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1.  Evaluation of Signature Erosion in Ebola Virus Due to Genomic Drift and Its Impact on the Performance of Diagnostic Assays 
Viruses  2015;7(6):3130-3154.
Genome sequence analyses of the 2014 Ebola Virus (EBOV) isolates revealed a potential problem with the diagnostic assays currently in use; i.e., drifting genomic profiles of the virus may affect the sensitivity or even produce false-negative results. We evaluated signature erosion in ebolavirus molecular assays using an in silico approach and found frequent potential false-negative and false-positive results. We further empirically evaluated many EBOV assays, under real time PCR conditions using EBOV Kikwit (1995) and Makona (2014) RNA templates. These results revealed differences in performance between assays but were comparable between the old and new EBOV templates. Using a whole genome approach and a novel algorithm, termed BioVelocity, we identified new signatures that are unique to each of EBOV, Sudan virus (SUDV), and Reston virus (RESTV). Interestingly, many of the current assay signatures do not fall within these regions, indicating a potential drawback in the past assay design strategies. The new signatures identified in this study may be evaluated with real-time reverse transcription PCR (rRT-PCR) assay development and validation. In addition, we discuss regulatory implications and timely availability to impact a rapidly evolving outbreak using existing but perhaps less than optimal assays versus redesign these assays for addressing genomic changes.
PMCID: PMC4488730  PMID: 26090727
EBOV; Western African outbreak; WGS; qRT-PCR; signature erosion; PSET; BioVelocity
2.  Scanning the Landscape of Genome Architecture of Non-O1 and Non-O139 Vibrio cholerae by Whole Genome Mapping Reveals Extensive Population Genetic Diversity 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(3):e0120311.
Historically, cholera outbreaks have been linked to V. cholerae O1 serogroup strains or its derivatives of the O37 and O139 serogroups. A genomic study on the 2010 Haiti cholera outbreak strains highlighted the putative role of non O1/non-O139 V. cholerae in causing cholera and the lack of genomic sequences of such strains from around the world. Here we address these gaps by scanning a global collection of V. cholerae strains as a first step towards understanding the population genetic diversity and epidemic potential of non O1/non-O139 strains. Whole Genome Mapping (Optical Mapping) based bar coding produces a high resolution, ordered restriction map, depicting a complete view of the unique chromosomal architecture of an organism. To assess the genomic diversity of non-O1/non-O139 V. cholerae, we applied a Whole Genome Mapping strategy on a well-defined and geographically and temporally diverse strain collection, the Sakazaki serogroup type strains. Whole Genome Map data on 91 of the 206 serogroup type strains support the hypothesis that V. cholerae has an unprecedented genetic and genomic structural diversity. Interestingly, we discovered chromosomal fusions in two unusual strains that possess a single chromosome instead of the two chromosomes usually found in V. cholerae. We also found pervasive chromosomal rearrangements such as duplications and indels in many strains. The majority of Vibrio genome sequences currently in public databases are unfinished draft sequences. The Whole Genome Mapping approach presented here enables rapid screening of large strain collections to capture genomic complexities that would not have been otherwise revealed by unfinished draft genome sequencing and thus aids in assembling and finishing draft sequences of complex genomes. Furthermore, Whole Genome Mapping allows for prediction of novel V. cholerae non-O1/non-O139 strains that may have the potential to cause future cholera outbreaks.
PMCID: PMC4368569  PMID: 25794000
3.  Genome Sequencing of 15 Clinical Vibrio Isolates, Including 13 Non-O1/Non-O139 Serogroup Strains 
Genome Announcements  2014;2(5):e00893-14.
We present draft genome sequences of 15 clinical Vibrio isolates of various serogroups. These are valuable data for use in studying Vibrio cholerae genetic diversity, epidemic potential, and strain attribution.
PMCID: PMC4161747  PMID: 25212618
4.  Genetic Evidence for the Involvement of the S-Layer Protein Gene sap and the Sporulation Genes spo0A, spo0B, and spo0F in Phage AP50c Infection of Bacillus anthracis 
Journal of Bacteriology  2014;196(6):1143-1154.
