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1.  Microbiota That Affect Risk for Shigellosis in Children in Low-Income Countries 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2015;21(2):242-250.
Co-infection with Shigella spp. and other microbes modifies diarrhea risk.
Pathogens in the gastrointestinal tract exist within a vast population of microbes. We examined associations between pathogens and composition of gut microbiota as they relate to Shigella spp./enteroinvasive Escherichia coli infection. We analyzed 3,035 stool specimens (1,735 nondiarrheal and 1,300 moderate-to-severe diarrheal) from the Global Enteric Multicenter Study for 9 enteropathogens. Diarrheal specimens had a higher number of enteropathogens (diarrheal mean 1.4, nondiarrheal mean 0.95; p<0.0001). Rotavirus showed a negative association with Shigella spp. in cases of diarrhea (odds ratio 0.31, 95% CI 0.17–0.55) and had a large combined effect on moderate-to-severe diarrhea (odds ratio 29, 95% CI 3.8–220). In 4 Lactobacillus taxa identified by 16S rRNA gene sequencing, the association between pathogen and disease was decreased, which is consistent with the possibility that Lactobacillus spp. are protective against Shigella spp.–induced diarrhea. Bacterial diversity of gut microbiota was associated with diarrhea status, not high levels of the Shigella spp. ipaH gene.
PMCID: PMC4313639  PMID: 25625766
shigellosis; Shigella; bacteria; polymicrobial infection; Escherichia coli; enteroinvasive E. coli; EIEC; Lactobacillus; rotavirus; viruses; co-occurring pathogens; enteropathogens; microbiota; ipaH gene; diarrhea; children; low-income countries
2.  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
3.  Reagent and laboratory contamination can critically impact sequence-based microbiome analyses 
BMC Biology  2014;12(1):87.
The study of microbial communities has been revolutionised in recent years by the widespread adoption of culture independent analytical techniques such as 16S rRNA gene sequencing and metagenomics. One potential confounder of these sequence-based approaches is the presence of contamination in DNA extraction kits and other laboratory reagents.
In this study we demonstrate that contaminating DNA is ubiquitous in commonly used DNA extraction kits and other laboratory reagents, varies greatly in composition between different kits and kit batches, and that this contamination critically impacts results obtained from samples containing a low microbial biomass. Contamination impacts both PCR-based 16S rRNA gene surveys and shotgun metagenomics. We provide an extensive list of potential contaminating genera, and guidelines on how to mitigate the effects of contamination.
These results suggest that caution should be advised when applying sequence-based techniques to the study of microbiota present in low biomass environments. Concurrent sequencing of negative control samples is strongly advised.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12915-014-0087-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4228153  PMID: 25387460
Contamination; Microbiome; Microbiota; Metagenomics; 16S rRNA
4.  The extant World War 1 dysentery bacillus NCTC1: a genomic analysis 
Lancet  2014;384(9955):1691-1697.
Shigellosis (previously bacillary dysentery) was the primary diarrhoeal disease of World War 1, but outbreaks still occur in military operations, and shigellosis causes hundreds of thousands of deaths per year in developing nations. We aimed to generate a high-quality reference genome of the historical Shigella flexneri isolate NCTC1 and to examine the isolate for resistance to antimicrobials.
In this genomic analysis, we sequenced the oldest extant Shigella flexneri serotype 2a isolate using single-molecule real-time (SMRT) sequencing technology. Isolated from a soldier with dysentery from the British forces fighting on the Western Front in World War 1, this bacterium, NCTC1, was the first isolate accessioned into the National Collection of Type Cultures. We created a reference sequence for NCTC1, investigated the isolate for antimicrobial resistance, and undertook comparative genetics with S flexneri reference strains isolated during the 100 years since World War 1.
