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1.  Community-driven development for computational biology at Sprints, Hackathons and Codefests 
BMC Bioinformatics  2014;15(Suppl 14):S7.
Computational biology comprises a wide range of technologies and approaches. Multiple technologies can be combined to create more powerful workflows if the individuals contributing the data or providing tools for its interpretation can find mutual understanding and consensus. Much conversation and joint investigation are required in order to identify and implement the best approaches.
Traditionally, scientific conferences feature talks presenting novel technologies or insights, followed up by informal discussions during coffee breaks. In multi-institution collaborations, in order to reach agreement on implementation details or to transfer deeper insights in a technology and practical skills, a representative of one group typically visits the other. However, this does not scale well when the number of technologies or research groups is large.
Conferences have responded to this issue by introducing Birds-of-a-Feather (BoF) sessions, which offer an opportunity for individuals with common interests to intensify their interaction. However, parallel BoF sessions often make it hard for participants to join multiple BoFs and find common ground between the different technologies, and BoFs are generally too short to allow time for participants to program together.
This report summarises our experience with computational biology Codefests, Hackathons and Sprints, which are interactive developer meetings. They are structured to reduce the limitations of traditional scientific meetings described above by strengthening the interaction among peers and letting the participants determine the schedule and topics. These meetings are commonly run as loosely scheduled "unconferences" (self-organized identification of participants and topics for meetings) over at least two days, with early introductory talks to welcome and organize contributors, followed by intensive collaborative coding sessions. We summarise some prominent achievements of those meetings and describe differences in how these are organised, how their audience is addressed, and their outreach to their respective communities.
Hackathons, Codefests and Sprints share a stimulating atmosphere that encourages participants to jointly brainstorm and tackle problems of shared interest in a self-driven proactive environment, as well as providing an opportunity for new participants to get involved in collaborative projects.
PMCID: PMC4255748  PMID: 25472764
2.  Genomic Evidence for a Globally Distributed, Bimodal Population in the Ovine Footrot Pathogen Dichelobacter nodosus 
mBio  2014;5(5):e01821-14.
Footrot is a contagious, debilitating disease of sheep, causing major economic losses in most sheep-producing countries. The causative agent is the Gram-negative anaerobe Dichelobacter nodosus. Depending on the virulence of the infective bacterial strain, clinical signs vary from a mild interdigital dermatitis (benign footrot) to severe underrunning of the horn of the hoof (virulent footrot). The aim of this study was to investigate the genetic relationship between D. nodosus strains of different phenotypic virulences and between isolates from different geographic regions. Genome sequencing was performed on 103 D. nodosus isolates from eight different countries. Comparison of these genome sequences revealed that they were highly conserved, with >95% sequence identity. However, single nucleotide polymorphism analysis of the 31,627 nucleotides that were found to differ in one or more of the 103 sequenced isolates divided them into two distinct clades. Remarkably, this division correlated with known virulent and benign phenotypes, as well as with the single amino acid difference between the AprV2 and AprB2 proteases, which are produced by virulent and benign strains, respectively. This division was irrespective of the geographic origin of the isolates. However, within one of these clades, isolates from different geographic regions generally belonged to separate clusters. In summary, we have shown that D. nodosus has a bimodal population structure that is globally conserved and provide evidence that virulent and benign isolates represent two distinct forms of D. nodosus strains. These data have the potential to improve the diagnosis and targeted control of this economically significant disease.
The Gram-negative anaerobic bacterium Dichelobacter nodosus is the causative agent of ovine footrot, a disease of major importance to the worldwide sheep industry. The known D. nodosus virulence factors are its type IV fimbriae and extracellular serine proteases. D. nodosus strains are designated virulent or benign based on the type of disease caused under optimal climatic conditions. These isolates have similar fimbriae but distinct extracellular proteases. To determine the relationship between virulent and benign isolates and the relationship of isolates from different geographical regions, a genomic study that involved the sequencing and subsequent analysis of 103 D. nodosus isolates was undertaken. The results showed that D. nodosus isolates are highly conserved at the genomic level but that they can be divided into two distinct clades that correlate with their disease phenotypes and with a single amino acid substitution in one of the extracellular proteases.