In order to better characterize the Bacillus anthracis typing phage AP50c, we designed a genetic screen to identify its bacterial receptor. Insertions of the transposon mariner or targeted deletions of the structural gene for the S-layer protein Sap and the sporulation genes spo0A, spo0B, and spo0F in B. anthracis Sterne resulted in phage resistance with concomitant defects in phage adsorption and infectivity. Electron microscopy of bacteria incubated with AP50c revealed phage particles associated with the surface of bacilli of the Sterne strain but not with the surfaces of Δsap, Δspo0A, Δspo0B, or Δspo0F mutants. The amount of Sap in the S layer of each of the spo0 mutant strains was substantially reduced compared to that of the parent strain, and incubation of AP50c with purified recombinant Sap led to a substantial reduction in phage activity. Phylogenetic analysis based on whole-genome sequences of B. cereus sensu lato strains revealed several closely related B. cereus and B. thuringiensis strains that carry sap genes with very high similarities to the sap gene of B. anthracis. Complementation of the Δsap mutant in trans with the wild-type B. anthracis sap or the sap gene from either of two different B. cereus strains that are sensitive to AP50c infection restored phage sensitivity, and electron microscopy confirmed attachment of phage particles to the surface of each of the complemented strains. Based on these data, we postulate that Sap is involved in AP50c infectivity, most likely acting as the phage receptor, and that the spo0 genes may regulate synthesis of Sap and/or formation of the S layer.
PMCID: PMC3957716  PMID: 24363347
5.  Beyond the Chromosome: The Prevalence of Unique Extra-Chromosomal Bacteriophages with Integrated Virulence Genes in Pathogenic Staphylococcus aureus 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e100502.
In Staphylococcus aureus, the disease impact of chromosomally integrated prophages on virulence is well described. However, the existence of extra-chromosomal prophages, both plasmidial and episomal, remains obscure. Despite the recent explosion in bacterial and bacteriophage genomic sequencing, studies have failed to specifically focus on extra-chromosomal elements. We selectively enriched and sequenced extra-chromosomal DNA from S. aureus isolates using Roche-454 technology and uncovered evidence for the widespread distribution of multiple extra-chromosomal prophages (ExPΦs) throughout both antibiotic-sensitive and -resistant strains. We completely sequenced one such element comprised of a 43.8 kbp, circular ExPΦ (designated ФBU01) from a vancomycin-intermediate S. aureus (VISA) strain. Assembly and annotation of ФBU01 revealed a number of putative virulence determinants encoded within a bacteriophage immune evasion cluster (IEC). Our identification of several potential ExPΦs and mobile genetic elements (MGEs) also revealed numerous putative virulence factors and antibiotic resistance genes. We describe here a previously unidentified level of genetic diversity of stealth extra-chromosomal elements in S. aureus, including phages with a larger presence outside the chromosome that likely play a prominent role in pathogenesis and strain diversity driven by horizontal gene transfer (HGT).
PMCID: PMC4070920  PMID: 24963913
6.  Standards for Sequencing Viral Genomes in the Era of High-Throughput Sequencing 
mBio  2014;5(3):e01360-14.
Thanks to high-throughput sequencing technologies, genome sequencing has become a common component in nearly all aspects of viral research; thus, we are experiencing an explosion in both the number of available genome sequences and the number of institutions producing such data. However, there are currently no common standards used to convey the quality, and therefore utility, of these various genome sequences. Here, we propose five “standard” categories that encompass all stages of viral genome finishing, and we define them using simple criteria that are agnostic to the technology used for sequencing. We also provide genome finishing recommendations for various downstream applications, keeping in mind the cost-benefit trade-offs associated with different levels of finishing. Our goal is to define a common vocabulary that will allow comparison of genome quality across different research groups, sequencing platforms, and assembly techniques.
PMCID: PMC4068259  PMID: 24939889
7.  Whole genome sequencing and comparative genomic analyses of two Vibrio cholerae O139 Bengal-specific Podoviruses to other N4-like phages reveal extensive genetic diversity 
Virology Journal  2013;10:165.