We discovered that NCTC1 belonged to a 2a lineage of S flexneri, with which it shares common characteristics and a large core genome. NCTC1 was resistant to penicillin and erythromycin, and contained a complement of chromosomal antimicrobial resistance genes similar to that of more recent isolates. Genomic islands gained in the S flexneri 2a lineage over time were predominately associated with additional antimicrobial resistances, virulence, and serotype conversion.
This S flexneri 2a lineage is a well adapted pathogen that has continued to respond to selective pressures. We have created a valuable historical benchmark for shigellae in the form of a high-quality reference sequence for a publicly available isolate.
The Wellcome Trust.
PMCID: PMC4226921  PMID: 25441199
5.  Comparative genome analysis of Wolbachia strain wAu 
BMC Genomics  2014;15(1):928.
Wolbachia intracellular bacteria can manipulate the reproduction of their arthropod hosts, including inducing sterility between populations known as cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI). Certain strains have been identified that are unable to induce or rescue CI, including wAu from Drosophila. Genome sequencing and comparison with CI-inducing related strain wMel was undertaken in order to better understand the molecular basis of the phenotype.
Although the genomes were broadly similar, several rearrangements were identified, particularly in the prophage regions. Many orthologous genes contained single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) between the two strains, but a subset containing major differences that would likely cause inactivation in wAu were identified, including the absence of the wMel ortholog of a gene recently identified as a CI candidate in a proteomic study. The comparative analyses also focused on a family of transcriptional regulator genes implicated in CI in previous work, and revealed numerous differences between the strains, including those that would have major effects on predicted function.
The study provides support for existing candidates and novel genes that may be involved in CI, and provides a basis for further functional studies to examine the molecular basis of the phenotype.
PMCID: PMC4223829  PMID: 25341639
Wolbachia; wAu; wMel; Genome; Cytoplasmic incompatibility; Prophage; Transcriptional regulator; PacBio sequencing
6.  Emergence of a New Epidemic Neisseria meningitidis Serogroup A Clone in the African Meningitis Belt: High-Resolution Picture of Genomic Changes That Mediate Immune Evasion 
mBio  2014;5(5):e01974-14.
In the African “meningitis belt,” outbreaks of meningococcal meningitis occur in cycles, representing a model for the role of host-pathogen interactions in epidemic processes. The periodicity of the epidemics is not well understood, nor is it currently possible to predict them. In our longitudinal colonization and disease surveys, we have observed waves of clonal replacement with the same serogroup, suggesting that immunity to noncapsular antigens plays a significant role in natural herd immunity. Here, through comparative genomic analysis of 100 meningococcal isolates, we provide a high-resolution view of the evolutionary changes that occurred during clonal replacement of a hypervirulent meningococcal clone (ST-7) by a descendant clone (ST-2859). We show that the majority of genetic changes are due to homologous recombination of laterally acquired DNA, with more than 20% of these events involving acquisition of DNA from other species. Signals of adaptation to evade herd immunity were indicated by genomic hot spots of recombination. Most striking is the high frequency of changes involving the pgl locus, which determines the glycosylation patterns of major protein antigens. High-frequency changes were also observed for genes involved in the regulation of pilus expression and the synthesis of Maf3 adhesins, highlighting the importance of these surface features in host-pathogen interaction and immune evasion.
While established meningococcal capsule polysaccharide vaccines are protective through the induction of anticapsular antibodies, findings of our longitudinal studies in the African meningitis belt have indicated that immunity to noncapsular antigens plays a significant role in natural herd immunity. Our results show that meningococci evade herd immunity through the rapid homologous replacement of just a few key genomic loci that affect noncapsular cell surface components. Identification of recombination hot spots thus represents an eminent approach to gain insight into targets of protective natural immune responses. Moreover, our results highlight the role of the dynamics of the protein glycosylation repertoire in immune evasion by Neisseria meningitidis. These results have major implications for the design of next-generation protein-based subunit vaccines.
PMCID: PMC4212839  PMID: 25336458
7.  Evolution and transmission of drug resistant tuberculosis in a Russian population 
Nature genetics  2014;46(3):279-286.
