The 16S-23S RNA gene intergenic spacers of isolates of Streptococcus equi (n=5), S. zooepidemicus (n=5), S. equisimilis (n=3) and S. dysgalactiae (n=2) were sequenced and compared. There were distinct regions within the spacer, arranged in the order 1–9 for all S. equi and one S. zooepidemicus isolate and 1,2 and 4–9 for the remaining isolates. Region 4 was identical to the tRNAala gene found in the 16S-23S intergenic spacers of other streptococci. Regions 1, 5, 6 and 7 had distinct variations, each conserved in different isolates. However, amongst the intergenic spacers there were different combinations of variant regions, suggesting a role for DNA recombination in their evolution. The intergenic spacer of all isolates of S. equi and one S. zooepidemicus isolate were almost identical. Primers derived from the variant sequences of regions 1 and 5 to 6 were used to group all S. zooepidemicus (n=17) and S. equi (n=5) into 1 of 8 types by polymerase chain reaction; three S. zooepidemicus isolates typed the same as S. equi. S. equi and S. zooepidemicus were clearly distinguishable from S. equisimilis and S. dysgalactiae which had shorter regions 5 and 6 and no region 7. Most homology for the group C sequences was found in previously published sequences for the 16S-23S intergenic spacers of S. anginosis, S. constellatus, S. intermedius, S. salivarius and S. agalactiae. A 75-90 nucleotide length shared with S. anginosus and S. intermedius in opposite orientations in the two main variants of region 6 supported the role for DNA recombination in the evolution of the spacer. The 16S-23S intergenic spacers indicate that S. zooepidemicus was the archetypal species for S. equi and that both are genetically more distant from S. equisimilis and S. dysgalactiae. The intergenic spacer can be used to identify specifically the group C. streptococci and as an epidemiological marker for S. zooepidemicus.
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