PMCID: PMC4196234  PMID: 25271288
3.  Leptospiral LruA Is Required for Virulence and Modulates an Interaction with Mammalian Apolipoprotein AI 
Infection and Immunity  2013;81(10):3872-3879.
Leptospirosis is a worldwide zoonosis caused by spirochetes of the genus Leptospira. While understanding of pathogenesis remains limited, the development of mutagenesis in Leptospira has provided a powerful tool for identifying novel virulence factors. LruA is a lipoprotein that has been implicated in leptospiral uveitis as a target of the immune response. In this study, two lruA mutants, M754 and M765, generated by transposon mutagenesis from Leptospira interrogans serovar Manilae, were characterized. In M754, the transposon inserted in the middle of lruA, resulting in no detectable expression of LruA. In M765, the transposon inserted toward the 3′ end of the gene, resulting in expression of a truncated protein. LruA was demonstrated to be on the cell surface in M765 and the wild type (WT). M754, but not M765, was attenuated in a hamster model of acute infection. A search for differential binding to human serum proteins identified a serum protein of around 30 kDa bound to the wild type and the LruA deletion mutant (M754), but not to the LruA truncation mutant (M765). Two-dimensional separation of proteins from leptospiral cells incubated with guinea pig serum identified the 28-kDa apolipoprotein A-I (ApoA-I) as a major mammalian serum protein that binds Leptospira in vitro. Interestingly, M754 (with no detectable LruA) bound more ApoA-I than did the LruA-expressing strains Manilae wild type and M765. Our data thus identify LruA as a surface-exposed leptospiral virulence factor that contributes to leptospiral pathogenesis, possibly by modulating cellular interactions with serum protein ApoA-I.
PMCID: PMC3811782  PMID: 23918777
4.  Hyperexpression of α-hemolysin explains enhanced virulence of sequence type 93 community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus 
BMC Microbiology  2014;14:31.
The community-associated methicillin-resistant S. aureus (CA-MRSA) ST93 clone is becoming dominant in Australia and is clinically highly virulent. In addition, sepsis and skin infection models demonstrate that ST93 CA-MRSA is the most virulent global clone of S. aureus tested to date. While the determinants of virulence have been studied in other clones of CA-MRSA, the basis for hypervirulence in ST93 CA-MRSA has not been defined.
Here, using a geographically and temporally dispersed collection of ST93 isolates we demonstrate that the ST93 population hyperexpresses key CA-MRSA exotoxins, in particular α-hemolysin, in comparison to other global clones. Gene deletion and complementation studies, and virulence comparisons in a murine skin infection model, showed unequivocally that increased expression of α-hemolysin is the key staphylococcal virulence determinant for this clone. Genome sequencing and comparative genomics of strains with divergent exotoxin profiles demonstrated that, like other S. aureus clones, the quorum sensing agr system is the master regulator of toxin expression and virulence in ST93 CA-MRSA. However, we also identified a previously uncharacterized AraC/XylS family regulator (AryK) that potentiates toxin expression and virulence in S. aureus.
These data demonstrate that hyperexpression of α-hemolysin mediates enhanced virulence in ST93 CA-MRSA, and additional control of exotoxin production, in particular α-hemolysin, mediated by regulatory systems other than agr have the potential to fine-tune virulence in CA-MRSA.