The molecular mechanisms determining transmissibility and prevalence of drug-resistant tuberculosis in a population were investigated through whole genome sequencing of 1,000 prospectively-obtained patient isolates from Russia. Two-thirds belonged to the Beijing lineage, which was dominated by two homogeneous clades. MDR genotypes were found in 48% of isolates overall and 87% of the major clades. The most common rifampicin-resistance rpoB mutation was associated with fitness-compensatory mutations in rpoA or rpoC, and a novel intragenic compensatory substitution was identified. The proportion of MDR cases with XDR-tuberculosis was 16% overall with 65% of MDR isolates harboring eis mutations, selected by kanamycin therapy, which may drive the expansion of strains with enhanced virulence. The combination of drug resistance and compensatory mutations displayed by the major clades confer clinical resistance without compromising fitness and transmissibility, revealing a biological contribution to the tuberculosis program weaknesses driving the persistence and spread of M/XDR-tuberculosis in Russia and beyond.
PMCID: PMC3939361  PMID: 24464101
8.  Dense genomic sampling identifies highways of pneumococcal recombination 
Nature genetics  2014;46(3):305-309.
Evasion of clinical interventions by Streptococcus pneumoniae occurs through selection of non-susceptible genomic variants. Here we use genome sequencing of 3,085 pneumococcal carriage isolates from a 2.4 km2 refugee camp to enable unprecedented resolution of the process of recombination, and highlight its impact on population evolution. Genomic recombination hotspots show remarkable consistency between lineages, indicating common selective pressures acting at certain loci, particularly those associated with antibiotic resistance. Temporal changes in antibiotic consumption are reflected in changes in recombination trends demonstrating rapid spread of resistance when selective pressure is high. The highest frequencies of receipt and donation of recombined DNA fragments were observed in non-encapsulated lineages, implying that this largely overlooked pneumococcal group, which is beyond the reach of current vaccines, may play a major role in genetic exchange and adaptation of the species as a whole. These findings advance our understanding of pneumococcal population dynamics and provide important information for the design of future intervention strategies.
PMCID: PMC3970364  PMID: 24509479
9.  Microevolution of Burkholderia pseudomallei during an Acute Infection 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2014;52(9):3418-3421.
We used whole-genome sequencing to evaluate 69 independent colonies of Burkholderia pseudomallei isolated from seven body sites of a patient with acute disseminated melioidosis. Fourteen closely related genotypes were found, providing evidence for the rapid in vivo diversification of B. pseudomallei after inoculation and systemic spread.
PMCID: PMC4313173  PMID: 24966357
10.  Defining the Estimated Core Genome of Bacterial Populations Using a Bayesian Decision Model 
PLoS Computational Biology  2014;10(8):e1003788.
The bacterial core genome is of intense interest and the volume of whole genome sequence data in the public domain available to investigate it has increased dramatically. The aim of our study was to develop a model to estimate the bacterial core genome from next-generation whole genome sequencing data and use this model to identify novel genes associated with important biological functions. Five bacterial datasets were analysed, comprising 2096 genomes in total. We developed a Bayesian decision model to estimate the number of core genes, calculated pairwise evolutionary distances (p-distances) based on nucleotide sequence diversity, and plotted the median p-distance for each core gene relative to its genome location. We designed visually-informative genome diagrams to depict areas of interest in genomes. Case studies demonstrated how the model could identify areas for further study, e.g. 25% of the core genes with higher sequence diversity in the Campylobacter jejuni and Neisseria meningitidis genomes encoded hypothetical proteins. The core gene with the highest p-distance value in C. jejuni was annotated in the reference genome as a putative hydrolase, but further work revealed that it shared sequence homology with beta-lactamase/metallo-beta-lactamases (enzymes that provide resistance to a range of broad-spectrum antibiotics) and thioredoxin reductase genes (which reduce oxidative stress and are essential for DNA replication) in other C. jejuni genomes. Our Bayesian model of estimating the core genome is principled, easy to use and can be applied to large genome datasets. This study also highlighted the lack of knowledge currently available for many core genes in bacterial genomes of significant global public health importance.