Vibrio cholerae O139 Bengal is the only serogroup other than O1 implicated in cholera epidemics. We describe the isolation and characterization of an O139 serogroup-specific phage, vB_VchP_VchO139-I (ϕVchO139-I) that has similar host range and virion morphology as phage vB_VchP_JA1 (ϕJA1) described previously. We aimed at a complete molecular characterization of both phages and elucidation of their genetic and structural differences and assessment of their genetic relatedness to the N4-like phage group.
Host-range analysis and plaque morphology screening were done for both ϕJA1 and ϕVchO139-I. Both phage genomes were sequenced by a 454 and Sanger hybrid approach. Genomes were annotated and protein homologies were determined by Blast and HHPred. Restriction profiles, PFGE patterns and data on the physical genome structure were acquired and phylogenetic analyses were performed.
The host specificity of ϕJA1 has been attributed to the unique capsular O-antigen produced by O139 strains. Plaque morphologies of the two phages were different; ϕVchO139-I produced a larger halo around the plaques than ϕJA1. Restriction profiles of ϕJA1 and ϕVchO139-I genomes were also different. The genomes of ϕJA1 and ϕVchO139-I consisted of linear double-stranded DNA of 71,252 and 70,938 base pairs. The presence of direct terminal repeats of around 1974 base pairs was demonstrated. Whole genome comparison revealed single nucleotide polymorphisms, small insertions/deletions and differences in gene content. Both genomes had 79 predicted protein encoding sequences, of which only 59 were identical between the two closely related phages. They also encoded one tRNA-Arg gene, an intein within the large terminase gene, and four homing endonuclease genes. Whole genome phylogenetic analyses of ϕJA1 and ϕVchO139-I against other sequenced N4-like phages delineate three novel subgroups or clades within this phage family.
The closely related phages feature significant genetic differences, in spite of being morphologically identical. The phage morphology, genetic organization, genomic content and large terminase protein based phylogeny support the placement of these two phages in the Podoviridae family, more specifically within the N4-like phage group. The physical genome structure of ϕJA1 could be demonstrated experimentally. Our data pave the way for potential use of ϕJA1 and ϕVchO139-I in Vibrio cholerae typing and control.
PMCID: PMC3670811  PMID: 23714204
Vibrio cholerae O139; N4-like virus; Genome comparison; Terminal repeats; Intein; Phylogenetic relationship
8.  Novel High-Molecular-Weight, R-Type Bacteriocins of Clostridium difficile 
Journal of Bacteriology  2012;194(22):6240-6247.
Clostridium difficile causes one of the leading nosocomial infections in developed countries, and therapeutic choices are limited. Some strains of C. difficile produce phage tail-like particles upon induction of the SOS response. These particles have bactericidal activity against other C. difficile strains and can therefore be classified as bacteriocins, similar to the R-type pyocins of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. These R-type bacteriocin particles, which have been purified from different strains, each have a different C. difficile-killing spectrum, with no one bacteriocin killing all C. difficile isolates tested. We have identified the genetic locus of these “diffocins” (open reading frames 1359 to 1376) and have found them to be common among the species. The entire diffocin genetic locus of more than 20 kb was cloned and expressed in Bacillus subtilis, and this resulted in production of bactericidal particles. One of the interesting features of these particles is a very large structural protein of ∼200 kDa, the product of gene 1374. This large protein determines the killing spectrum of the particles and is likely the receptor-binding protein. Diffocins may provide an alternate bactericidal agent to prevent or treat infections and to decolonize individuals who are asymptomatic carriers.
PMCID: PMC3486368  PMID: 22984261
9.  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
10.  Whole genome sequencing of phage resistant Bacillus anthracis mutants reveals an essential role for cell surface anchoring protein CsaB in phage AP50c adsorption 
Virology Journal  2012;9:246.
Spontaneous Bacillus anthracis mutants resistant to infection by phage AP50c (AP50R) exhibit a mucoid colony phenotype and secrete an extracellular matrix.
Here we utilized a Roche/454-based whole genome sequencing approach to identify mutations that are candidates for conferring AP50c phage resistance, followed by genetic deletion and complementation studies to validate the whole genome sequence data and demonstrate that the implicated gene is necessary for AP50c phage infection.