PMCID: PMC3922988  PMID: 24512075
Staphylococcus aureus; CA-MRSA; Pathogenesis; Alpha-hemolysin
5.  Analysis of the Small RNA Transcriptional Response in Multidrug-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus after Antimicrobial Exposure 
The critical role of noncoding small RNAs (sRNAs) in the bacterial response to changing conditions is increasingly recognized. However, a specific role for sRNAs during antibiotic exposure has not been investigated in Staphylococcus aureus. Here, we used Illumina RNA-Seq to examine the sRNA response of multiresistant sequence type 239 (ST239) S. aureus after exposure to four antibiotics (vancomycin, linezolid, ceftobiprole, and tigecycline) representing the major classes of antimicrobials used to treat methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) infections. We identified 409 potential sRNAs and then compared global sRNA and mRNA expression profiles at 2 and 6 h, without antibiotic exposure and after exposure to each antibiotic, for a vancomycin-susceptible strain (JKD6009) and a vancomycin-intermediate strain (JKD6008). Exploration of this data set by multivariate analysis using a novel implementation of nonnegative matrix factorization (NMF) revealed very different responses for mRNA and sRNA. Where mRNA responses clustered with strain or growth phase conditions, the sRNA responses were predominantly linked to antibiotic exposure, including sRNA responses that were specific for particular antibiotics. A remarkable feature of the antimicrobial response was the prominence of antisense sRNAs to genes encoding proteins involved in protein synthesis and ribosomal function. This study has defined a large sRNA repertoire in epidemic ST239 MRSA and shown for the first time that a subset of sRNAs are part of a coordinated transcriptional response to specific antimicrobial exposures in S. aureus. These data provide a framework for interrogating the role of staphylococcal sRNAs in antimicrobial resistance and exploring new avenues for sRNA-based antimicrobial therapies.
PMCID: PMC3719707  PMID: 23733475
6.  Adaptive Change Inferred from Genomic Population Analysis of the ST93 Epidemic Clone of Community-Associated Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2014;6(2):366-378.
Community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA) has emerged as a major public health problem around the world. In Australia, ST93-IV[2B] is the dominant CA-MRSA clone and displays significantly greater virulence than other S. aureus. Here, we have examined the evolution of ST93 via genomic analysis of 12 MSSA and 44 MRSA ST93 isolates, collected from around Australia over a 17-year period. Comparative analysis revealed a core genome of 2.6 Mb, sharing greater than 99.7% nucleotide identity. The accessory genome was 0.45 Mb and comprised additional mobile DNA elements, harboring resistance to erythromycin, trimethoprim, and tetracycline. Phylogenetic inference revealed a molecular clock and suggested that a single clone of methicillin susceptible, Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL) positive, ST93 S. aureus likely spread from North Western Australia in the early 1970s, acquiring methicillin resistance at least twice in the mid 1990s. We also explored associations between genotype and important MRSA phenotypes including oxacillin MIC and production of exotoxins (α-hemolysin [Hla], δ-hemolysin [Hld], PSMα3, and PVL). High-level expression of Hla is a signature feature of ST93 and reduced expression in eight isolates was readily explained by mutations in the agr locus. However, subtle but significant decreases in Hld were also noted over time that coincided with decreasing oxacillin resistance and were independent of agr mutations. The evolution of ST93 S. aureus is thus associated with a reduction in both exotoxin expression and oxacillin MIC, suggesting MRSA ST93 isolates are under pressure for adaptive change.
PMCID: PMC3942038  PMID: 24482534
Staphylococcus aureus; community-acquired MRSA; comparative genomics; alpha-hemolysin
7.  The Use of High-Throughput DNA Sequencing in the Investigation of Antigenic Variation: Application to Neisseria Species 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e86704.
