Several Chlamydiales families are associated with epitheliocystis, a common condition of the fish gill epithelium. These families share common ancestors with the Chlamydiaceae and environmental Chlamydiae. Due to the lack of culture systems, little is known about the biology of these chlamydial fish pathogens. We investigated epitheliocystis in cultured Orange-spotted grouper (Epinephelus coioides) from North Queensland, Australia. Basophilic inclusions were present in the gills of 22/31 fish and the presence of the chlamydial pathogen in the cysts was confirmed by in situ hybridisation. Giant grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus) cultured in the same systems were epitheliocystis free. 16S rRNA gene sequencing revealed a novel member of the Candidatus Parilichlamydiaceae: Ca. Similichlamydia epinephelii. Using metagenomic approaches, we obtained an estimated 68% of the chlamydial genome, revealing that this novel chlamydial pathogen shares a number of key pathogenic hallmarks with the Chlamydiaceae, including an intact Type III Secretion system and several chlamydial virulence factors. This provides additional evidence that these pathogenic mechanisms were acquired early in the evolution of this unique bacterial phylum. The identification and genomic characterisation of Ca. S. epinephelii provides new opportunities to study the biology of distantly-related chlamydial pathogens while shining a new light on the evolution of pathogenicity of the Chlamydiaceae. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Environmental Microbiology / Vol. Article in press