Major parts of the virulence-associated vrl locus known from the gammaproteobacterium Dichelobacter nodosus, the causative agent of ovine footrot, were analyzed in the genome of the sulfate-reducing deltaproteobacterium Desulfococcus multivorans. In the genome of D. multivorans 13 of the 19 vrl genes described for D. nodosus are present and highly conserved with respect to gene sequence and order. The vrl locus and its flanking regions suggest a bacteriophage-mediated transfer into the genome of D. multivorans. Comparative analysis of the deduced Vrl proteins reveals a wide distribution of parts of the virulence-associated vrl locus in distantly related bacteria. Horizontal transfer is suggested as driving mechanism for the circulation of the vrl genes in bacteria. Except for the vrlBMN genes D. multivorans and Desulfovibrio desulfuricans G20 together contain all vrl genes displaying a high degree of similarity. For D. multivorans it could be shown that guanine plus cytosine (GC) content, GC skew, di-, tri- or tetranucleotide distribution did not differ between the vrl locus and its flanking sequences. This could be a hint that the vrl locus originated from a related organism or at least a genome with similar characteristics. The conspicuous high degree of conservation of the analyzed vrl genes may result from a recent transfer event or reflect a function of the vrl genes, which is still unknown and not necessarily disease associated. The latter is supported by the evidence for expression of the vrl genes in D. multivorans, which has not been described as pathogen or to be associated to any disease pattern before.

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