Antigenic variation occurs in a broad range of species. This process resembles gene conversion in that variant DNA is unidirectionally transferred from partial gene copies (or silent loci) into an expression locus. Previous studies of antigenic variation have involved the amplification and sequencing of individual genes from hundreds of colonies. Using the pilE gene from Neisseria gonorrhoeae we have demonstrated that it is possible to use PCR amplification, followed by high-throughput DNA sequencing and a novel assembly process, to detect individual antigenic variation events. The ability to detect these events was much greater than has previously been possible. In N. gonorrhoeae most silent loci contain multiple partial gene copies. Here we show that there is a bias towards using the copy at the 3′ end of the silent loci (copy 1) as the donor sequence. The pilE gene of N. gonorrhoeae and some strains of Neisseria meningitidis encode class I pilin, but strains of N. meningitidis from clonal complexes 8 and 11 encode a class II pilin. We have confirmed that the class II pili of meningococcal strain FAM18 (clonal complex 11) are non-variable, and this is also true for the class II pili of strain NMB from clonal complex 8. In addition when a gene encoding class I pilin was moved into the meningococcal strain NMB background there was no evidence of antigenic variation. Finally we investigated several members of the opa gene family of N. gonorrhoeae, where it has been suggested that limited variation occurs. Variation was detected in the opaK gene that is located close to pilE, but not at the opaJ gene located elsewhere on the genome. The approach described here promises to dramatically improve studies of the extent and nature of antigenic variation systems in a variety of species.
PMCID: PMC3899283  PMID: 24466206
8.  Decreased Vancomycin Susceptibility in Staphylococcus aureus Caused by IS256 Tempering of WalKR Expression 
Vancomycin-intermediate Staphylococcus aureus (VISA) strains often arise by mutations in the essential two-component regulator walKR; however their impact on walKR function has not been definitively established. Here, we investigated 10 MRSA strains recovered serially after exposure of vancomycin-susceptible S. aureus (VSSA) JKD6009 to simulated human vancomycin dosing regimens (500 mg to 4,000 mg every 12 h) using a 10-day hollow fiber infection model. After continued exposure to the vancomycin regimens, two isolates displayed reduced susceptibility to both vancomycin and daptomycin, developing independent IS256 insertions in the walKR 5′ untranslated region (5′ UTR). Quantitative reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) revealed a 50% reduction in walKR gene expression in the IS256 mutants compared to the VSSA parent. Green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter analysis, promoter mapping, and site-directed mutagenesis confirmed these findings and showed that the IS256 insertions had replaced two SigA-like walKR promoters with weaker, hybrid promoters. Removal of IS256 reverted the phenotype to VSSA, showing that reduced expression of WalKR did induce the VISA phenotype. Analysis of selected WalKR-regulated autolysins revealed upregulation of ssaA but no change in expression of sak and sceD in both IS256 mutants. Whole-genome sequencing of the two mutants revealed an additional IS256 insertion within agrC for one mutant, and we confirmed that this mutation abolished agr function. These data provide the first substantial analysis of walKR promoter function and show that prolonged vancomycin exposure can result in VISA through an IS256-mediated reduction in walKR expression; however, the mechanisms by which this occurs remain to be determined.
PMCID: PMC3697332  PMID: 23629723
9.  Genome analysis of smooth tubercle bacilli provides insights into ancestry and pathoadaptation of the etiologic agent of tuberculosis 
Nature genetics  2013;45(2):10.1038/ng.2517.
Global spread and genetic monomorphism are hallmarks of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the agent of human tuberculosis. In contrast, Mycobacterium canettii, and related tubercle bacilli that also cause human tuberculosis and exhibit unusual smooth colony morphology, are restricted to East-Africa. Here, we sequenced and analyzed the genomes of five representative strains of smooth tubercle bacilli (STB) using Sanger (4-5x coverage), 454/Roche (13-18x coverage) and/or Illumina DNA sequencing (45-105x coverage). We show that STB are highly recombinogenic and evolutionary early-branching, with larger genome sizes, 25-fold more SNPs, fewer molecular scars and distinct CRISPR-Cas systems relative to M. tuberculosis. Despite the differences, all tuberculosis-causing mycobacteria share a highly conserved core genome. Mouse-infection experiments revealed that STB are less persistent and virulent than M. tuberculosis. We conclude that M. tuberculosis emerged from an ancestral, STB-like pool of mycobacteria by gain of persistence and virulence mechanisms and we provide genome-wide insights into the molecular events involved.
PMCID: PMC3856870  PMID: 23291586
10.  Ten recommendations for creating usable bioinformatics command line software 
GigaScience  2013;2:15.
