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1.  Stability of the pneumococcal population structure in Massachusetts as PCV13 was introduced 
The success of 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccination (PCV-7) introduced to the US childhood immunization schedule in 2000 was partially offset by increases in invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) and pneumococcal carriage due to non-vaccine serotypes, in particular 19A, in the years that followed. A 13-valent conjugate vaccine (PCV-13) was introduced in 2010. As part of an ongoing study of the response of the Massachusetts pneumococcal population to conjugate vaccination, we report the findings from the samples collected in 2011, as PCV-13 was introduced.
We used multilocus sequence typing (MLST) to analyze 367 pneumococcal isolates carried by Massachusetts children (aged 3 months-7 years) collected during the winter of 2010–11 and used eBURST software to compare the pneumococcal population structure with that found in previous years.
One hundred and four distinct sequence types (STs) were found, including 24 that had not been previously recorded. Comparison with a similar sample collected in 2009 revealed no significant overall difference in the ST composition (p = 0.39, classification index). However, we describe clonal dynamics within the important replacement serotypes 19A, 15B/C, and 6C, and clonal expansion of ST 433 and ST 432, which are respectively serotype 22F and 21 clones.
While little overall change in serotypes or STs was evident, multiple changes in the frequency of individual STs and or serotypes may plausibly be ascribed to the introduction of PCV-13. This 2011 sample documents the initial impact of PCV-13 and will be important for comparison with future studies of the evolution of the pneumococcal population in Massachusetts.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12879-015-0797-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4336693
Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine; Streptococcus pneumoniae; Colonization; Molecular epidemiology; MLST
2.  Diversification of bacterial genome content through distinct mechanisms over different timescales 
Nature Communications  2014;5:5471.
Bacterial populations often consist of multiple co-circulating lineages. Determining how such population structures arise requires understanding what drives bacterial diversification. Using 616 systematically sampled genomes, we show that Streptococcus pneumoniae lineages are typically characterized by combinations of infrequently transferred stable genomic islands: those moving primarily through transformation, along with integrative and conjugative elements and phage-related chromosomal islands. The only lineage containing extensive unique sequence corresponds to a set of atypical unencapsulated isolates that may represent a distinct species. However, prophage content is highly variable even within lineages, suggesting frequent horizontal transmission that would necessitate rapidly diversifying anti-phage mechanisms to prevent these viruses sweeping through populations. Correspondingly, two loci encoding Type I restriction-modification systems able to change their specificity over short timescales through intragenomic recombination are ubiquitous across the collection. Hence short-term pneumococcal variation is characterized by movement of phage and intragenomic rearrangements, with the slower transfer of stable loci distinguishing lineages.
Populations of the pathogenic bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae consist of distinct co-circulating lineages. Here, the authors show lineages are characterized by particular combinations of stable genomic islands, whereas prophage and restriction-modification systems vary over short timescales.
PMCID: PMC4263131  PMID: 25407023
3.  Cryptic ecology among host generalist Campylobacter jejuni in domestic animals 
Molecular Ecology  2014;23(10):2442-2451.
Homologous recombination between bacterial strains is theoretically capable of preventing the separation of daughter clusters, and producing cohesive clouds of genotypes in sequence space. However, numerous barriers to recombination are known. Barriers may be essential such as adaptive incompatibility, or ecological, which is associated with the opportunities for recombination in the natural habitat. Campylobacter jejuni is a gut colonizer of numerous animal species and a major human enteric pathogen. We demonstrate that the two major generalist lineages of C. jejuni do not show evidence of recombination with each other in nature, despite having a high degree of host niche overlap and recombining extensively with specialist lineages. However, transformation experiments show that the generalist lineages readily recombine with one another in vitro. This suggests ecological rather than essential barriers to recombination, caused by a cryptic niche structure within the hosts.
PMCID: PMC4237157  PMID: 24689900
adaptation; Campylobacter; genomics; recombination barriers
4.  The Distribution of Pairwise Genetic Distances: A Tool for Investigating Disease Transmission 
Genetics  2014;198(4):1395-1404.
Whole-genome sequencing of pathogens has recently been used to investigate disease outbreaks and is likely to play a growing role in real-time epidemiological studies. Methods to analyze high-resolution genomic data in this context are still lacking, and inferring transmission dynamics from such data typically requires many assumptions. While recent studies have proposed methods to infer who infected whom based on genetic distance between isolates from different individuals, the link between epidemiological relationship and genetic distance is still not well understood. In this study, we investigated the distribution of pairwise genetic distances between samples taken from infected hosts during an outbreak. We proposed an analytically tractable approximation to this distribution, which provides a framework to evaluate the likelihood of particular transmission routes. Our method accounts for the transmission of a genetically diverse inoculum, a possibility overlooked in most analyses. We demonstrated that our approximation can provide a robust estimation of the posterior probability of transmission routes in an outbreak and may be used to rule out transmission events at a particular probability threshold. We applied our method to data collected during an outbreak of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, ruling out several potential transmission links. Our study sheds light on the accumulation of mutations in a pathogen during an epidemic and provides tools to investigate transmission dynamics, avoiding the intensive computation necessary in many existing methods.