Author Summary
Whole genome sequencing has revolutionised the study of pathogenic microorganisms. It has also become so affordable that hundreds of samples can reasonably be sequenced in an individual project, creating a wealth of data. Estimating the bacterial core genome – traditionally defined as those genes present in all genomes – is an important initial step in population genomics analyses. We developed a simple statistical model to estimate the number of core genes in a bacterial genome dataset, calculated pairwise evolutionary distances (p-distances) based on differences among nucleotide sequences, and plotted the median p-distance for each core gene relative to its genome location. Low p-distance values indicate highly-conserved genes; high values suggest genes under selection and/or undergoing recombination. The genome diagrams depict areas of interest in genomes that can be explored in further detail. Using our method, we analysed five bacterial species comprising a total of 2096 genomes. This revealed new information related to antibiotic resistance and virulence for two bacterial species and demonstrated that the function of many core genes in bacteria is still unknown. Our model provides a highly-accessible, publicly-available tool to use on the vast quantities of genome sequence data now available.
PMCID: PMC4140633  PMID: 25144616
11.  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
12.  Genomic Encyclopedia of Bacteria and Archaea: Sequencing a Myriad of Type Strains 
PLoS Biology  2014;12(8):e1001920.
This manuscript calls for an international effort to generate a comprehensive catalog from genome sequences of all the archaeal and bacterial type strains.
Microbes hold the key to life. They hold the secrets to our past (as the descendants of the earliest forms of life) and the prospects for our future (as we mine their genes for solutions to some of the planet's most pressing problems, from global warming to antibiotic resistance). However, the piecemeal approach that has defined efforts to study microbial genetic diversity for over 20 years and in over 30,000 genome projects risks squandering that promise. These efforts have covered less than 20% of the diversity of the cultured archaeal and bacterial species, which represent just 15% of the overall known prokaryotic diversity. Here we call for the funding of a systematic effort to produce a comprehensive genomic catalog of all cultured Bacteria and Archaea by sequencing, where available, the type strain of each species with a validly published name (currently∼11,000). This effort will provide an unprecedented level of coverage of our planet's genetic diversity, allow for the large-scale discovery of novel genes and functions, and lead to an improved understanding of microbial evolution and function in the environment.
PMCID: PMC4122341  PMID: 25093819
13.  Time between Collection and Storage Significantly Influences Bacterial Sequence Composition in Sputum Samples from Cystic Fibrosis Respiratory Infections 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2014;52(8):3011-3016.
Spontaneously expectorated sputum is traditionally used as the sampling method for the investigation of lower airway infections. While guidelines exist for the handling of these samples for culture-based diagnostic microbiology, there is no comparable consensus on their handling prior to culture-independent analysis. The increasing incorporation of culture-independent approaches in diagnostic microbiology means that it is of critical importance to assess potential biases. The aim of this study was to assess the impact of delayed freezing on culture-independent microbiological analyses and to identify acceptable parameters for sample handling. Sputum samples from eight adult cystic fibrosis (CF) patients were collected and aliquoted into sterile Bijou bottles. Aliquots were stored at room temperature before being frozen at −80°C for increasing intervals, up to a 72-h period. Samples were treated with propidium monoazide to distinguish live from dead cells prior to DNA extraction, and 16S rRNA gene pyrosequencing was used to characterize their bacterial compositions. Substantial variation was observed in samples with high-diversity bacterial communities over time, whereas little variation was observed in low-diversity communities dominated by recognized CF pathogens, regardless of time to freezing. Partitioning into common and rare species demonstrated that the rare species drove changes in similarity. The percentage abundance of anaerobes over the study significantly decreased after 12 h at room temperature (P = 0.008). Failure to stabilize samples at −80°C within 12 h of collection results in significant changes in the detected community composition.