Bioinformatics software varies greatly in quality. In terms of usability, the command line interface is the first experience a user will have of a tool. Unfortunately, this is often also the last time a tool will be used. Here I present ten recommendations for command line software author’s tools to follow, which I believe would greatly improve the uptake and usability of their products, waste less user’s time, and improve the quality of scientific analyses.
PMCID: PMC4076505  PMID: 24225083
Bioinformatics software; Software quality; User interface; Unix; Tools
11.  Outbreak Investigation Using High-Throughput Genome Sequencing within a Diagnostic Microbiology Laboratory 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2013;51(5):1396-1401.
Next-generation sequencing (NGS) of bacterial genomes has recently become more accessible and is now available to the routine diagnostic microbiology laboratory. However, questions remain regarding its feasibility, particularly with respect to data analysis in nonspecialist centers. To test the applicability of NGS to outbreak investigations, Ion Torrent sequencing was used to investigate a putative multidrug-resistant Escherichia coli outbreak in the neonatal unit of the Mercy Hospital for Women, Melbourne, Australia. Four suspected outbreak strains and a comparator strain were sequenced. Genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) analysis demonstrated that the four neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) strains were identical and easily differentiated from the comparator strain. Genome sequence data also determined that the NICU strains belonged to multilocus sequence type 131 and carried the blaCTX-M-15 extended-spectrum beta-lactamase. Comparison of the outbreak strains to all publicly available complete E. coli genome sequences showed that they clustered with neonatal meningitis and uropathogenic isolates. The turnaround time from a positive culture to the completion of sequencing (prior to data analysis) was 5 days, and the cost was approximately $300 per strain (for the reagents only). The main obstacles to a mainstream adoption of NGS technologies in diagnostic microbiology laboratories are currently cost (although this is decreasing), a paucity of user-friendly and clinically focused bioinformatics platforms, and a lack of genomics expertise outside the research environment. Despite these hurdles, NGS technologies provide unparalleled high-resolution genotyping in a short time frame and are likely to be widely implemented in the field of diagnostic microbiology in the next few years, particularly for epidemiological investigations (replacing current typing methods) and the characterization of resistance determinants. Clinical microbiologists need to familiarize themselves with these technologies and their applications.
PMCID: PMC3647928  PMID: 23408689
12.  Comparative analysis of the complete genome of an epidemic hospital sequence type 203 clone of vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:595.
In this report we have explored the genomic and microbiological basis for a sustained increase in bloodstream infections at a major Australian hospital caused by Enterococcus faecium multi-locus sequence type (ST) 203, an outbreak strain that has largely replaced a predecessor ST17 sequence type.
To establish a ST203 reference sequence we fully assembled and annotated the genome of Aus0085, a 2009 vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VREfm) bloodstream isolate, and the first example of a completed ST203 genome. Aus0085 has a 3.2 Mb genome, comprising a 2.9 Mb circular chromosome and six circular plasmids (2 kb–130 kb). Twelve percent of the 3222 coding sequences (CDS) in Aus0085 are not present in ST17 E. faecium Aus0004 and ST18 E. faecium TX16. Extending this comparison to an additional 12 ST17 and 14 ST203 E. faecium hospital isolate genomes revealed only six genomic regions spanning 41 kb that were present in all ST203 and absent from all ST17 genomes. The 40 CDS have predicted functions that include ion transport, riboflavin metabolism and two phosphotransferase systems. Comparison of the vancomycin resistance-conferring Tn1549 transposon between Aus0004 and Aus0085 revealed differences in transposon length and insertion site, and van locus sequence variation that correlated with a higher vancomycin MIC in Aus0085. Additional phenotype comparisons between ST17 and ST203 isolates showed that while there were no differences in biofilm-formation and killing of Galleria mellonella, ST203 isolates grew significantly faster and out-competed ST17 isolates in growth assays.
