:1ω7c) (39.22%), iso-C15:0 (27.91%), iso-C17:0 3OH (15.21%), C16:0 (4.98%), iso-C15:0 3OH (3.03%), C16:0 3OH (5.39%) and C14:0 (1.74%). The major polar lipid of strain ZWT is phosphatidylethanolamine. The only menaquinone observed was MK-7. The GC content of the DNA of strain ZWT is 44.9 mol%. rDNA phylogeny, genome relatedness and chemotaxonomic characteristics all indicate that strain ZWT represents a novel species of the genus Sphingobacterium. We propose the name S. deserti sp. nov., with ZWT (= KCTC 32092T = ACCC 05744T) as the type strain. Whole genome optical mapping and next-generation sequencing was used to derive a finished genome sequence for strain ZWT, consisting of a circular chromosome of 4,615,818 bp in size. The genome of strain ZWT features 3,391 protein-encoding and 48 tRNA-encoding genes. Comparison of the predicted proteome of ZWT with those of other sphingobacteria identified 925 species-unique proteins that may contribute to the adaptation of ZWT to its native, extremely arid and inhospitable environment. As the first finished genome sequence for any Sphingobacterium, our work will serve as a useful reference for subsequent sequencing and mapping efforts for additional strains and species within this genus.


The genus Sphingobacterium was originally proposed by Yabuuchi [1] for bacteria whose membranes contain high concentrations of sphingolipids. Sphingobacteria are Gram-negative rods that contain MK-7 as their predominant isoprenoid quinone, and the GC content of DNA is ranging from 35 to 44 mol% [2]. At present, the genus Sphingobacterium encompasses 32 validly published species names. However, this number continues to increase as novel Sphingobacterium strains are isolated from various samples of soil, compost [3] and sludge [4], and even from human clinical specimens [5].

Bacterial genome sequencing is rapidly emerging as the most important source of information for microbial taxonomy. For example, determination of the whole genome sequence of a newly isolated strain allows the calculation of average nucleotide identity (ANI) scores, providing global comparisons of the new strain with previously isolated strains whose genome sequences are deposited in databanks. These ANI scores will probably serve as the next-generation gold standard for species delineation [6].

Whole-genome optical mapping (WGM) is an important tool for bacterial genome sequencing. It includes the assembly of whole-genome restriction endonuclease maps by digesting immobilized DNA molecules and determining the sizes and the order of the produced fragments [7, 8]. WGM offers a relatively economical and rapid method of assessing rates of mutation and recombination, and may be used to determine the taxonomic position and the evolutionary history of a particular strain. The value of WGM as a strain-typing tool in E. coli outbreaks has been documented, and the method has recently been applied to subtyping analysis [911]. Furthermore, WGM allows classical genetic sequencing to better target particular genomic regions and alterations in genome structure [12]. Importantly, sequencing the genome of a bacterial strain with WGM also facilitates the future annotation of genome sequences of additional strains from the same genus. This is because WGM allows the rapid, direct transfer of any gene- or genome features from the initial, voucher strain to the newly sequenced strain. Whole-genome restriction maps created to designate novel species also allow the rapid resolution of sequence assembly problems, permit completion of the genome, and correct large inversions in genome assemblies. The accuracy of a genome assembly can also be further assessed by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) analysis.

This communication describes the phenotypic and genomic properties of a novel Sphingobacterium strain, S. deserti ZWT that was isolated from the Western Desert of China. We have created a BamHI whole genome optical map for this strain, and used the WGM as a scaffold for sequence assembly and as a tool for the validation of the finished sequence. Since S. deserti ZWT is the first strain within the Sphingobacterium genus with a fully assembled and finished genome sequence, our work will serve as a useful reference for any future genomic studies of strains from this genus. Further, the genomes of microorganisms isolated from desert ecosystems may hold clues to the adaptation of microbial life to inhospitable environmental conditions that lead to DNA damage due to high levels of solar irradiation, as well as protein denaturation due to desiccation and extreme and sudden temperature shifts. Thus, comparison of the genome sequence of S. deserti with those of other Sphingobacterium strains allowed the identification of species-unique genes and pathways that may be important to mediate the adaptations of this species to its extreme environment.

Materials and Methods

Ethics Statement

No specific permits were required for the locations or activities described in this work. The field studies did not involve endangered or protected species.