PMCID: PMC4136140  PMID: 24920767
14.  Genome Evolution and Plasticity of Serratia marcescens, an Important Multidrug-Resistant Nosocomial Pathogen 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2014;6(8):2096-2110.
Serratia marcescens is an important nosocomial pathogen that can cause an array of infections, most notably of the urinary tract and bloodstream. Naturally, it is found in many environmental niches, and is capable of infecting plants and animals. The emergence and spread of multidrug-resistant strains producing extended-spectrum or metallo beta-lactamases now pose a threat to public health worldwide. Here we report the complete genome sequences of two carefully selected S. marcescens strains, a multidrug-resistant clinical isolate (strain SM39) and an insect isolate (strain Db11). Our comparative analyses reveal the core genome of S. marcescens and define the potential metabolic capacity, virulence, and multidrug resistance of this species. We show a remarkable intraspecies genetic diversity, both at the sequence level and with regards genome flexibility, which may reflect the diversity of niches inhabited by members of this species. A broader analysis with other Serratia species identifies a set of approximately 3,000 genes that characterize the genus. Within this apparent genetic diversity, we identified many genes implicated in the high virulence potential and antibiotic resistance of SM39, including the metallo beta-lactamase and multiple other drug resistance determinants carried on plasmid pSMC1. We further show that pSMC1 is most closely related to plasmids circulating in Pseudomonas species. Our data will provide a valuable basis for future studies on S. marcescens and new insights into the genetic mechanisms that underlie the emergence of pathogens highly resistant to multiple antimicrobial agents.
PMCID: PMC4231636  PMID: 25070509
Serratia marcescens; genome plasticity; virulence; multidrug resistance
15.  Whole-genome sequencing reveals clonal expansion of multiresistant Staphylococcus haemolyticus in European hospitals 
Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy  2014;69(11):2920-2927.
Staphylococcus haemolyticus is an emerging cause of nosocomial infections, primarily affecting immunocompromised patients. A comparative genomic analysis was performed on clinical S. haemolyticus isolates to investigate their genetic relationship and explore the coding sequences with respect to antimicrobial resistance determinants and putative hospital adaptation.
Whole-genome sequencing was performed on 134 isolates of S. haemolyticus from geographically diverse origins (Belgium, 2; Germany, 10; Japan, 13; Norway, 54; Spain, 2; Switzerland, 43; UK, 9; USA, 1). Each genome was individually assembled. Protein coding sequences (CDSs) were predicted and homologous genes were categorized into three types: Type I, core genes, homologues present in all strains; Type II, unique core genes, homologues shared by only a subgroup of strains; and Type III, unique genes, strain-specific CDSs. The phylogenetic relationship between the isolates was built from variable sites in the form of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the core genome and used to construct a maximum likelihood phylogeny.
SNPs in the genome core regions divided the isolates into one major group of 126 isolates and one minor group of isolates with highly diverse genomes. The major group was further subdivided into seven clades (A–G), of which four (A–D) encompassed isolates only from Europe. Antimicrobial multiresistance was observed in 77.7% of the collection. High levels of homologous recombination were detected in genes involved in adherence, staphylococcal host adaptation and bacterial cell communication.
The presence of several successful and highly resistant clones underlines the adaptive potential of this opportunistic pathogen.
PMCID: PMC4195474  PMID: 25038069
staphylococci; SCCmec; molecular epidemiology; multidrug resistance; bacterial genomics
16.  Diarrhea in young children from low-income countries leads to large-scale alterations in intestinal microbiota composition 
Genome Biology  2014;15(6):R76.
Diarrheal diseases continue to contribute significantly to morbidity and mortality in infants and young children in developing countries. There is an urgent need to better understand the contributions of novel, potentially uncultured, diarrheal pathogens to severe diarrheal disease, as well as distortions in normal gut microbiota composition that might facilitate severe disease.
