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Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne
disease in the United States. The causative agent is the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi. The copy number and organization of the genes encoding the rRNAs of this organism were determined. There is a single gene for 16S rRNA and two copies each of the 23S rRNA and 5S rRNA genes. All of the genes are located within a chromosomal fragment of approximately 9.5 to 10.0 kb. The 23S and 5S rRNA genes are tandemly duplicated in the order 23S-5S-23S-5S and are apparently not linked to the 16S rRNA gene, which is situated over 2 kb upstream from the 23S-5S duplication. The individual copies of the 23S-5S duplication are separated by a 182-bp spacer. Within each 23S-5S unit, an identical 22-bp spacer separates the 23S and 5S rRNA sequences from each other. The genome organization of the 23S-5S gene cluster in a number of different B. burgdorferi isolates obtained at a number of different geographical locations, as well as in several other species of Borrelia, was investigated. All isolates of B. burgdorferi tested displayed the tandem duplication, whereas the closely related species B. hermsii, B. anserina, and B. turicatae all contained a single copy of each of the genes. In addition, different geographical isolates of B. burgdorferi can be differentiated on the basis of a restriction fragment length polymorphism associated with the 23S-5S gene cluster. This polymorphism can be a useful tool for the determination of genetic relatedness between different isolates of B. burgdorferi.