Using whole genome sequence data, we mapped the relevant mutations in six AP50R strains to csaB. Eleven additional spontaneous mutants, isolated in two different genetic backgrounds, were screened by PCR followed by Sanger sequencing of the csaB gene. In each spontaneous mutant, we found either a non-synonymous substitution, a nonsense mutation, or a frame-shift mutation caused by single nucleotide polymorphisms or a 5 base pair insertion in csaB. All together, 5 and 12 of the 17 spontaneous mutations are predicted to yield altered full length and truncated CsaB proteins respectively. As expected from these results, a targeted deletion or frame-shift mutations introduced into csaB in a different genetic background, in a strain not exposed to AP50c, resulted in a phage resistant phenotype. Also, substitution of a highly conserved histidine residue with an alanine residue (H270A) in CsaB resulted in phage resistance, suggesting that a functional CsaB is necessary for phage sensitivity. Conversely, introduction of the wild type allele of csaB in cis into the csaB deletion mutant by homologous recombination or supplying the wild type CsaB protein in trans from a plasmid restored phage sensitivity. The csaB mutants accumulated cell wall material and appeared to have a defective S-layer, whereas these phenotypes were reverted in the complemented strains.
Taken together, these data suggest an essential role for csaB in AP50c phage infection, most likely in phage adsorption. (The whole genome sequences generated from this study have been submitted to GenBank under SRA project ID: SRA023659.1 and sample IDs: AP50 R1: SRS113675.1, AP50 R2: SRS113676.1, AP50 R3: SRS113728.1, AP50 R4: SRS113733.1, AP50 R6: SRS113734.1, JB220 Parent: SRS150209.1, JB220 Mutant: SRS150211.1).
PMCID: PMC3545897  PMID: 23098174
Phage resistance; WGS; Mutation mapping; SNP; B. anthracis
11.  Development of a high throughput assay for indirectly measuring phage growth using the OmniLogTM system 
Bacteriophage  2012;2(3):159-167.
The conventional and most accepted method of measuring the lytic activity of a phage against its bacterial host is the plaque assay. This method is laborious, time consuming and expensive, especially in high throughput analyses where multiple phage-bacterial interactions are required to be monitored simultaneously. It can also vary considerably with the experimenter and by the growth and plating conditions. Alternatively, the lytic activity can be measured indirectly by following the decrease in optical density of the bacterial cultures owing to lysis. Here we describe an automated, high throughput, indirect liquid lysis assay to evaluate phage growth using the OmniLogTM system. The OmniLogTM system uses redox chemistry, employing cell respiration as a universal reporter. During active growth of bacteria, cellular respiration reduces a tetrazolium dye and produces a color change that is measured in an automated fashion. On the other hand, successful phage infection and subsequent growth of the phage in its host bacterium results in reduced bacterial growth and respiration and a concomitant reduction in color. Here we show that microtiter plate wells inoculated with Bacillus anthracis and phage show decreased or no growth, compared with the wells containing bacteria only or phage resistant bacteria plus phage. Also, we show differences in the kinetics of bacterial growth and the timing of appearance of phage resistant bacteria in the presence of individual phages or a cocktail of B. anthracis specific phages. The results of these experiments indicate that the OmniLogTM system could be used reliably for indirectly measuring phage growth in high throughput host range and phage and antibiotics combination studies.
PMCID: PMC3530525  PMID: 23275867
Bacillus anthracis; OmniLogTM; bacteriophage; in vitro lytic assay; phage
12.  A Yersinia pestis-specific, lytic phage preparation significantly reduces viable Y. pestis on various hard surfaces experimentally contaminated with the bacterium 
Bacteriophage  2012;2(3):168-177.
