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1.  Whole-Genome Sequencing in Microbial Forensic Analysis of Gamma-Irradiated Microbial Materials 
Effective microbial forensic analysis of materials used in a potential biological attack requires robust methods of morphological and genetic characterization of the attack materials in order to enable the attribution of the materials to potential sources and to exclude other potential sources. The genetic homogeneity and potential intersample variability of many of the category A to C bioterrorism agents offer a particular challenge to the generation of attributive signatures, potentially requiring whole-genome or proteomic approaches to be utilized. Currently, irradiation of mail is standard practice at several government facilities judged to be at particularly high risk. Thus, initial forensic signatures would need to be recovered from inactivated (nonviable) material. In the study described in this report, we determined the effects of high-dose gamma irradiation on forensic markers of bacterial biothreat agent surrogate organisms with a particular emphasis on the suitability of genomic DNA (gDNA) recovered from such sources as a template for whole-genome analysis. While irradiation of spores and vegetative cells affected the retention of Gram and spore stains and sheared gDNA into small fragments, we found that irradiated material could be utilized to generate accurate whole-genome sequence data on the Illumina and Roche 454 sequencing platforms.
PMCID: PMC4711114  PMID: 26567301
3.  Pangenome Analysis of Burkholderia pseudomallei: Genome Evolution Preserves Gene Order despite High Recombination Rates 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(10):e0140274.
The pangenomic diversity in Burkholderia pseudomallei is high, with approximately 5.8% of the genome consisting of genomic islands. Genomic islands are known hotspots for recombination driven primarily by site-specific recombination associated with tRNAs. However, recombination rates in other portions of the genome are also high, a feature we expected to disrupt gene order. We analyzed the pangenome of 37 isolates of B. pseudomallei and demonstrate that the pangenome is ‘open’, with approximately 136 new genes identified with each new genome sequenced, and that the global core genome consists of 4568±16 homologs. Genes associated with metabolism were statistically overrepresented in the core genome, and genes associated with mobile elements, disease, and motility were primarily associated with accessory portions of the pangenome. The frequency distribution of genes present in between 1 and 37 of the genomes analyzed matches well with a model of genome evolution in which 96% of the genome has very low recombination rates but 4% of the genome recombines readily. Using homologous genes among pairs of genomes, we found that gene order was highly conserved among strains, despite the high recombination rates previously observed. High rates of gene transfer and recombination are incompatible with retaining gene order unless these processes are either highly localized to specific sites within the genome, or are characterized by symmetrical gene gain and loss. Our results demonstrate that both processes occur: localized recombination introduces many new genes at relatively few sites, and recombination throughout the genome generates the novel multi-locus sequence types previously observed while preserving gene order.
PMCID: PMC4613141  PMID: 26484663
4.  Genome Sequencing of 18 Francisella Strains To Aid in Assay Development and Testing 
Genome Announcements  2015;3(2):e00147-15.
Francisella tularensis is a highly infectious bacterium with the potential to cause high fatality rates if infections are untreated. To aid in the development of rapid and accurate detection assays, we have sequenced and annotated the genomes of 18 F. tularensis and Francisella philomiragia strains.
PMCID: PMC4417685  PMID: 25931589
5.  Thirty-Two Complete Genome Assemblies of Nine Yersinia Species, Including Y. pestis, Y. pseudotuberculosis, and Y. enterocolitica 
Genome Announcements  2015;3(2):e00148-15.
The genus Yersinia includes three human pathogens, of which Yersinia pestis is responsible for >2,000 illnesses each year. To aid in the development of detection assays and aid further phylogenetic elucidation, we sequenced and assembled the complete genomes of 32 strains (across 9 Yersinia species).
PMCID: PMC4417686  PMID: 25931590
6.  Complete Genome Sequences for 35 Biothreat Assay-Relevant Bacillus Species 
Genome Announcements  2015;3(2):e00151-15.
In 2011, the Association of Analytical Communities (AOAC) International released a list of Bacillus strains relevant to biothreat molecular detection assays. We present the complete and annotated genome assemblies for the 15 strains listed on the inclusivity panel, as well as the 20 strains listed on the exclusivity panel.
PMCID: PMC4417687  PMID: 25931591
7.  Complete Genome Sequences for 59 Burkholderia Isolates, Both Pathogenic and Near Neighbor 
Genome Announcements  2015;3(2):e00159-15.
The genus Burkholderia encompasses both pathogenic (including Burkholderia mallei and Burkholderia pseudomallei, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Category B listed), and nonpathogenic Gram-negative bacilli. Here we present full genome sequences for a panel of 59 Burkholderia strains, selected to aid in detection assay development.