PMCID: PMC4256759  PMID: 25313129
infectious diseases; epidemics; genetic distance; transmission routes
5.  Comprehensive Identification of Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms Associated with Beta-lactam Resistance within Pneumococcal Mosaic Genes 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(8):e1004547.
Traditional genetic association studies are very difficult in bacteria, as the generally limited recombination leads to large linked haplotype blocks, confounding the identification of causative variants. Beta-lactam antibiotic resistance in Streptococcus pneumoniae arises readily as the bacteria can quickly incorporate DNA fragments encompassing variants that make the transformed strains resistant. However, the causative mutations themselves are embedded within larger recombined blocks, and previous studies have only analysed a limited number of isolates, leading to the description of “mosaic genes” as being responsible for resistance. By comparing a large number of genomes of beta-lactam susceptible and non-susceptible strains, the high frequency of recombination should break up these haplotype blocks and allow the use of genetic association approaches to identify individual causative variants. Here, we performed a genome-wide association study to identify single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and indels that could confer beta-lactam non-susceptibility using 3,085 Thai and 616 USA pneumococcal isolates as independent datasets for the variant discovery. The large sample sizes allowed us to narrow the source of beta-lactam non-susceptibility from long recombinant fragments down to much smaller loci comprised of discrete or linked SNPs. While some loci appear to be universal resistance determinants, contributing equally to non-susceptibility for at least two classes of beta-lactam antibiotics, some play a larger role in resistance to particular antibiotics. All of the identified loci have a highly non-uniform distribution in the populations. They are enriched not only in vaccine-targeted, but also non-vaccine-targeted lineages, which may raise clinical concerns. Identification of single nucleotide polymorphisms underlying resistance will be essential for future use of genome sequencing to predict antibiotic sensitivity in clinical microbiology.
Author Summary
Streptococcus pneumoniae is carried asymptomatically in the nasopharyngeal tract. However, it is capable of causing multiple diseases, including pneumonia, bacteraemia and meningitis, which are common causes of morbidity and mortality in young children. Antibiotic treatment has become more difficult, especially that involving the group of beta-lactam antibiotics where resistance has developed rapidly. The organism is known to be highly recombinogenic, and this allows variants conferring beta-lactam resistance to be readily introduced into the genome. Identification of the specific genetic determinants of beta-lactam resistance is essential to understand both the mechanism of resistance and the spread of resistant variants in the pneumococcal population. Here, we performed a genome-wide association study on 3,701 isolates collected from two different locations and identified candidate variants that may explain beta-lactam resistance as well as discriminating potential genetic hitchhiking variants from potential causative variants. We report 51 loci, containing 301 SNPs, that are associated with beta-lactam non-susceptibility. 71 out of 301 polymorphic changes result in amino acid alterations, 28 of which have been reported previously. Understanding the determinants of resistance at the single nucleotide level will be important for the future use of sequence data to predict resistance in the clinical setting.
PMCID: PMC4125147  PMID: 25101644
6.  Biomedical Ph.D. Students Enrolled in Two Elite Universities in the United Kingdom and the United States Report Adopting Multiple Learning Relationships 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e103075.
The ability to form multiple learning relationships is a key element of the doctoral learning environment in the biomedical sciences. Of these relationships, that between student and supervisor has long been viewed as key. There are, however, limited data to describe the student perspective on what makes this relationship valuable. In the present study, we discuss the findings of semi-structured interviews with biomedical Ph.D. students from the United Kingdom and the United States to: i) determine if the learning relationships identified in an Australian biomedical Ph.D. cohort are also important in a larger international student cohort; and ii) improve our understanding of student perceptions of value in their supervisory relationships.
Study Design
32 students from two research intensive universities, one in the United Kingdom (n = 17), and one in the United States (n = 15) were recruited to participate in a semi-structured interview. Verbatim transcripts were transcribed, validated and analysed using a Miles and Huberman method for thematic analysis.
Students reported that relationships with other Ph.D. students, post-doctoral scientists and supervisors were all essential to their learning. Effective supervisory relationships were perceived as the primary source of high-level project guidance, intellectual support and confidence. Relationships with fellow students were viewed as essential for the provision of empathetic emotional support. Technical learning was facilitated, almost exclusively, by relationships with postdoctoral staff.
