Early in the 1990s, it was recognized that Lysinibacillus sphaericus, one of the most popular and effective entomopathogenic bacteria, was a highly heterogeneous group. Many authors have even proposed it comprises more than one species, but the lack of phenotypic traits that guarantee an accurate differentiation has not allowed this issue to be clarified. Now that genomic technologies are rapidly advancing, it is possible to address the problem from a whole genome perspective, getting insights into the phylogeny, evolutive history and biology itself.
The genome of the Colombian strain L. sphaericus OT4b.49 was sequenced, assembled and annotated, obtaining 3 chromosomal contigs and no evidence of plasmids. Using these sequences and the 13 other L. sphaericus genomes available on the NCBI database, we carried out comparative genomic analyses that included whole genome alignments, searching for mobile elements, phylogenomic metrics (TETRA, ANI and in-silico DDH) and pan-genome assessments. The results support the hypothesis about this species as a very heterogeneous group. The entomopathogenic lineage is actually a single and independent species with 3728 core genes and 2153 accessory genes, whereas each non-toxic strain seems to be a separate species, though without a clear circumscription. Toxin-encoding genes, binA, B and mtx1, 2, 3 could be acquired via horizontal gene transfer in a single evolutionary event. The non-toxic strain OT4b.31 is the most related with the type strain KCTC 3346.
The current L. sphaericus is actually a sensu lato due to a sub-estimation of diversity accrued using traditional non-genomics based classification strategies. The toxic lineage is the most studied with regards to its larvicidal activity, which is a greatly conserved trait among these strains and thus, their differentiating feature. Further studies are needed in order to establish a univocal classification of the non-toxic strains that, according to our results, seem to be a paraphyletic group.