PMCID: PMC4417688  PMID: 25931592
8.  Pathoadaptive Mutations in Salmonella enterica Isolated after Serial Passage in Mice 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e70147.
How pathogenic bacteria adapt and evolve in the complex and variable environment of the host remains a largely unresolved question. Here we have used whole genome sequencing of Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium LT2 populations serially passaged in mice to identify mutations that adapt bacteria to systemic growth in mice. We found unique pathoadaptive mutations in two global regulators, phoQ and stpA, which increase the competitive indexes of the bacteria 3- to 5-fold. Also, all mouse-adapted lineages had changed the orientation of the hin invertable element, resulting in production of a FliC type of flagellum. Competition experiments in mice with locked flagellum mutants showed that strains expressing the FliC type of flagellum had a 5-fold increase in competitive index as compared to those expressing FljB type flagellum. Combination of the flagellum cassette inversion with the stpA mutation increased competitive indexes up to 20-fold. These experiments show that Salmonella can rapidly adapt to a mouse environment by acquiring a few mutations of moderate individual effect that when combined confer substantial increases in growth.
PMCID: PMC3723669  PMID: 23936152
9.  Genetic Barcodes for Improved Environmental Tracking of an Anthrax Simulant 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(23):8272-8280.
The development of realistic risk models that predict the dissemination, dispersion and persistence of potential biothreat agents have utilized nonpathogenic surrogate organisms such as Bacillus atrophaeus subsp. globigii or commercial products such as Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki. Comparison of results from outdoor tests under different conditions requires the use of genetically identical strains; however, the requirement for isogenic strains limits the ability to compare other desirable properties, such as the behavior in the environment of the same strain prepared using different methods. Finally, current methods do not allow long-term studies of persistence or reaerosolization in test sites where simulants are heavily used or in areas where B. thuringiensis subsp. kurstaki is applied as a biopesticide. To create a set of genetically heterogeneous yet phenotypically indistinguishable strains so that variables intrinsic to simulations (e.g., sample preparation) can be varied and the strains can be tested under otherwise identical conditions, we have developed a strategy of introducing small genetic signatures (“barcodes”) into neutral regions of the genome. The barcodes are stable over 300 generations and do not impact in vitro growth or sporulation. Each barcode contains common and specific tags that allow differentiation of marked strains from wild-type strains and from each other. Each tag is paired with specific real-time PCR assays that facilitate discrimination of barcoded strains from wild-type strains and from each other. These uniquely barcoded strains will be valuable tools for research into the environmental fate of released organisms by providing specific artificial detection signatures.
PMCID: PMC3497392  PMID: 23001658
10.  Detection of Burkholderia pseudomallei O-antigen serotypes in near-neighbor species 
BMC Microbiology  2012;12:250.
Burkholderia pseudomallei is the etiological agent of melioidosis and a CDC category B select agent with no available effective vaccine. Previous immunizations in mice have utilized the lipopolysaccharide (LPS) as a potential vaccine target because it is known as one of the most important antigenic epitopes in B. pseudomallei. Complicating this strategy are the four different B. pseudomallei LPS O-antigen types: A, B, B2, and rough. Sero-crossreactivity is common among O-antigens of Burkholderia species. Here, we identified the presence of multiple B. pseudomallei O-antigen types and sero-crossreactivity in its near-neighbor species.
PCR screening of O-antigen biosynthesis genes, phenotypic characterization using SDS-PAGE, and immunoblot analysis showed that majority of B. mallei and B. thailandensis strains contained the typical O-antigen type A. In contrast, most of B. ubonensis and B. thailandensis-like strains expressed the atypical O-antigen types B and B2, respectively. Most B. oklahomensis strains expressed a distinct and non-seroreactive O-antigen type, except strain E0147 which expressed O-antigen type A. O-antigen type B2 was also detected in B. thailandensis 82172, B. ubonensis MSMB108, and Burkholderia sp. MSMB175. Interestingly, B. thailandensis-like MSMB43 contained a novel serotype B positive O-antigen.
This study expands the number of species which express B. pseudomallei O-antigen types. Further work is required to elucidate the full structures and how closely these are to the B. pseudomallei O-antigens, which will ultimately determine the efficacy of the near-neighbor B serotypes for vaccine development.
PMCID: PMC3541218  PMID: 23126230
11.  Genomic Comparison of Escherichia coli O104:H4 Isolates from 2009 and 2011 Reveals Plasmid, and Prophage Heterogeneity, Including Shiga Toxin Encoding Phage stx2 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e48228.