These data make two important contributions to the scholarship of doctoral education in the biomedical sciences. Firstly, they provide further evidence for the importance of multiple learning relationships in the biomedical doctorate. Secondly, they clarify the form of a ‘valued’ supervisory relationship from a student perspective. We conclude that biomedical doctoral programs should be designed to contain a minimum level of formalised structure to promote the development of multiple learning relationships that are perceived as key to student learning.
PMCID: PMC4108381  PMID: 25054473
7.  Variable recombination dynamics during the emergence, transmission and ‘disarming’ of a multidrug-resistant pneumococcal clone 
BMC Biology  2014;12:49.
Pneumococcal β-lactam resistance was first detected in Iceland in the late 1980s, and subsequently peaked at almost 25% of clinical isolates in the mid-1990s largely due to the spread of the internationally-disseminated multidrug-resistant PMEN2 (or Spain6B-2) clone of Streptococcus pneumoniae.
Whole genome sequencing of an international collection of 189 isolates estimated that PMEN2 emerged around the late 1960s, developing resistance through multiple homologous recombinations and the acquisition of a Tn5253-type integrative and conjugative element (ICE). Two distinct clades entered Iceland in the 1980s, one of which had acquired a macrolide resistance cassette and was estimated to have risen sharply in its prevalence by coalescent analysis. Transmission within the island appeared to mainly emanate from Reykjavík and the Southern Peninsular, with evolution of the bacteria effectively clonal, mainly due to a prophage disrupting a gene necessary for genetic transformation in many isolates. A subsequent decline in PMEN2’s prevalence in Iceland coincided with a nationwide campaign that reduced dispensing of antibiotics to children in an attempt to limit its spread. Specific mutations causing inactivation or loss of ICE-borne resistance genes were identified from the genome sequences of isolates that reverted to drug susceptible phenotypes around this time. Phylogenetic analysis revealed some of these occurred on multiple occasions in parallel, suggesting they may have been at least temporarily advantageous. However, alteration of ‘core’ sequences associated with resistance was precluded by the absence of any substantial homologous recombination events.
PMEN2’s clonal evolution was successful over the short-term in a limited geographical region, but its inability to alter major antigens or ‘core’ gene sequences associated with resistance may have prevented persistence over longer timespans.
PMCID: PMC4094930  PMID: 24957517
Bacterial evolution; Antibiotic resistance; Recombination; Mobile genetic elements; Coalescent analysis; Phylogeography
8.  Evidence for Soft Selective Sweeps in the Evolution of Pneumococcal Multidrug Resistance and Vaccine Escape 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2014;6(7):1589-1602.
The multidrug-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae Taiwan19F-14, or PMEN14, clone was first observed with a 19F serotype, which is targeted by the heptavalent polysaccharide conjugate vaccine (PCV7). However, “vaccine escape” PMEN14 isolates with a 19A serotype became an increasingly important cause of disease post-PCV7. Whole genome sequencing was used to characterize the recent evolution of 173 pneumococci of, or related to, PMEN14. This suggested that PMEN14 is a single lineage that originated in the late 1980s in parallel with the acquisition of multiple resistances by close relatives. One of the four detected serotype switches to 19A generated representatives of the sequence type (ST) 320 isolates that have been highly successful post-PCV7. A second produced an ST236 19A genotype with reduced resistance to β-lactams owing to alteration of pbp1a and pbp2x sequences through the same recombination that caused the change in serotype. A third, which generated a mosaic capsule biosynthesis locus, resulted in serotype 19A ST271 isolates. The rapid diversification through homologous recombination seen in the global collection was similarly observed in the absence of vaccination in a set of isolates from the Maela refugee camp in Thailand, a collection that also allowed variation to be observed within carriage through longitudinal sampling. This suggests that some pneumococcal genotypes generate a pool of standing variation that is sufficiently extensive to result in “soft” selective sweeps: The emergence of multiple mutants in parallel upon a change in selection pressure, such as vaccine introduction. The subsequent competition between these mutants makes this phenomenon difficult to detect without deep sampling of individual lineages.
PMCID: PMC4122920  PMID: 24916661
bacterial evolution; recombination; vaccine escape; antibiotic resistance; selective sweeps; phylogenomics
9.  Heterogeneity in the Frequency and Characteristics of Homologous Recombination in Pneumococcal Evolution 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(5):e1004300.
The bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus) is one of the most important human bacterial pathogens, and a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. The pneumococcus is also known for undergoing extensive homologous recombination via transformation with exogenous DNA. It has been shown that recombination has a major impact on the evolution of the pathogen, including acquisition of antibiotic resistance and serotype-switching. Nevertheless, the mechanism and the rates of recombination in an epidemiological context remain poorly understood. Here, we proposed several mathematical models to describe the rate and size of recombination in the evolutionary history of two very distinct pneumococcal lineages, PMEN1 and CC180. We found that, in both lineages, the process of homologous recombination was best described by a heterogeneous model of recombination with single, short, frequent replacements, which we call micro-recombinations, and rarer, multi-fragment, saltational replacements, which we call macro-recombinations. Macro-recombination was associated with major phenotypic changes, including serotype-switching events, and thus was a major driver of the diversification of the pathogen. We critically evaluate biological and epidemiological processes that could give rise to the micro-recombination and macro-recombination processes.