Strain isolation

Strain ZWT was isolated from a soil sample that was collected from the extreme arid environments of the Western Desert of China. The GPS coordinates for the sampling site were 42° 99.92’ N, 89° 12.63’ E. The soil sample was dispersed in TGY medium (1.0% tryptone (Oxoid Ltd., England), 0.5% yeast extract (Oxoid Ltd., England), 0.1% glucose (Xilong Chemical Co., Ltd., China)) and the culture was incubated for 2 days at 30°C with shaking at 200 rpm before dilution plating on TGY agar plates (30°C, 24 h) to isolate single colonies. The isolates were maintained at -80°C as suspensions in TGY medium supplemented with 20% glycerol (v/v, final concentration). Besides strain ZWT, a different Sphigobacterium strain was also isolated from the same soil sample and described as an isolate of Sphingobacterium arenae [13].

Morphological, physiological and chemotaxonomical characteristics

A polyphasic approach was used to identify strain ZWT and to determine its taxonomic position. Gram staining was conducted according to the method of Cowan [14] after growing ZWT cells for 1 day on TGY agar. Colony morphology was examined for cultures grown on TGY agar for 48 h at 30°C. Cell morphology was determined using scanning electron microscopy (S-570; Hitachi; Japan). The growth of strain ZWT at various temperatures (4, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 33, 37, 40, 42, 45 and 50°C) and pH (5.0–10.0, in increments of 0.5 pH units) was assessed in TGY after 5 days, with the pH value being adjusted using the appropriate buffers as described by Dimitry et al. [15]. Salt tolerance, catalase activity, oxidase activity and substrate utilization were determined using the method of Jiang [13]. The isoprenoid quinone test was performed as described by Zhou [16]. S. composti and S. arenae were used as reference strains for menaquinone identification. For the analysis of cellular fatty acids, both strain ZWT and S. composti 4M24T were harvested after 48 h of growth on TGY medium (pH 9.0) at 30°C. Identification of fatty acids were conducted according to Yoo et al. [3, 16]. Sphingolipid analysis was performed according to Yabuuchi [17]. Physiological characterization and additional biochemical tests were performed according to the method described by Zhu [18].

GC content, PCR amplification, sequencing and phylogenetic analysis

The genomic DNA of strain ZWT was prepared using the TIANamp bacterial DNA isolation kit (Tiangen). The GC content of the DNA was determined according to the procedure of Zhou [16]. DNA-DNA hybridization experiments were performed according to the method developed by Yuan [19]. PCR amplification and sequence analysis of the 16S rRNA gene has been previously described in detail [16]. Phylogenetic dendrograms, which displayed substantially identical topologies, were constructed using the neighbor-joining [20], the maximum likelihood and the maximum parsimony methods [21], with bootstrap values calculated from 1,000 re-samplings.

Optical map construction

Optical maps were prepared using Argus (OpGen) according to previously described methods [22]. Protoplasts of ZWT were prepared by enzymatic digestion of the cell wall [11]. High molecular weight DNA was prepared by embedding protoplasts in low melting temperature agarose plugs, followed by treatment with lysing solution. The genomic DNA was recovered after thoroughly rinsing the plugs in TE, followed by melting the plugs at 42°C and subsequent treatment with β-agarase. Individual molecules of the high molecular weight DNA were then immobilized onto Optical Chips, digested with BamHI (New England Biolabs), and stained with a fluorescent kit (OpGen). High resolution single-molecule restriction maps were created by measuring the sizes of the restriction fragments after image capture on an automated fluorescent microscope system (Argus; OpGen; USA). Collections of single molecule maps were then assembled to produce a whole-genome ordered restriction map.

De novo assembly of the optical map

The mapset (total dataset generated from a single run) was filtered for minimum molecule size (> 150 kb), minimum fragments per molecule (>12) and minimum molecule quality (>0.5). The data from each MapCard were combined for the final assembly. The assembly was conducted after removal of default circularization parameters. Partial assembly results were saved when three contigs became apparent with >10 molecules each. Contigs were separated and individually reassembled against the original mapset using the “Find Hits” feature; they were considered “finished” when no additional molecules could be added by subsequent reassemblies. Overlapping single-molecule maps were assembled using the Optical Map Assembler software (OpGen) to create a circular map spanning the entire genome with approximately 30-fold coverage.

