The Proteobacteria are a major group (phylum) of bacteria. They include a wide variety of pathogens, such as Escherichia, Salmonella, Vibrio, Helicobacter, and many other notable genera. Others are free-living, and include many of the bacteria responsible for nitrogen fixation. The group is defined primarily in terms of ribosomal RNA (rRNA) sequences, and is named for the Greek god Proteus (also the name of a bacterial genus within the Proteobacteria), who could change his shape, because of the great diversity of forms found in this group.
All Proteobacteria are Gram-negative, with an outer membrane mainly composed of lipopolysaccharides. Many move about using flagella, but some are non-motile or rely on bacterial gliding. The last include the myxobacteria, a unique group of bacteria that can aggregate to form multicellular fruiting bodies. There is also a wide variety in the types of metabolism. Most members are facultatively or obligately anaerobic and heterotrophic, but there are numerous exceptions. A variety of genera, which are not closely related to each other, convert energy from light through photosynthesis. These are called purple bacteria, referring to their mostly reddish pigmentation.
The Proteobacteria are divided into five sections, referred to by the Greek letters alpha through epsilon, again based on rRNA sequences. These are often treated as classes. Although it has been suggested previously that the Gammaproteobacteria are paraphyletic to the Betaproteobacteria, recent molecular data suggests that this is not so. The divisions of the proteobacteria were once regarded as subclasses (e.g. α-subclass of the Proteobacteria), but are now regarded as classes (e.g. the Alphaproteobacteria) and should be styled in italics as one word.
The Gammaproteobacteria comprise several medically and scientifically important groups of bacteria, such as the Enterobacteriaceae, Vibrionaceae and Pseudomonadaceae. A number of important pathogens belongs to this class, e.g. Salmonella spp. (enteritis and typhoid fever), Yersinia pestis (plague), Vibrio cholerae (cholera), Pseudomonas aeruginosa (lung infections in hospitalized or cystic fibrosis patients), and Escherichia coli (food poisoning).
The Epsilonproteobacteria consist few known genera, mainly the curved to spirilloid Wolinella spp., Helicobacter spp., and Campylobacter spp. Most of the known species inhabit the digestive tract of animals and serve as symbionts (Wolinella spp. in cows) or pathogens (Helicobacter spp. in the stomach, Campylobacter spp. in the duodenum). There have also been numerous environmental sequences of Epsilonproteobacteria recovered from hydrothermal vents and cold seep habitats.