Author Summary
Streptococcus pneumoniae, a bacterium commonly carried asymptomatically by children, is a major cause of diseases such as pneumonia and meningitis. The species is genetically diverse and is known to frequently undergo the remarkable process of transformation via homologous recombination. In this process, the bacterial cell incorporates DNA from other, closely related bacteria into its own genome, which can result in the development of antibiotic resistance or allow cells to evade vaccines. Therefore it is important to quantify the impact of this process on the evolution of S. pneumoniae to understand how quickly the species can respond to the introduction of such clinical interventions. In this study we followed the recombination process by studying the evolution of two important and very different lineages of S. pneumoniae, PMEN1 and CC180, using newly available population genomic data. We found that pneumococcus evolves via two distinct processes that we term micro- and macro-recombination. Micro-recombination led to acquisition of single, short DNA fragments, while macro-recombination tended to incorporate multiple, long DNA fragments. Interestingly, macro-recombination was associated with major phenotypic changes. We argue that greater insight into the adaptive role of recombination in pneumococcus requires a good understanding of both rates of homologous recombination and population dynamics of the bacterium in natural populations.
PMCID: PMC4006708  PMID: 24786281
10.  Within-Host Bacterial Diversity Hinders Accurate Reconstruction of Transmission Networks from Genomic Distance Data 
PLoS Computational Biology  2014;10(3):e1003549.
The prospect of using whole genome sequence data to investigate bacterial disease outbreaks has been keenly anticipated in many quarters, and the large-scale collection and sequencing of isolates from cases is becoming increasingly feasible. While sequence data can provide many important insights into disease spread and pathogen adaptation, it remains unclear how successfully they may be used to estimate individual routes of transmission. Several studies have attempted to reconstruct transmission routes using genomic data; however, these have typically relied upon restrictive assumptions, such as a shared topology of the phylogenetic tree and a lack of within-host diversity. In this study, we investigated the potential for bacterial genomic data to inform transmission network reconstruction. We used simulation models to investigate the origins, persistence and onward transmission of genetic diversity, and examined the impact of such diversity on our estimation of the epidemiological relationship between carriers. We used a flexible distance-based metric to provide a weighted transmission network, and used receiver-operating characteristic (ROC) curves and network entropy to assess the accuracy and uncertainty of the inferred structure. Our results suggest that sequencing a single isolate from each case is inadequate in the presence of within-host diversity, and is likely to result in misleading interpretations of transmission dynamics – under many plausible conditions, this may be little better than selecting transmission links at random. Sampling more frequently improves accuracy, but much uncertainty remains, even if all genotypes are observed. While it is possible to discriminate between clusters of carriers, individual transmission routes cannot be resolved by sequence data alone. Our study demonstrates that bacterial genomic distance data alone provide only limited information on person-to-person transmission dynamics.
Author Summary
With the advent of affordable large-scale genome sequencing for bacterial pathogens, there is much interest in using such data to identify who infected whom in a disease outbreak. Many methods exist to reconstruct the phylogeny of sampled bacteria, but the resulting tree does not necessarily share the same structure as the transmission tree linking infected persons. We explored the potential of sampled genomic data to inform the transmission tree, measuring the accuracy and precision of estimated networks based on simulated data. We demonstrated that failing to account for within-host diversity can lead to poor network reconstructions - even with repeated sampling of each carrier, there is still much uncertainty in the estimated structure. While it may be possible to identify clusters of potential sources, identifying individual transmission links is not possible using bacterial sequence data alone. This work highlights potential limitations of genomic data to investigate transmission dynamics, lending support to methods unifying all available data sources.
PMCID: PMC3967931  PMID: 24675511
11.  Genomic epidemiology of Neisseria gonorrhoeae with reduced susceptibility to cefixime in the USA: a retrospective observational study 
The Lancet Infectious Diseases  2014;14(3):220-226.
The emergence of Neisseria gonorrhoeae with decreased susceptibility to extended spectrum cephalosporins raises the prospect of untreatable gonorrhoea. In the absence of new treatments, efforts to slow the increasing incidence of resistant gonococcus require insight into the factors that contribute to its emergence and spread. We assessed the relatedness between isolates in the USA and reconstructed likely spread of lineages through different sexual networks.