Five Y. pestis bacteriophages obtained from various sources were characterized to determine their biological properties, including their taxonomic classification, host range and genomic diversity. Four of the phages (YpP-G, Y, R and YpsP-G) belong to the Podoviridae family, and the fifth phage (YpsP-PST) belongs to the Myoviridae family, of the order Caudovirales comprising of double-stranded DNA phages. The genomes of the four Podoviridae phages were fully sequenced and found to be almost identical to each other and to those of two previously characterized Y. pestis phages Yepe2 and φA1122. However, despite their genomic homogeneity, they varied in their ability to lyse Y. pestis and Y. pseudotuberculosis strains. The five phages were combined to yield a “phage cocktail” (tentatively designated “YPP-100”) capable of lysing the 59 Y. pestis strains in our collection. YPP-100 was examined for its ability to decontaminate three different hard surfaces (glass, gypsum board and stainless steel) experimentally contaminated with a mixture of three genetically diverse Y. pestis strains CO92, KIM and 1670G. Five minutes of exposure to YPP-100 preparations containing phage concentrations of ca. 109, 108 and 107 PFU/mL completely eliminated all viable Y. pestis cells from all three surfaces, but a few viable cells were recovered from the stainless steel coupons treated with YPP-100 diluted to contain ca. 106 PFU/mL. However, even that highly diluted preparation significantly (p = < 0.05) reduced Y. pestis levels by ≥ 99.97%. Our data support the idea that Y. pestis phages may be useful for decontaminating various hard surfaces naturally- or intentionally-contaminated with Y. pestis.
PMCID: PMC3530526  PMID: 23275868
bacteriophage; phage; Yersinia pestis; surface decontamination
13.  Next generation sequencing technologies and the changing landscape of phage genomics 
Bacteriophage  2012;2(3):190-199.
The dawn of next generation sequencing technologies has opened up exciting possibilities for whole genome sequencing of a plethora of organisms. The 2nd and 3rd generation sequencing technologies, based on cloning-free, massively parallel sequencing, have enabled the generation of a deluge of genomic sequences of both prokaryotic and eukaryotic origin in the last seven years. However, whole genome sequencing of bacterial viruses has not kept pace with this revolution, despite the fact that their genomes are orders of magnitude smaller in size compared with bacteria and other organisms. Sequencing phage genomes poses several challenges; (1) obtaining pure phage genomic material, (2) PCR amplification biases and (3) complex nature of their genetic material due to features such as methylated bases and repeats that are inherently difficult to sequence and assemble. Here we describe conclusions drawn from our efforts in sequencing hundreds of bacteriophage genomes from a variety of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria using Sanger, 454, Illumina and PacBio technologies. Based on our experience we propose several general considerations regarding sample quality, the choice of technology and a “blended approach” for generating reliable whole genome sequences of phages.
PMCID: PMC3530529  PMID: 23275870
bacteriophage genome; Illumina HiSeq; Roche 454; PacBio; Sanger sequencing; Hybrid genome assembly; SISPA; Scaffolding
14.  Genetic variation and linkage disequilibrium in Bacillus anthracis 
Scientific Reports  2011;1:169.
We performed whole-genome amplification followed by hybridization of custom-designed resequencing arrays to resequence 303 kb of genomic sequence from a worldwide panel of 39 Bacillus anthracis strains. We used an efficient algorithm contained within a custom software program, UniqueMER, to identify and mask repetitive sequences on the resequencing array to reduce false-positive identification of genetic variation, which can arise from cross-hybridization. We discovered a total of 240 single nucleotide variants (SNVs) and showed that B. anthracis strains have an average of 2.25 differences per 10,000 bases in the region we resequenced. Common SNVs in this region are found to be in complete linkage disequilibrium. These patterns of variation suggest there has been little if any historical recombination among B. anthracis strains since the origin of the pathogen. This pattern of common genetic variation suggests a framework for recognizing new or genetically engineered strains.
PMCID: PMC3240990  PMID: 22355684
15.  High-Redundancy Draft Sequencing of 15 Clinical and Environmental Burkholderia Strains▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2010;192(23):6313-6314.
The Gram-negative Burkholderia genus includes several species of intracellular bacterial pathogens that pose substantial risk to humans. In this study, we have generated draft genome sequences of 15 strains of B. oklahomensis, B. pseudomallei, B. thailandensis, and B. ubonensis to an average sequence read coverage of 25- to 40-fold.
PMCID: PMC2981208  PMID: 20870763
16.  PheMaDB: A solution for storage, retrieval, and analysis of high throughput phenotype data 
BMC Bioinformatics  2011;12:109.