Sequence-to-map comparison

Comparisons between optical maps and sequence contigs were performed using the MapSolver software (OpGen Technologies, Inc.). Sequence FASTA files were converted to in silico restriction maps for direct comparison to the optical maps. Alignments were generated with a dynamic programming algorithm that finds the optimal location or placement of a sequence contig by first performing a global alignment of the sequence contig against the optical map. Local alignment analyses were also performed to compare segments of the sequence contigs to the optical map. Finally, the MapSolver software was used to place the predicted restriction maps of large contigs (>50 kb) resulting from the next generation sequencing (NGS) assembly on the optical map scaffold, enabling gaps between contigs to be predicted and filled.

Genome sequencing and analysis of strain ZWT

The genome sequence of strain ZWT was determined using Illumina whole genome shotgun sequencing technology. A total of 5,477,992 reads were obtained with a total read length of 504 Mb, representing a 109-fold coverage of the genome. Short reads generated from the Illumina pair-end library were assembled with the Velvet assembler to yield a draft genome assembly consisting of 21 scaffolds. The finished genomic assembly was generated with whole-genome optical mapping as described above. Genome sequencing and restriction map construction were performed at Tianjin Biochip Corporation.

Putative protein-coding sequences were predicted using Glimmer. Functional annotations were based on BLASTP analyses against the KEGG, Pfam, COGs and NCBI non-redundant (nr) protein sequence databases [23]. tRNA genes were directly predicted with tRNAscan-SE [24], and the rRNA genes were identified with RNAmmer [25].

Orthology and phylogenetic analysis

Predicted protein sequences were searched against the nr database of NCBI by an all-versus-all BLASTp with a threshold value of E ⩽1e-5, and then clustered by orthoMCL [26] with an inflation value of 1.5. Multiple sequence alignments of the orthologous proteins were produced using MUSCLE (v3.6) [27, 28], and concatenated into a single multiple sequence alignment with an in-house Perl script. Neighbor-joining phylogeny was then reconstructed using MEGA (v5).

Average nucleotide identity

Average nucleotide identity (ANI) was calculated by the JSpecies program version 1.2.1 using ANIb with default settings [29].

Results and Discussion

S. deserti sp. nov.

The cells of strain ZWT are Gram-negative, non-motile, non-spore-forming, strictly aerobic rods, approximately 0.6–1.7 μm in length and 0.3–0.6 μm in diameter (Fig 1). After 48 h of incubation on TGY, ZWT colonies were 3–5 mm in diameter, lemon yellow, convex, circular, smooth and entire. The optimum growth temperature is 30°C (range: 5–42°C), and the optimum pH is 9 (range: pH 7.0–11.0). Growth occurs at NaCl concentrations ranging from 0 to 1%. Cells of strain ZWT are positive for catalase and oxidase activities, but negative for urease. Casein, starch, gelatin, Tween 20 and Tween 80 are not hydrolyzed. Cells of strain ZWT do not show L-arginine dihydrolase activity, and are negative for citrate utilization, nitrate reduction, and the Voges-Proskauer reaction. They are able to assimilate D-glucose, D-mannose, D-maltose, and L-arabinose, but not xylose. Acid is produced from D-mannitol and L-arabinose, but not from D-fructose, D-xylose or salicin (Table 1). The cells of strain ZWT exhibit resistance to kanamycin (50 μg/mL), ampicillin (50 μg/mL), hygromycin (50 μg/mL) and spectinomycin (35μg/mL), but are sensitive to rifampicin (50 μg/mL), chloramphenicol (50 μg/mL) and tetracycline (50 μg/mL). The predominant cellular fatty acids are summed feature 3 (C16:1ω7c/C16:1ω6c or C16:1ω6c/C16:1ω7c) (39.22%), iso-C15:0 (27.91%), iso-C17:0 3OH (15.21%), C16:0 (4.98%), iso-C15:0 3OH (3.03%), C16:0 3OH (5.39%) and C14:0 (1.74%). This fatty acid profile is similar to those of several reference strains of sphingobacteria that were grown under identical conditions (Table 2), suggesting that this newly isolated bacterium belongs to the genus Sphingobacterium. The polar lipid profile of strain ZWT includes phosphatidylethanolamine and several unidentified polar lipids (S1 Fig). Both strain ZWT and S. spiritivorum contain sphingolipids (S2 Fig), which are a distinct feature of members of the genus Sphingobacterium. The menaquinone of strain ZWT is MK-7 (>99%), consistent with all known members of the family Sphingobacterium. The GC content of the DNA of strain ZWT is 44.9 mol%, slightly higher than that of other Sphingobacterium strains.