We sequenced the genomes of 236 isolates of N gonorrhoeae collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Gonococcal Isolate Surveillance Project (GISP) from sentinel public sexually transmitted disease clinics in the USA, including 118 (97%) of the isolates from 2009–10 in GISP with reduced susceptibility to cefixime (cefRS) and 118 cefixime-susceptible isolates from GISP matched as closely as possible by location, collection date, and sexual orientation. We assessed the association between antimicrobial resistance genotype and phenotype and correlated phylogenetic clustering with location and sexual orientation.
Mosaic penA XXXIV had a high positive predictive value for cefRS. We found that two of the 118 cefRS isolates lacked a mosaic penA allele, and rechecking showed that these two were susceptible to cefixime. Of the 116 remaining cefRS isolates, 114 (98%) fell into two distinct lineages that have independently acquired mosaic penA allele XXXIV. A major lineage of cefRS strains spread eastward, predominantly through a sexual network of men who have sex with men. Eight of nine inferred transitions between sexual networks were introductions from men who have sex with men into the heterosexual population.
Genomic methods might aid efforts to slow the spread of antibiotic-resistant N gonorrhoeae through augmentation of gonococcal outbreak surveillance and identification of populations that could benefit from increased screening for aymptomatic infections.
American Sexually Transmitted Disease Association, Wellcome Trust, National Institute of General Medical Sciences, and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health.
PMCID: PMC4030102  PMID: 24462211
12.  Bacterial genomes in epidemiology—present and future 
Sequence data are well established in the reconstruction of the phylogenetic and demographic scenarios that have given rise to outbreaks of viral pathogens. The application of similar methods to bacteria has been hindered in the main by the lack of high-resolution nucleotide sequence data from quality samples. Developing and already available genomic methods have greatly increased the amount of data that can be used to characterize an isolate and its relationship to others. However, differences in sequencing platforms and data analysis mean that these enhanced data come with a cost in terms of portability: results from one laboratory may not be directly comparable with those from another. Moreover, genomic data for many bacteria bear the mark of a history including extensive recombination, which has the potential to greatly confound phylogenetic and coalescent analyses. Here, we discuss the exacting requirements of genomic epidemiology, and means by which the distorting signal of recombination can be minimized to permit the leverage of growing datasets of genomic data from bacterial pathogens.
PMCID: PMC3678326  PMID: 23382424
horizontal gene transfer; coalescent; next-generation sequencing; second-generation sequencing
13.  Horizontal Gene Transfer and the Evolution of Bacterial and Archaeal Population Structure 
Trends in genetics : TIG  2013;29(3):170-175.
Many bacterial and archaeal lineages have a history of extensive and ongoing horizontal gene transfer and loss, as evidenced by the large differences in genome content even among otherwise closely related isolates. How ecologically cohesive populations might evolve and be maintained under such conditions of rapid gene turnover has remained controversial. Here we synthesize recent literature demonstrating the importance of habitat and niche in structuring horizontal gene transfer. This leads to a model of ecological speciation via gradual genetic isolation triggered by differential habitat association of nascent populations. Further, we hypothesize that subpopulations can evolve through local gene exchange networks by tapping into a gene pool that is adaptive towards local, continuously changing organismic interactions and is, to a large degree, responsible for the observed rapid gene turnover. Overall, these insights help explain how bacteria and archaea form populations that display both ecological cohesion and high genomic diversity.
PMCID: PMC3760709  PMID: 23332119
ecological speciation; frequency dependent selection; environmental niche; genotypic clusters
14.  Inference on Population Histories by Approximating Infinite Alleles Diffusion 
Molecular Biology and Evolution  2012;30(2):457-468.
Reconstruction of the past is an important task of evolutionary biology. It takes place at different points in a hierarchy of molecular variation, including genes, individuals, populations, and species. Statistical inference about population histories has recently received considerable attention, following the development of computational tools to provide tractable approaches to this very challenging problem. Here, we introduce a likelihood-based approach which generalizes a recently developed model for random fluctuations in allele frequencies based on an approximation to the neutral Wright–Fisher diffusion. Our new framework approximates the infinite alleles Wright–Fisher model and uses an implementation with an adaptive Markov chain Monte Carlo algorithm. The method is especially well suited to data sets harboring large population samples and relatively few loci for which other likelihood-based models are currently computationally intractable. Using our model, we reconstruct the global population history of a major human pathogen, Streptococcus pneumoniae. The results illustrate the potential to reach important biological insights to an evolutionary process by a population genetics approach, which can appropriately accommodate very large population samples.
PMCID: PMC3548313  PMID: 22993237
population history; genetic drift; infinite alleles Wright–Fisher model
15.  Population genomics of post-vaccine changes in pneumococcal epidemiology 
Nature genetics  2013;45(6):10.1038/ng.2625.