In May of 2011, an enteroaggregative Escherichia coli O104:H4 strain that had acquired a Shiga toxin 2-converting phage caused a large outbreak of bloody diarrhea in Europe which was notable for its high prevalence of hemolytic uremic syndrome cases. Several studies have described the genomic inventory and phylogenies of strains associated with the outbreak and a collection of historical E. coli O104:H4 isolates using draft genome assemblies. We present the complete, closed genome sequences of an isolate from the 2011 outbreak (2011C–3493) and two isolates from cases of bloody diarrhea that occurred in the Republic of Georgia in 2009 (2009EL–2050 and 2009EL–2071). Comparative genome analysis indicates that, while the Georgian strains are the nearest neighbors to the 2011 outbreak isolates sequenced to date, structural and nucleotide-level differences are evident in the Stx2 phage genomes, the mer/tet antibiotic resistance island, and in the prophage and plasmid profiles of the strains, including a previously undescribed plasmid with homology to the pMT virulence plasmid of Yersinia pestis. In addition, multiphenotype analysis showed that 2009EL–2071 possessed higher resistance to polymyxin and membrane-disrupting agents. Finally, we show evidence by electron microscopy of the presence of a common phage morphotype among the European and Georgian strains and a second phage morphotype among the Georgian strains. The presence of at least two stx2 phage genotypes in host genetic backgrounds that may derive from a recent common ancestor of the 2011 outbreak isolates indicates that the emergence of stx2 phage-containing E. coli O104:H4 strains probably occurred more than once, or that the current outbreak isolates may be the result of a recent transfer of a new stx2 phage element into a pre-existing stx2-positive genetic background.
PMCID: PMC3486847  PMID: 23133618
12.  Comparative Genomics of 2009 Seasonal Plague (Yersinia pestis) in New Mexico 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31604.
Plague disease caused by the Gram-negative bacterium Yersinia pestis routinely affects animals and occasionally humans, in the western United States. The strains native to the North American continent are thought to be derived from a single introduction in the late 19th century. The degree to which these isolates have diverged genetically since their introduction is not clear, and new genomic markers to assay the diversity of North American plague are highly desired. To assay genetic diversity of plague isolates within confined geographic areas, draft genome sequences were generated by 454 pyrosequencing from nine environmental and clinical plague isolates. In silico assemblies of Variable Number Tandem Repeat (VNTR) loci were compared to laboratory-generated profiles for seven markers. High-confidence SNPs and small Insertion/Deletions (Indels) were compared to previously sequenced Y. pestis isolates. The resulting panel of mutations allowed clustering of the strains and tracing of the most likely evolutionary trajectory of the plague strains. The sequences also allowed the identification of new putative SNPs that differentiate the 2009 isolates from previously sequenced plague strains and from each other. In addition, new insertion points for the abundant insertion sequences (IS) of Y. pestis are present that allow additional discrimination of strains; several of these new insertions potentially inactivate genes implicated in virulence. These sequences enable whole-genome phylogenetic analysis and allow the unbiased comparison of closely related isolates of a genetically monomorphic pathogen.
PMCID: PMC3281092  PMID: 22359605
13.  Genomic Signatures of Strain Selection and Enhancement in Bacillus atrophaeus var. globigii, a Historical Biowarfare Simulant 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(3):e17836.
Despite the decades-long use of Bacillus atrophaeus var. globigii (BG) as a simulant for biological warfare (BW) agents, knowledge of its genome composition is limited. Furthermore, the ability to differentiate signatures of deliberate adaptation and selection from natural variation is lacking for most bacterial agents. We characterized a lineage of BGwith a long history of use as a simulant for BW operations, focusing on classical bacteriological markers, metabolic profiling and whole-genome shotgun sequencing (WGS).
Archival strains and two “present day” type strains were compared to simulant strains on different laboratory media. Several of the samples produced multiple colony morphotypes that differed from that of an archival isolate. To trace the microevolutionary history of these isolates, we obtained WGS data for several archival and present-day strains and morphotypes. Bacillus-wide phylogenetic analysis identified B. subtilis as the nearest neighbor to B. atrophaeus. The genome of B. atrophaeus is, on average, 86% identical to B. subtilis on the nucleotide level. WGS of variants revealed that several strains were mixed but highly related populations and uncovered a progressive accumulation of mutations among the “military” isolates. Metabolic profiling and microscopic examination of bacterial cultures revealed enhanced growth of “military” isolates on lactate-containing media, and showed that the “military” strains exhibited a hypersporulating phenotype.
Our analysis revealed the genomic and phenotypic signatures of strain adaptation and deliberate selection for traits that were desirable in a simulant organism. Together, these results demonstrate the power of whole-genome and modern systems-level approaches to characterize microbial lineages to develop and validate forensic markers for strain discrimination and reveal signatures of deliberate adaptation.
PMCID: PMC3064580  PMID: 21464989

Results 1-13 (13)