OmniLog™ phenotype microarrays (PMs) have the capability to measure and compare the growth responses of biological samples upon exposure to hundreds of growth conditions such as different metabolites and antibiotics over a time course of hours to days. In order to manage the large amount of data produced from the OmniLog™ instrument, PheMaDB (Phenotype Microarray DataBase), a web-based relational database, was designed. PheMaDB enables efficient storage, retrieval and rapid analysis of the OmniLog™ PM data.
PheMaDB allows the user to quickly identify records of interest for data analysis by filtering with a hierarchical ordering of Project, Strain, Phenotype, Replicate, and Temperature. PheMaDB then provides various statistical analysis options to identify specific growth pattern characteristics of the experimental strains, such as: outlier analysis, negative controls analysis (signal/background calibration), bar plots, pearson's correlation matrix, growth curve profile search, k-means clustering, and a heat map plot. This web-based database management system allows for both easy data sharing among multiple users and robust tools to phenotype organisms of interest.
PheMaDB is an open source system standardized for OmniLog™ PM data. PheMaDB could facilitate the banking and sharing of phenotype data. The source code is available for download at
PMCID: PMC3097161  PMID: 21507258
17.  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
18.  Characterization of pPCP1 Plasmids in Yersinia pestis Strains Isolated from the Former Soviet Union 
Complete sequences of 9.5-kb pPCP1 plasmids in three Yersinia pestis strains from the former Soviet Union (FSU) were determined and compared with those of pPCP1 plasmids in three well-characterized, non-FSU Y. pestis strains (KIM, CO92, and 91001). Two of the FSU plasmids were from strains C2614 and C2944, isolated from plague foci in Russia, and one plasmid was from strain C790 from Kyrgyzstan. Sequence analyses identified four sequence types among the six plasmids. The pPCP1 plasmids in the FSU strains were most genetically related to the pPCP1 plasmid in the KIM strain and least related to the pPCP1 plasmid in Y. pestis 91001. The FSU strains generally had larger pPCP1 plasmid copy numbers compared to strain CO92. Expression of the plasmid's pla gene was significantly (P ≤ .05) higher in strain C2944 than in strain CO92. Given pla's role in Y. pestis virulence, this difference may have important implications for the strain's virulence.
PMCID: PMC3010648  PMID: 21197443
19.  Arbovirus Detection in Insect Vectors by Rapid, High-Throughput Pyrosequencing 
Despite the global threat caused by arthropod-borne viruses, there is not an efficient method for screening vector populations to detect novel viral sequences. Current viral detection and surveillance methods based on culture can be costly and time consuming and are predicated on prior knowledge of the etiologic agent, as they rely on specific oligonucleotide primers or antibodies. Therefore, these techniques may be unsuitable for situations when the causative agent of an outbreak is unknown.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In this study we explored the use of high-throughput pyrosequencing for surveillance of arthropod-borne RNA viruses. Dengue virus, a member of the positive strand RNA Flavivirus family that is transmitted by several members of the Aedes genus of mosquitoes, was used as a model. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes experimentally infected with dengue virus type 1 (DENV-1) were pooled with noninfected mosquitoes to simulate samples derived from ongoing arbovirus surveillance programs. Using random-primed methods, total RNA was reverse-transcribed and resulting cDNA subjected to 454 pyrosequencing.
In two types of samples, one with 5 adult mosquitoes infected with DENV-1- and the other with 1 DENV-1 infected mosquito and 4 noninfected mosquitoes, we identified DENV-1 DNA sequences. DENV-1 sequences were not detected in an uninfected control pool of 5 adult mosquitoes. We calculated the proportion of the Ae. aegypti metagenome contributed by each infecting Dengue virus genome (pIP), which ranged from 2.75×10−8 to 1.08×10−7. DENV-1 RNA was sufficiently concentrated in the mosquito that its detection was feasible using current high-throughput sequencing instrumentation. We also identified some of the components of the mosquito microflora on the basis of the sequence of expressed RNA. This included members of the bacterial genera Pirellula and Asaia, various fungi, and a potentially uncharacterized mycovirus.