Whole genome sequencing of 616 asymptomatically carried pneumococci was used to study the impact of the 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. Comparison of closely related isolates revealed the role of transformation in facilitating capsule switching to non-vaccine serotypes and the emergence of drug resistance. However, such recombination was found to occur at significantly different rates across the species, and the evolution of the population was primarily driven by changes in the frequency of distinct genotypes extant pre-vaccine. These alterations resulted in little overall effect on accessory genome composition at the population level, contrasting with the fall in pneumococcal disease rates after the vaccine’s introduction.
PMCID: PMC3725542  PMID: 23644493
16.  Population genomics of post-vaccine changes in pneumococcal epidemiology 
Nature genetics  2013;45(6):10.1038/ng.2625.
Whole genome sequencing of 616 asymptomatically carried pneumococci was used to study the impact of the 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. Comparison of closely related isolates revealed the role of transformation in facilitating capsule switching to non-vaccine serotypes and the emergence of drug resistance. However, such recombination was found to occur at significantly different rates across the species, and the evolution of the population was primarily driven by changes in the frequency of distinct genotypes extant pre-vaccine. These alterations resulted in little overall effect on accessory genome composition at the population level, contrasting with the fall in pneumococcal disease rates after the vaccine’s introduction.
PMCID: PMC3725542  PMID: 23644493
17.  A Pluralistic Account of Homology: Adapting the Models to the Data 
Molecular Biology and Evolution  2013;31(3):501-516.
Defining homologous genes is important in many evolutionary studies but raises obvious issues. Some of these issues are conceptual and stem from our assumptions of how a gene evolves, others are practical, and depend on the algorithmic decisions implemented in existing software. Therefore, to make progress in the study of homology, both ontological and epistemological questions must be considered. In particular, defining homologous genes cannot be solely addressed under the classic assumptions of strong tree thinking, according to which genes evolve in a strictly tree-like fashion of vertical descent and divergence and the problems of homology detection are primarily methodological. Gene homology could also be considered under a different perspective where genes evolve as “public goods,” subjected to various introgressive processes. In this latter case, defining homologous genes becomes a matter of designing models suited to the actual complexity of the data and how such complexity arises, rather than trying to fit genetic data to some a priori tree-like evolutionary model, a practice that inevitably results in the loss of much information. Here we show how important aspects of the problems raised by homology detection methods can be overcome when even more fundamental roots of these problems are addressed by analyzing public goods thinking evolutionary processes through which genes have frequently originated. This kind of thinking acknowledges distinct types of homologs, characterized by distinct patterns, in phylogenetic and nonphylogenetic unrooted or multirooted networks. In addition, we define “family resemblances” to include genes that are related through intermediate relatives, thereby placing notions of homology in the broader context of evolutionary relationships. We conclude by presenting some payoffs of adopting such a pluralistic account of homology and family relationship, which expands the scope of evolutionary analyses beyond the traditional, yet relatively narrow focus allowed by a strong tree-thinking view on gene evolution.
PMCID: PMC3935183  PMID: 24273322
homology; network; comparative genomics; epaktolog; ortholog; paralog
18.  Carried Pneumococci in Massachusetts Children; The Contribution of Clonal Expansion and Serotype Switching 
PMCID: PMC3175614  PMID: 21085049
MLST; conjugate vaccination; Streptococcus pneumoniae; nasopharyngeal carriage
19.  Pandemic Potential of a Strain of Influenza A (H1N1): Early Findings 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2009;324(5934):1557-1561.
A novel influenza A (H1N1) virus has spread rapidly across the globe. Judging its pandemic potential is difficult with limited data, but nevertheless essential to inform appropriate health responses. By analyzing the outbreak in Mexico, early data on international spread, and viral genetic diversity, we make an early assessment of transmissibility and severity. Our estimates suggest that 23,000 (range 6000 to 32,000) individuals had been infected in Mexico by late April, giving an estimated case fatality ratio (CFR) of 0.4% (range: 0.3 to 1.8%) based on confirmed and suspected deaths reported to that time. In a community outbreak in the small community of La Gloria, Veracruz, no deaths were attributed to infection, giving an upper 95% bound on CFR of 0.6%. Thus, although substantial uncertainty remains, clinical severity appears less than that seen in the 1918 influenza pandemic but comparable with that seen in the 1957 pandemic. Clinical attack rates in children in La Gloria were twice that in adults (<15 years of age: 61%; ≥15 years: 29%). Three different epidemiological analyses gave basic reproduction number (R0) estimates in the range of 1.4 to 1.6, whereas a genetic analysis gave a central estimate of 1.2. This range of values is consistent with 14 to 73 generations of human-to-human transmission having occurred in Mexico to late April. Transmissibility is therefore substantially higher than that of seasonal flu, and comparable with lower estimates of R0 obtained from previous influenza pandemics.