We use high throughput 16S rRNA gene sequencing to compare fecal microbiota composition in children under five years of age who have been diagnosed with moderate to severe diarrhea (MSD) with the microbiota from diarrhea-free controls. Our study includes 992 children from four low-income countries in West and East Africa, and Southeast Asia. Known pathogens, as well as bacteria currently not considered as important diarrhea-causing pathogens, are positively associated with MSD, and these include Escherichia/Shigella, and Granulicatella species, and Streptococcus mitis/pneumoniae groups. In both cases and controls, there tend to be distinct negative correlations between facultative anaerobic lineages and obligate anaerobic lineages. Overall genus-level microbiota composition exhibit a shift in controls from low to high levels of Prevotella and in MSD cases from high to low levels of Escherichia/Shigella in younger versus older children; however, there was significant variation among many genera by both site and age.
Our findings expand the current understanding of microbiota-associated diarrhea pathogenicity in young children from developing countries. Our findings are necessarily based on correlative analyses and must be further validated through epidemiological and molecular techniques.
PMCID: PMC4072981  PMID: 24995464
17.  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
18.  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
19.  A Shared Population of Epidemic Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus 15 Circulates in Humans and Companion Animals 
mBio  2014;5(3):e00985-13.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a global human health problem causing infections in both hospitals and the community. Companion animals, such as cats, dogs, and horses, are also frequently colonized by MRSA and can become infected. We sequenced the genomes of 46 multilocus sequence type (ST) 22 MRSA isolates from cats and dogs in the United Kingdom and compared these to an extensive population framework of human isolates from the same lineage. Phylogenomic analyses showed that all companion animal isolates were interspersed throughout the epidemic MRSA-15 (EMRSA-15) pandemic clade and clustered with human isolates from the United Kingdom, with human isolates basal to those from companion animals, suggesting a human source for isolates infecting companion animals. A number of isolates from the same veterinary hospital clustered together, suggesting that as in human hospitals, EMRSA-15 isolates are readily transmitted in the veterinary hospital setting. Genome-wide association analysis did not identify any host-specific single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) or virulence factors. However, isolates from companion animals were significantly less likely to harbor a plasmid encoding erythromycin resistance. When this plasmid was present in animal-associated isolates, it was more likely to contain mutations mediating resistance to clindamycin. This finding is consistent with the low levels of erythromycin and high levels of clindamycin used in veterinary medicine in the United Kingdom. This study furthers the “one health” view of infectious diseases that the pathogen pool of human and animal populations are intrinsically linked and provides evidence that antibiotic usage in animal medicine is shaping the population of a major human pathogen.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is major problem in human medicine. Companion animals, such as cats, dogs, and horses, can also become colonized and infected by MRSA. Here, we demonstrate that a shared population of an important and globally disseminated lineage of MRSA can infect both humans and companion animals without undergoing host adaptation. This suggests that companion animals might act as a reservoir for human infections. We also show that the isolates from companion animals have differences in the presence of certain antibiotic resistance genes. This study furthers the “one health” view of infectious diseases by demonstrating that the pool of MRSA isolates in the human and animal populations are shared and highlights how different antibiotic usage patterns between human and veterinary medicine can shape the population of bacterial pathogens.
PMCID: PMC4030480  PMID: 24825010
20.  PolyTB: A genomic variation map for Mycobacterium tuberculosis 
Tuberculosis (TB) caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) is the second major cause of death from an infectious disease worldwide. Recent advances in DNA sequencing are leading to the ability to generate whole genome information in clinical isolates of M. tuberculosis complex (MTBC). The identification of informative genetic variants such as phylogenetic markers and those associated with drug resistance or virulence will help barcode Mtb in the context of epidemiological, diagnostic and clinical studies. Mtb genomic datasets are increasingly available as raw sequences, which are potentially difficult and computer intensive to process, and compare across studies. Here we have processed the raw sequence data (>1500 isolates, eight studies) to compile a catalogue of SNPs (n = 74,039, 63% non-synonymous, 51.1% in more than one isolate, i.e. non-private), small indels (n = 4810) and larger structural variants (n = 800). We have developed the PolyTB web-based tool ( to visualise the resulting variation and important meta-data (e.g. in silico inferred strain-types, location) within geographical map and phylogenetic views. This resource will allow researchers to identify polymorphisms within candidate genes of interest, as well as examine the genomic diversity and distribution of strains. PolyTB source code is freely available to researchers wishing to develop similar tools for their pathogen of interest.