Author Summary
Traditional methods for virus detection often rely on specific attributes, such as DNA sequences, of the viruses and therefore they not only require a priori knowledge of the agent in question, but they also are generally very specific in nature, capable of detecting viruses only from within a specific family, for example. Nextgen sequencing shows much promise for detection/diagnostic applications because of its ever-increasing throughput, decreasing cost, and unbiased nature. We investigated the applicability of 454 pyrosequencing for viral surveillance of insect populations, using Aedes aegypti mosquitoes experimentally inoculated with Dengue virus type 1 (DENV-1) and calculated what proportion of the total nucleic acid from crushed mosquitoes was contributed by the virus. We concluded that 454 pyrosequencing is capable of detecting even very small amounts of a known virus from within a pool of infected and noninfected mosquitoes, but for the amount of sequencing reads required to detect the virus, this technique may currently be too cost-prohibitive for use in large-scale surveillance efforts. Interesting byproducts of our study included a glimpse into what symbiotic organisms Ae. aegypti may harbor, as well as what genes may be differentially expressed in a DENV-1-infected versus noninfected mosquito.
PMCID: PMC2976685  PMID: 21085471
20.  Rapid Identification of Genetic Modifications in Bacillus anthracis Using Whole Genome Draft Sequences Generated by 454 Pyrosequencing 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(8):e12397.
The anthrax letter attacks of 2001 highlighted the need for rapid identification of biothreat agents not only for epidemiological surveillance of the intentional outbreak but also for implementing appropriate countermeasures, such as antibiotic treatment, in a timely manner to prevent further casualties. It is clear from the 2001 cases that survival may be markedly improved by administration of antimicrobial therapy during the early symptomatic phase of the illness; i.e., within 3 days of appearance of symptoms. Microbiological detection methods are feasible only for organisms that can be cultured in vitro and cannot detect all genetic modifications with the exception of antibiotic resistance. Currently available immuno or nucleic acid-based rapid detection assays utilize known, organism-specific proteins or genomic DNA signatures respectively. Hence, these assays lack the ability to detect novel natural variations or intentional genetic modifications that circumvent the targets of the detection assays or in the case of a biological attack using an antibiotic resistant or virulence enhanced Bacillus anthracis, to advise on therapeutic treatments.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We show here that the Roche 454-based pyrosequencing can generate whole genome draft sequences of deep and broad enough coverage of a bacterial genome in less than 24 hours. Furthermore, using the unfinished draft sequences, we demonstrate that unbiased identification of known as well as heretofore-unreported genetic modifications that include indels and single nucleotide polymorphisms conferring antibiotic and phage resistances is feasible within the next 12 hours.
Second generation sequencing technologies have paved the way for sequence-based rapid identification of both known and previously undocumented genetic modifications in cultured, conventional and newly emerging biothreat agents. Our findings have significant implications in the context of whole genome sequencing-based routine clinical diagnostics as well as epidemiological surveillance of natural disease outbreaks caused by bacterial and viral agents.
PMCID: PMC2928293  PMID: 20811637
21.  Genomic characterization of the Yersinia genus 
Genome Biology  2010;11(1):R1.
Comparative Yersinia genomics identifies features responsible for the colonization of specific host habitats and the horizontal transfer of virulence determinants.
New DNA sequencing technologies have enabled detailed comparative genomic analyses of entire genera of bacterial pathogens. Prior to this study, three species of the enterobacterial genus Yersinia that cause invasive human diseases (Yersinia pestis, Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, and Yersinia enterocolitica) had been sequenced. However, there were no genomic data on the Yersinia species with more limited virulence potential, frequently found in soil and water environments.
We used high-throughput sequencing-by-synthesis instruments to obtain 25- to 42-fold average redundancy, whole-genome shotgun data from the type strains of eight species: Y. aldovae, Y. bercovieri, Y. frederiksenii, Y. kristensenii, Y. intermedia, Y. mollaretii, Y. rohdei, and Y. ruckeri. The deepest branching species in the genus, Y. ruckeri, causative agent of red mouth disease in fish, has the smallest genome (3.7 Mb), although it shares the same core set of approximately 2,500 genes as the other members of the species, whose genomes range in size from 4.3 to 4.8 Mb. Yersinia genomes had a similar global partition of protein functions, as measured by the distribution of Cluster of Orthologous Groups families. Genome to genome variation in islands with genes encoding functions such as ureases, hydrogeneases and B-12 cofactor metabolite reactions may reflect adaptations to colonizing specific host habitats.