Here we have fully assembled and annotated the first ST203 genome, and then characterized the genomic differences between ST17 and ST203 E. faecium. We also show that ST203 E. faecium are faster growing and can out-compete ST17 E. faecium. While a causal genetic basis for these phenotype differences is not provided here, this study revealed conserved genetic differences between the two clones, differences that can now be tested to explain the molecular basis for the success and emergence of ST203 E. faecium.
PMCID: PMC3846456  PMID: 24004955
Vancomycin resistant enterococci; VRE; Sequence type 203; Antibiotics; Whole genome; Transposon; Nosocomial
13.  Genomic Insights to Control the Emergence of Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci 
mBio  2013;4(4):e00412-13.
Nosocomial outbreaks of vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VREfm) are thought to occur by transmission of VREfm between patients, predicting that infection control interventions will limit cross-transmission. Despite implementation of such strategies, the incidence of VREfm infections continues to rise. We aimed to use genomics to better understand the epidemiology of E. faecium within a large hospital and investigate the reasons for failure of infection control strategies. Whole-genome sequencing was performed on 61 E. faecium (36 VREfm) isolates, predominately from blood cultures collected at a single hospital between 1998 and 2009, and on five vanB-positive anaerobic commensal bacteria isolated from human feces. Phylogenomic analysis and precise mapping of the vanB gene, which contains the Tn1549 transposon, showed that at least 18 of the 36 VREfm isolates had acquired the transposon via independent insertion events, indicating de novo generation of VREfm rather than cross-transmission. Furthermore, Tn1549 sequences found in 15 of the 36 VREfm isolates were the same as the Tn1549 sequence from one of the gut anaerobes. National and international comparator E. faecium isolates were phylogenetically interspersed with isolates from our hospital, suggesting that our findings might be globally representative. These data demonstrate that VREfm generation within a patient is common, presumably occurring in the human bowel during antibiotic therapy, and help explain our inability to reduce VREfm infections. A recommendation from our findings is that infection control practices should include screening patients for specific hospital clones of vancomycin-susceptible E. faecium rather than just VREfm.
Enterococcus faecium is an increasingly important human pathogen causing predominantly antibiotic-resistant infections in hospitalized patients. Large amounts of health care funding are spent trying to control antibiotic-resistant bacteria in hospitals globally, yet in many institutions around the world, vancomycin-resistant E. faecium (VREfm) infections continue to rise. The new findings from this study help explain the failures of our current approaches to controlling vanB VREfm in health care institutions. Given the importance of this bacterium as a cause of hospital-acquired infections and the difficulties faced by infection control units in trying to prevent colonization in their institutions, the novel findings from this study provide evidence that a new approach to controlling VREfm in hospitals is required. In particular, more attention should be given to understanding the epidemiology of hospital-adapted vancomycin-susceptible E. faecium, and patients at higher risk for de novo generation of VREfm need to be identified and optimally managed.
PMCID: PMC3747580  PMID: 23943759
14.  Complete Genome Sequence of the Frog Pathogen Mycobacterium ulcerans Ecovar Liflandii 
Journal of Bacteriology  2013;195(3):556-564.
In 2004, a previously undiscovered mycobacterium resembling Mycobacterium ulcerans (the agent of Buruli ulcer) was reported in an outbreak of a lethal mycobacteriosis in a laboratory colony of the African clawed frog Xenopus tropicalis. This mycobacterium makes mycolactone and is one of several strains of M. ulcerans-like mycolactone-producing mycobacteria recovered from ectotherms around the world. Here, we describe the complete 6,399,543-bp genome of this frog pathogen (previously unofficially named “Mycobacterium liflandii”), and we show that it has undergone an intermediate degree of reductive evolution between the M. ulcerans Agy99 strain and the fish pathogen Mycobacterium marinum M strain. Like M. ulcerans Agy99, it has the pMUM mycolactone plasmid, over 200 chromosomal copies of the insertion sequence IS2404, and a high proportion of pseudogenes. However, M. liflandii has a larger genome that is closer in length, sequence, and architecture to M. marinum M than to M. ulcerans Agy99, suggesting that the M. ulcerans Agy99 strain has undergone accelerated evolution. Scrutiny of the genes specifically lost suggests that M. liflandii is a tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine auxotroph. A once-extensive M. marinum-like secondary metabolome has also been diminished through reductive evolution. Our analysis shows that M. liflandii, like M. ulcerans Agy99, has the characteristics of a niche-adapted mycobacterium but also has several distinctive features in important metabolic pathways that suggest that it is responding to different environmental pressures, supporting earlier proposals that it could be considered an M. ulcerans ecotype, hence the name M. ulcerans ecovar Liflandii.