PMCID: PMC3735127  PMID: 19433588
20.  Evolutionary Dynamics of Vibrio cholerae O1 following a Single-Source Introduction to Haiti 
mBio  2013;4(4):e00398-13.
Prior to the epidemic that emerged in Haiti in October of 2010, cholera had not been documented in this country. After its introduction, a strain of Vibrio cholerae O1 spread rapidly throughout Haiti, where it caused over 600,000 cases of disease and >7,500 deaths in the first two years of the epidemic. We applied whole-genome sequencing to a temporal series of V. cholerae isolates from Haiti to gain insight into the mode and tempo of evolution in this isolated population of V. cholerae O1. Phylogenetic and Bayesian analyses supported the hypothesis that all isolates in the sample set diverged from a common ancestor within a time frame that is consistent with epidemiological observations. A pangenome analysis showed nearly homogeneous genomic content, with no evidence of gene acquisition among Haiti isolates. Nine nearly closed genomes assembled from continuous-long-read data showed evidence of genome rearrangements and supported the observation of no gene acquisition among isolates. Thus, intrinsic mutational processes can account for virtually all of the observed genetic polymorphism, with no demonstrable contribution from horizontal gene transfer (HGT). Consistent with this, the 12 Haiti isolates tested by laboratory HGT assays were severely impaired for transformation, although unlike previously characterized noncompetent V. cholerae isolates, each expressed hapR and possessed a functional quorum-sensing system. Continued monitoring of V. cholerae in Haiti will illuminate the processes influencing the origin and fate of genome variants, which will facilitate interpretation of genetic variation in future epidemics.
Vibrio cholerae is the cause of substantial morbidity and mortality worldwide, with over three million cases of disease each year. An understanding of the mode and rate of evolutionary change is critical for proper interpretation of genome sequence data and attribution of outbreak sources. The Haiti epidemic provides an unprecedented opportunity to study an isolated, single-source outbreak of Vibrio cholerae O1 over an established time frame. By using multiple approaches to assay genetic variation, we found no evidence that the Haiti strain has acquired any genes by horizontal gene transfer, an observation that led us to discover that it is also poorly transformable. We have found no evidence that environmental strains have played a role in the evolution of the outbreak strain.
PMCID: PMC3705451  PMID: 23820394
21.  Nontypeable Pneumococcal Isolates Among Navajo and White Mountain Apache Communities: Are These Really a Cause of Invasive Disease? 
Background. Pneumococci could evade pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV) by modifying, mutating, or deleting vaccine-serotype capsule genes or by downregulating capsule production. We sought to assess whether pneumococci that are nontypeable (NT) by the Quellung reaction truly lack capsule genes or are failing to produce capsule in vitro.
Methods. We applied multilocus sequence typing and a microarray for detection of pneumococcal polysaccharide capsule biosynthesis genes to NT carriage (children aged <5 years; years 1997–2000, 2006–2008) and NT invasive disease (IPD) (all ages; years 1994–2007) isolates from Native American communities.
Results. Twenty-seven of 28 (96.4%) NT IPD isolates had sequence types (STs) typically found among typeable IPD isolates and contained whole or fragments of capsule genes that matched known serotypes; 1 NT-IPD isolate had a profile resembling NT carriage isolates. Forty-nine of 76 (64.5%) NT carriage isolates had STs that typically lack capsule genes and were similar to NT carriage isolates found globally.
Conclusions. This is the first documentation of IPD from an NT strain confirmed to lack all known capsule genes. Most NT IPD isolates have or had the capacity to produce capsule, whereas a majority of NT carriage isolates lack this capacity. We found no evidence of pneumococcal adaptation to PCV7 via downregulation or deletion of vaccine-serotype capsule genes.
PMCID: PMC3415932  PMID: 22536000
22.  Nontypeable Pneumococcal Isolates Among Navajo and White Mountain Apache Communities: Are These Really a Cause of Invasive Disease? 
Pneumococci could evade pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV) by modifying, mutating, or deleting vaccine-serotype capsule genes or by downregulating capsule production. We sought to assess whether pneumococci that are nontypeable (NT) by the Quellung reaction truly lack capsule genes or are failing to produce capsule in vitro.
We applied multilocus sequence typing and a microarray for detection of pneumococcal polysaccharide capsule biosynthesis genes to NT carriage (children aged <5 years; years 1997–2000, 2006–2008) and NT invasive disease (IPD) (all ages; years 1994–2007) isolates from Native American communities.
Twenty-seven of 28 (96.4%) NT IPD isolates had sequence types (STs) typically found among typeable IPD isolates and contained whole or fragments of capsule genes that matched known serotypes; 1 NT-IPD isolate had a profile resembling NT carriage isolates. Forty-nine of 76 (64.5%) NT carriage isolates had STs that typically lack capsule genes and were similar to NT carriage isolates found globally.