Rapid high-quality draft sequencing was used successfully to compare pathogenic and non-pathogenic members of the Yersinia genus. This work underscores the importance of the acquisition of horizontally transferred genes in the evolution of Y. pestis and points to virulence determinants that have been gained and lost on multiple occasions in the history of the genus.
PMCID: PMC2847712  PMID: 20047673
22.  Molecular Characterization of a Variant of Bacillus anthracis-Specific Phage AP50 with Improved Bacteriolytic Activity▿ †  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2008;74(21):6792-6796.
The genome sequence of a Bacillus anthracis-specific clear plaque mutant phage, AP50c, contains 31 open reading frames spanning 14,398 bp, has two mutations compared to wild-type AP50t, and has a colinear genome architecture highly similar to that of gram-positive Tectiviridae phages. Spontaneous AP50c-resistant B. anthracis mutants exhibit a mucoid colony phenotype.
PMCID: PMC2576697  PMID: 18791014
23.  RTX Toxin Actin Cross-Linking Activity in Clinical and Environmental Isolates of Vibrio cholerae▿  
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2007;45(7):2289-2292.
Vibrio cholerae strains from diverse O-antigen groups were evaluated for RTX toxin actin cross-linking activity. This study demonstrates that the actin cross-linking domain sequence is present within rtxA in the majority of clinical and environmental isolates tested, and the RTX toxin produced by these strains catalyzes the covalent cross-linking of cellular actin.
PMCID: PMC1932970  PMID: 17522276
24.  The Bacillus anthracis chromosome contains four conserved, excision-proficient, putative prophages 
BMC Microbiology  2006;6:34.
Bacillus anthracis is considered to be a recently emerged clone within the Bacillus cereus sensu lato group. The B. anthracis genome sequence contains four putative lambdoid prophages. We undertook this study in order to understand whether the four prophages are unique to B. anthracis and whether they produce active phages.
More than 300 geographically and temporally divergent isolates of B. anthracis and its near neighbors were screened by PCR for the presence of specific DNA sequences from each prophage region. Every isolate of B. anthracis screened by PCR was found to produce all four phage-specific amplicons whereas none of the non-B. anthracis isolates, produced more than one phage-specific amplicon. Excision of prophages could be detected by a PCR based assay for attP sites on extra-chromosomal phage circles and for attB sites on phage-excised chromosomes. SYBR-green real-time PCR assays indicated that prophage excision occurs at very low frequencies (2 × 10-5 - 8 × 10-8/cell). Induction with mitomycin C increased the frequency of excision of one of the prophages by approximately 250 fold. All four prophages appear to be defective since, mitomycin C induced culture did not release any viable phage particle or lyse the cells or reveal any phage particle under electron microscopic examination.
The retention of all four putative prophage regions across all tested strains of B. anthracis is further evidence of the very recent emergence of this lineage and the prophage regions may be useful for differentiating the B. anthracis chromosome from that of its neighbors. All four prophages can excise at low frequencies, but are apparently defective in phage production.
PMCID: PMC1475869  PMID: 16600039
25.  Multilocus Sequence Typing Has Better Discriminatory Ability for Typing Vibrio cholerae than Does Pulsed-Field Gel Electrophoresis and Provides a Measure of Phylogenetic Relatedness 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2003;41(5):2191-2196.
Twenty-two Vibrio cholerae isolates, including some from “epidemic” (O1 and O139) and “nonepidemic” serogroups, were characterized by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and multilocus sequence typing (MLST) by using three housekeeping genes, gyrB, pgm, and recA; sequence data were also obtained for the virulence-associated genes tcpA, ctxA, and ctxB. Even with the small number of loci used, MLST had better discriminatory ability than did PFGE. On MLST analysis, there was clear clustering of epidemic serogroups; much greater diversity was seen among tcpA- and ctxAB-positive V. cholerae strains from other, nonepidemic serogroups, with a number of tcpA and ctxAB alleles identified.
PMCID: PMC154734  PMID: 12734277

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