PMCID: PMC4066953  PMID: 24637013
Mycobacterium tuberculosis; Database; Genomics; Software; Molecular epidemiology; Whole-genome sequencing
21.  Zero tolerance for healthcare-associated MRSA bacteraemia: is it realistic? 
The term ‘zero tolerance’ has recently been applied to healthcare-associated infections, implying that such events are always preventable. This may not be the case for healthcare-associated infections such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteraemia.
We combined information from an epidemiological investigation and bacterial whole-genome sequencing to evaluate a cluster of five MRSA bacteraemia episodes in four patients in a specialist hepatology unit.
The five MRSA bacteraemia isolates were highly related by multilocus sequence type (ST) (four isolates were ST22 and one isolate was a single-locus variant, ST2046). Whole-genome sequencing demonstrated unequivocally that the bacteraemia cases were unrelated. Placing the MRSA bacteraemia isolates within a local and global phylogenetic tree of MRSA ST22 genomes demonstrated that the five bacteraemia isolates were highly diverse. This was consistent with the acquisition and importation of MRSA from the wider referral network. Analysis of MRSA carriage and disease in patients within the hepatology service demonstrated a higher risk of both initial MRSA acquisition compared with the nephrology service and a higher risk of progression from MRSA carriage to bacteraemia, compared with patients in nephrology or geriatric services. A root cause analysis failed to reveal any mechanism by which three of five MRSA bacteraemia episodes could have been prevented.
This study illustrates the complex nature of MRSA carriage and bacteraemia in patients in a specialized hepatology unit. Despite numerous ongoing interventions to prevent MRSA bacteraemia in healthcare settings, these are unlikely to result in a zero incidence in referral centres that treat highly complex patients.
PMCID: PMC4100711  PMID: 24788657
methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus; outbreak; whole-genome sequencing
22.  Rapid Bacterial Whole-Genome Sequencing to Enhance Diagnostic and Public Health Microbiology 
JAMA internal medicine  2013;173(15):1397-1404.
The latest generation of benchtop DNA sequencing platforms can provide an accurate whole-genome sequence (WGS) for a broad range of bacteria in less than a day. These could be used to more effectively contain the spread of multidrug-resistant pathogens.
To compare WGS with standard clinical microbiology practice for the investigation of nosocomial outbreaks caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria, the identification of genetic determinants of antimicrobial resistance, and typing of other clinically important pathogens.
A laboratory-based study of hospital inpatients with a range of bacterial infections at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, a secondary and tertiary referral center in England, comparing WGS with standard diagnostic microbiology using stored bacterial isolates and clinical information.
Specimens were taken and processed as part of routine clinical care, and cultured isolates stored and referred for additional reference laboratory testing as necessary. Isolates underwent DNA extraction and library preparation prior to sequencing on the Illumina MiSeq platform. Bioinformatic analyses were performed by persons blinded to the clinical, epidemiologic, and antimicrobial susceptibility data.
