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Understanding the evolution of virulence is key to appreciating the role specific loci play in pathogenicity. Streptomyces species are generally non-pathogenic soil saprophytes, yet within their genome we can find homologues of virulence loci. One example of this is the mammalian cell entry (mce) locus, which has been characterised in Mycobacterium tuberculosis. To investigate the role in Streptomyces we deleted the mce locus and studied its impact on cell survival, morphology and interaction with other soil organisms. Disruption of the mce cluster resulted in virulence towards amoebae (Acanthamoeba polyphaga) and reduced colonization of plant (Arabidopsis) models, indicating these genes may play an important role in Streptomyces survival in the environment. Our data suggest that loss of mce in Streptomyces spp. may have profound effects on survival in a competitive soil environment, and provides insight in to the evolution and selection of these genes as virulence factors in related pathogenic organisms.
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