Table 1. Differential phenotypic characteristics of strain ZWT and closely related Sphingobacterium species.

Table 2. Fatty acid composition of strain ZWT and related members of the genus Sphingobacterium.

The 16S rRNA gene sequence of strain ZWT (= KCTC 32092T = ACCC 05744T) is 1,311 bp in length (GenBank accession number JX403964). BLAST searches in the GenBank database and the EzTaxon server (; [35]) indicated that strain ZWT belongs to the genus Sphingobacterium of the phylum Bacteroidetes. The 16S rRNA gene of strain ZWT exhibits the highest similarity to sequences from S. bambusae IBFC2009T (95.65%), S. composti 4M24T (95.57%), S. lactis WCC 4512T (95.49%), S. mizutaii DSM 11724T (95.11%), S. daejeonense TR6-04T (95.11%), S. kyonggiense KEMC 2241-005T (94.73%) and S. nematocida M-SX103T (93.59%). DNA–DNA relatedness between strain ZWT and S. composti 4M24T is 36.3%. Phylogenetic analysis confirmed that strain ZWT forms a coherent cluster with members of the genus Sphingobacterium, and an intra-genus clade with S. bambusae IBFC2009T (Fig 2). According to Stackebrandt [36] and Wayne [37], 16S rRNA gene similarities that are lower than 97% and DNA–DNA relatedness values below 70% support the identification of bacterial isolates as belonging to a new species. The average nucleotide identity (ANI) of the genome sequence (see below) of strain ZWT against the four other Sphingobacterium species for which genome sequences are publicly available ranged from 84.40% (with strain S. thalpophilum DSM 11723) to 84.94% (with strain S. paucimobilis HER1398). These ANI values are also considerably lower than the 95 to 96% threshold used to identify isolates as belonging to the same bacterial species [38, 39] (S1 Table). Thus, rDNA phylogeny (S3 Fig, S4 Fig), genome relatedness and chemotaxonomic characteristics all indicate that strain ZWT represents a novel species within the genus Sphingobacterium (S5 Fig). We propose the name S. deserti sp. nov. (de.ser’ti. L. gen. n. deserti of a desert), with ZWT (= KCTC 32092T = ACCC 05744T) as the type strain.

Fig 2. Neighbor-joining phylogenetic tree indicating the relationships between the strain ZWT and other Sphingobacterium spp.

Bootstrap values (expressed as percentages of 1,000 replications) of > 70% are shown at branch points. Bar, 0.01 substitutions per nucleotide position.

Genome organization of strain ZWT

To further characterize this novel species, we sequenced the genome of strain ZWT using WGM technology. The resulting whole genome optical map allowed the assembly of the first finished genome sequence, to the best of our knowledge, for any species within the genus Sphingobacterium.

The length of the circular chromosome of strain ZWT was found to be 4,615,818 bp (Fig 3, GenBank accession number JJMU00000000). The GC content of the genome is 42.6 mol% (Fig 4), in agreement with the value (44.9 mol%) established by DNA renaturation kinetics [16]. This is within the range of the published GC contents of the four other Sphingobacterium species for which draft genome sequences are publicly available.

Fig 3. Optical mapping of the Sphingobacterium deserti sp. nov. ZWT genomic DNA with BamHI.

The large chromosome restriction map was generated by shotgun optical mapping. The outer circle depicts the consensus map; the inner circles indicate the contigs from which the consensus map was generated. Colors are arbitrarily assigned to homologous overlapping fragments.

Fig 4. Genome map of Sphingobacterium deserti sp. nov. ZWT.

Concentric tracks from the inside to the outside represent the GC nucleotide bias; the GC content; tRNA and rRNA genes on the reverse strand; tRNA and rRNA genes on the forward-strand; reverse-strand coding sequences (CDSs); and forward-strand CDSs.

The genome of strain ZWT contains 48 tRNA genes and several rRNA gene clusters, including single copies of the 16S and the 23S rRNA genes and duplicate copies of the 5S rRNA gene. An estimated 88.6% of the genome contains coding sequences (CDSs), and these CDSs are predicted to encode 3,391 putative proteins. The predicted proteins belong to 1,238 conserved orthologous groups (COGs) from 23 COG categories. In addition, 1,408 predicted proteins were also annotated using the KEGG Orthology System (S2 Table).