This is the first documentation of IPD from an NT strain confirmed to lack all known capsule genes. Most NT IPD isolates have or had the capacity to produce capsule, whereas a majority of NT carriage isolates lack this capacity. We found no evidence of pneumococcal adaptation to PCV7 via downregulation or deletion of vaccine-serotype capsule genes.
PMCID: PMC3415932  PMID: 22536000
23.  Evidence that pneumococcal serotype replacement in Massachusetts following conjugate vaccination is now complete 
Epidemics  2010;2(2):80-84.
Invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD) has been reduced in the US following conjugate vaccination (PCV7) targeting seven pneumococcal serotypes in 2000. However, increases in IPD due to other serotypes have been observed, in particular 19A. How much this “serotype replacement” will erode the benefits of vaccination and over what timescale is unknown. We used a population genetic approach to test first whether the selective impact of vaccination could be detected in a longitudinal carriage sample, and secondly how long it persisted for following introduction of vaccine in 2000. To detect the selective impact of the vaccine we compared the serotype diversity of samples from pneumococcal carriage in Massachusetts children collected in 2001, 2004 and 2007 with others collected in the pre-vaccine era in Massachusetts, the UK and Finland. The 2004 sample was significantly (p >0.0001) more diverse than pre-vaccine samples, indicating the selective pressure of vaccination. The 2007 sample showed no significant difference in diversity from the pre-vaccine period, and exhibited similar population structure, but with different serotypes. In 2007 the carriage frequency of 19A was similar to that of the most common serotype in pre-vaccine samples. We suggest that serotype replacement involving 19A may be complete in Massachusetts due to similarities in population structure to pre-vaccine samples. These results suggest that the replacement phenomenon occurs rapidly with high vaccine coverage, and may allay concerns about future increases in disease due to 19A. For other serotypes, the future course of replacement disease remains to be determined.
PMCID: PMC2963072  PMID: 21031138
Streptococcus pneumoniae; Infectious disease epidemiology; Nasopharyngeal carriage; Population genetics
24.  Rapid pneumococcal evolution in response to clinical interventions 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2011;331(6016):430-434.
Epidemiological studies of the naturally transformable bacterial pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae have previously been confounded by high rates of recombination. Sequencing 240 isolates of the PMEN1 (Spain23F-1) multidrug-resistant lineage enabled base substitutions to be distinguished from polymorphisms arising through horizontal sequence transfer. Over 700 recombinations were detected, with genes encoding major antigens frequently affected. Among these were ten capsule switching events, one of which accompanied a population shift as vaccine-escape serotype 19A isolates emerged in the USA following the introduction of the conjugate polysaccharide vaccine. The evolution of resistance to fluoroquinolones, rifampicin and macrolides was observed to occur on multiple occasions. This study details how genomic plasticity within lineages of recombinogenic bacteria can permit adaptation to clinical interventions over remarkably short timescales.
PMCID: PMC3648787  PMID: 21273480
25.  Historical Zoonoses and Other Changes in Host Tropism of Staphylococcus aureus, Identified by Phylogenetic Analysis of a Population Dataset 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e62369.
Staphylococcus aureus exhibits tropisms to many distinct animal hosts. While spillover events can occur wherever there is an interface between host species, changes in host tropism only occur with the establishment of sustained transmission in the new host species, leading to clonal expansion. Although the genomic variation underpinning adaptation in S. aureus genotypes infecting bovids and poultry has been well characterized the frequency of switches from one host to another remains obscure. We sought to identify sustained switches in host tropism in the S. aureus population, both anthroponotic and zoonotic, and their distribution over the species phylogeny.
We have used a sample of 3042 isolates, representing 696 distinct MLST genotypes, from a well-established database ( Using an empirical parsimony approach (AdaptML) we have investigated the distribution of switches in host association between both human and non-human (henceforth referred to as animal) hosts. We reconstructed a credible description of past events in the form of a phylogenetic tree; the nodes and leaves of which are statistically associated with either human or animal habitats, estimated from extant host-association and the degree of sequence divergence between genotypes. We identified 15 likely historical switching events; 13 anthroponoses and two zoonoses. Importantly, we identified two human-associated clade candidates (CC25 and CC59) that have arisen from animal-associated ancestors; this demonstrates that a human-specific lineage can emerge from an animal host. We also highlight novel rabbit-associated genotypes arising from a human ancestor.
S. aureus is an organism with the capacity to switch into and adapt to novel hosts, even after long periods of isolation in a single host species. Based on this evidence, animal-adapted S. aureus lineages exhibiting resistance to antibiotics must be considered a major threat to public health, as they can adapt to the human population.
PMCID: PMC3647051  PMID: 23667472

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