We investigated 2 putative nosocomial outbreaks, one caused by vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium and the other by carbapenem-resistant Enterobacter cloacae; WGS accurately discriminated between outbreak and nonoutbreak isolates and was superior to conventional typing methods. We compared WGS with standard methods for the identification of the mechanism of carbapenem resistance in a range of gram-negative bacteria (Acinetobacter baumannii, E cloacae, Escherichia coli, and Klebsiella pneumoniae). This demonstrated concordance between phenotypic and genotypic results, and the ability to determine whether resistance was attributable to the presence of carbapenemases or other resistance mechanisms. Whole-genome sequencing was used to recapitulate reference laboratory typing of clinical isolates of Neisseria meningitidis and to provide extended phylogenetic analyses of these.
The speed, accuracy, and depth of information provided by WGS platforms to confirm or refute outbreaks in hospitals and the community, and to accurately define transmission of multidrug-resistant and other organisms, represents an important advance.
PMCID: PMC4001082  PMID: 23857503
23.  Sequencing ancient calcified dental plaque shows changes in oral microbiota with dietary shifts of the Neolithic and Industrial revolutions 
Nature genetics  2013;45(4):450-455e1.
The importance of commensal microbes for human health is increasingly recognized1-5, yet the impacts of evolutionary changes in human diet and culture on commensal microbiota remain almost unknown. Two of the greatest dietary shifts in human evolution involved the adoption of carbohydrate-rich Neolithic (farming) diets6,7 (beginning ~10,000 years BP6,8), and the more recent advent of industrially processed flour and sugar (~1850)9. Here, we show that calcified dental plaque (dental calculus) on ancient teeth preserves a detailed genetic record throughout this period. Data from 34 early European skeletons indicate that the transition from hunter-gatherer to farming shifted the oral microbial community to a disease-associated configuration. The composition of oral microbiota remained surprisingly constant between Neolithic and Medieval times, after which (the now ubiquitous) cariogenic bacteria became dominant, apparently during the Industrial Revolution. Modern oral microbiota are markedly less diverse than historic populations, which might be contributing to chronic oral (and other) disease in post-industrial lifestyles.
PMCID: PMC3996550  PMID: 23416520
24.  Global Population Structure and Evolution of Bordetella pertussis and Their Relationship with Vaccination 
mBio  2014;5(2):e01074-14.
Bordetella pertussis causes pertussis, a respiratory disease that is most severe for infants. Vaccination was introduced in the 1950s, and in recent years, a resurgence of disease was observed worldwide, with significant mortality in infants. Possible causes for this include the switch from whole-cell vaccines (WCVs) to less effective acellular vaccines (ACVs), waning immunity, and pathogen adaptation. Pathogen adaptation is suggested by antigenic divergence between vaccine strains and circulating strains and by the emergence of strains with increased pertussis toxin production. We applied comparative genomics to a worldwide collection of 343 B. pertussis strains isolated between 1920 and 2010. The global phylogeny showed two deep branches; the largest of these contained 98% of all strains, and its expansion correlated temporally with the first descriptions of pertussis outbreaks in Europe in the 16th century. We found little evidence of recent geographical clustering of the strains within this lineage, suggesting rapid strain flow between countries. We observed that changes in genes encoding proteins implicated in protective immunity that are included in ACVs occurred after the introduction of WCVs but before the switch to ACVs. Furthermore, our analyses consistently suggested that virulence-associated genes and genes coding for surface-exposed proteins were involved in adaptation. However, many of the putative adaptive loci identified have a physiological role, and further studies of these loci may reveal less obvious ways in which B. pertussis and the host interact. This work provides insight into ways in which pathogens may adapt to vaccination and suggests ways to improve pertussis vaccines.
Whooping cough is mainly caused by Bordetella pertussis, and current vaccines are targeted against this organism. Recently, there have been increasing outbreaks of whooping cough, even where vaccine coverage is high. Analysis of the genomes of 343 B. pertussis isolates from around the world over the last 100 years suggests that the organism has emerged within the last 500 years, consistent with historical records. We show that global transmission of new strains is very rapid and that the worldwide population of B. pertussis is evolving in response to vaccine introduction, potentially enabling vaccine escape.
PMCID: PMC3994516  PMID: 24757216

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