Although many Sphingobacterium strains have been isolated in the last 30 years, no finished genome assemblies have been generated for any of those strains. In addition, few chromosomal features have been reported for any Sphingobacterium genome. The genomic data and the WGM restriction barcode of strain ZWT may facilitate the taxonomic characterization of further members of the genus Sphingobacterium (Fig 5). Strain ZWT can also serve as a genome sequencing reference strain, with its WGM sequencing and annotation data available at NCBI for download and direct import into new draft genome sequences of other sphingobacteria.

Fig 5. Whole-genome optical mapping barcode of Sphingobacterium deserti sp. nov. ZWT.

Vertical lines represent restriction sites; distances between lines represent fragment sizes.

Evolution and comparative genomics

We compared the predicted proteome of strain ZWT with those of three other Sphingobacterium strains for which genome sequence data are available at NCBI (S. paucimobilis, S. thalpophilum and S. spiritivorum, Fig 6). These four sequenced Sphingobacterium strains share 1,927 orthologous protein groups. These common orthologous protein groups encompass the enzymes for the central carbon metabolism, and include the pentose phosphate pathway, the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA), the biosynthesis of amino acids, and the assembly of purine and pyrimidine nucleotides. Genes for this set of predicted pathways are well conserved in the genomes of the sequenced Sphingobacterium strains. Orthologous protein groups shared by ZWT with only one of the other sphingobacterial strains were also identified, and contain 96 (S. paucimobilis), 213 (S. thalpophilum), and 147 (S. spiritivorum) groups, respectively. Importantly, we detected 925 species-unique predicted proteins belonging to 878 orthologous groups in strain ZWT. Many of these ZWT-specific genes are involved in transport systems, DNA repair and the biosynthesis of small molecules. These and other species-unique proteins may facilitate the adaptation of S. deserti to harsh arid lands environments [40].

Fig 6. Venn diagram depicting orthologous groups of predicted proteins encoded in four sphingobacterial genomes.

C1: Sphingobacterium spiritivorum ATCC 33300; C2: Sphingobacterium paucimobilis HER1398; C3: Sphingobacterium thalpophilum DSM11723; and C4: Sphingobacterium deserti ZWT.

Genome-wide comparison with S. spiritivorum ATCC 33300

S. deserti is presumably well adapted to living in the high desert where it is exposed to high levels of solar UV irradiation, extreme cycles of high and low temperatures, and periodic desiccation throughout the year [41]. These extreme conditions cause both DNA- and oxidative protein damage in bacteria [42]. Bacterial adaptations to desert environments may include the protection of DNA and proteins from these damages, supplemented with efficient repair mechanisms to correct any damage still sustained [4345]. To discover these important mechanisms, we compared the deduced proteome of strain ZWT with that of S. spiritivorum ATCC 33300, a strain that was isolated in 1983 from vaginal secretions [1]. Protein orthology comparisons showed that 2,546 (75.1%) of the 3,391 predicted proteins of ZWT have orthologs in S. spiritivorum. As expected, these conserved enzymes and pathways include those that are involved in sphingolipid metabolism: the biosynthesis of these lipids is a common distinguishing feature of the members of the genus Sphingobacterium. However, the large number of species-unique proteins of these two closely related bacteria may reflect their adaptations to their drastically different ecological niches (Table 3).

Table 3. Genome features of S. deserti ZWT and comparison with S. spiritivorum ATCC 33300.

Transport systems are key components for the tolerance of bacteria to their extreme environments [46]. For example, most of the known transport systems of extremophiles are sugar uptake systems which belong to the ABC family transporters [46]. Thus, ZWT has 90 genes coding for transporters. Importantly, the citH, zupT, yclN, metI, phnB, betT and dctA genes encode putative transporters that are present in ZWT but absent in S. spiritivorum. We hypothesize that these putative transporters may contribute to the adaptation of strain ZWT to its desiccation-prone environment. Alternatively, these transporters may help strain ZWT to import a wider range of nutrients from the desert soil that is poor in easily utilizable soil organic matter.

Trehalose is a nonreducing sugar with an α-1,1 linkage between two glucose moieties. Similar to other compatible osmolites, trehalose efficiently stabilizes proteins and lipid membranes, and thus protects against chemical and physical stresses in various organisms including bacteria, algae, yeast, fungi, plants and some invertebrates [47]. Strain ZWT features several genes whose protein products are predicted to play a role in trehalose biosynthesis and thus may contribute to the desiccation tolerance of this organism [48]. Amongst these, two genes (h26-orf04608 for maltooligosyl trehalose trehalohydrolase and h26-orf04611 for maltooligosyl trehalose synthase) are present in ZWT but are absent in S. spiritivorum.

Resistance to various toxic substances of abiotic or biotic origins also plays an important role in adaptations of microorganisms to extreme environments. Thus, the h26-orf01829 gene of strain ZWT encodes an ortholog of the toxic anion resistance family protein TelA [49, 50]. TelA may facilitate the reduction, and the subsequent immobilization and detoxification of the metalloid oxyanion tellurite and other rare earth metal oxides and oxyanions [50]. The toxicity of the mobile and bioavailable tellurium oxyanions such as tellurite stem from their strong oxidizing ability, which interferes with many cellular enzymatic processes. The mechanism of the telA-encoded tellurite resistance remains unknown, although recent evidence suggests that the gene product is not associated with decreased uptake or increased efflux of tellurite [51]. No ortholog of TelA is encoded in the genome of S. spiritovorum.

An additional species-specific gene of strain ZWT, h26-orf02109, encodes a putative protein similar to the nisin resistance protein NSR [52]. Nisin is a 34-residue cationic antimicrobial peptide produced by Lactococcus lactis that is active against a wide range of Gram-positive bacteria. NSR inactivates nisin by proteolytic cleavage [53]. While sphingobacteria are not sensitive to nisin, other bacteriocins that are active against these bacteria may be produced by competitors of strain ZWT in its native environment.


Multiphase physiological, biochemical, and chemotaxonomic characterization, rDNA phylogeny, and genome sequencing was used to identify bacterial strain ZWT, isolated from the extreme arid environments of the Western Desert of China, as a novel species within the genus Sphingobacterium. Therefore, we propose ZWT (= KCTC 32092T = ACCC 05744T) as the type strain of Sphingobacterium deserti sp. nov. Whole genome sequencing and optical mapping of strain ZWT was used to derive the first high quality, finished genome sequence assembly for any strain within the genus Sphingobacterium, Gram-negative bacteria that contain characteristic sphingolipids. Genome-wide comparisons with other sequenced sphingobacteria provided an extensive list of species-unique genes, some of which are proposed to contribute to the adaptation of S. deserti ZWT to its extremely arid, inhospitable native environment.

Supporting Information

S1 Fig. Polar lipid profiles (including sphingolipids) of (a), strain ZWT, and (b), S. spiritivorum, detected by spraying the plates with a molybdatophosphoric acid reagent.

PE, phosphatidylethanolamine; APL, unidentified aminophospholipid; SL, sphingolipid.


S2 Fig. Ninhydrin-positive spots of hexane-ether extracts from the hydrolysate of acetone-dried cells.

1, strain ZWT; 2, S. spiritivorum JCM 1277T; 3, authentic dihydrosphingosin. Silica gel 60 (Merck) plate. Mobile phase: Chloroform-methanol-water (65:25:4, v/v).


S3 Fig. Maximum parsimony phylogenetic tree based on 16S rRNA gene sequences, indicating the position of strain ZWT in the Sphingobacterium genus.


S4 Fig. Maximum likelihood phylogenetic tree based on 16S rRNA gene sequences, indicating the position of strain ZWT in Sphingobacterium genus.


S5 Fig. Neighbor-joining phylogenetic tree deduced from the orthologous proteins that occur in all 4 strains of the Sphingobacterium genus.


S1 Table. Number of genes associated with the indicated COG functional categories.


S2 Table. ANI values comparing genome identities of type strain ZWT with the other four Sphingobacterium spp. for which genome sequences are available.



We would like to thank Dr. Xiaoxia Zhang for many helpful discussions. We also would like to thank Lei Wang and Yamin Sun, from Tianjin Biochip Corporation for their help with sequence assemblies. We are grateful to Ahmed E. Gomaa and Samantha Wolfe for help in text editing.

Author Contributions

Conceived and designed the experiments: CT ZZ WZ ML. Performed the experiments: SS RT. Analyzed the data: ZZ CT MC. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: LW XL. Wrote the paper: CT IM ZZ.


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