PMCID: PMC3554023  PMID: 23204453
15.  Complete Genome Sequence of the Avian Pathogenic Escherichia coli Strain APEC O78 
Genome Announcements  2013;1(2):e00026-13.
Colibacillosis, caused by avian pathogenic Escherichia coli (APEC), is a significant disease, causing extensive animal and financial losses globally. Because of the significance of this disease, more knowledge is needed regarding APEC's mechanisms of virulence. Here, we present the fully closed genome sequence of a typical avian pathogenic E. coli strain belonging to the serogroup O78.
PMCID: PMC3622999  PMID: 23516182
16.  Attachment and Invasion of Neisseria meningitidis to Host Cells Is Related to Surface Hydrophobicity, Bacterial Cell Size and Capsule 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e55798.
We compared exemplar strains from two hypervirulent clonal complexes, strain NMB-CDC from ST-8/11 cc and strain MC58 from ST-32/269 cc, in host cell attachment and invasion. Strain NMB-CDC attached to and invaded host cells at a significantly greater frequency than strain MC58. Type IV pili retained the primary role for initial attachment to host cells for both isolates regardless of pilin class and glycosylation pattern. In strain MC58, the serogroup B capsule was the major inhibitory determinant affecting both bacterial attachment to and invasion of host cells. Removal of terminal sialylation of lipooligosaccharide (LOS) in the presence of capsule did not influence rates of attachment or invasion for strain MC58. However, removal of either serogroup B capsule or LOS sialylation in strain NMB-CDC increased bacterial attachment to host cells to the same extent. Although the level of inhibition of attachment by capsule was different between these strains, the regulation of the capsule synthesis locus by the two-component response regulator MisR, and the level of surface capsule determined by flow cytometry were not significantly different. However, the diplococci of strain NMB-CDC were shown to have a 1.89-fold greater surface area than strain MC58 by flow cytometry. It was proposed that the increase in surface area without changing the amount of anchored glycolipid capsule in the outer membrane would result in a sparser capsule and increase surface hydrophobicity. Strain NMB-CDC was shown to be more hydrophobic than strain MC58 using hydrophobicity interaction chromatography and microbial adhesion-to-solvents assays. In conclusion, improved levels of adherence of strain NMB-CDC to cell lines was associated with increased bacterial cell surface and surface hydrophobicity. This study shows that there is diversity in bacterial cell surface area and surface hydrophobicity within N. meningitidis which influence steps in meningococcal pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3566031  PMID: 23405216
17.  Genome Analysis and Phylogenetic Relatedness of Gallibacterium anatis Strains from Poultry 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e54844.
Peritonitis is the major disease problem of laying hens in commercial table egg and parent stock operations. Despite its importance, the etiology and pathogenesis of this disease have not been completely clarified. Although avian pathogenic Escherichia coli (APEC) isolates have been incriminated as the causative agent of laying hen peritonitis, Gallibacterium anatis are frequently isolated from peritonitis lesions. Despite recent studies suggesting a role for G. anatis in the pathogenesis of peritonitis, little is known about the organism’s virulence mechanisms, genomic composition and population dynamics. Here, we compared the genome sequences of three G. anatis isolates in an effort to understand its virulence mechanisms and identify novel antigenic traits. A multilocus sequence typing method was also established for G. anatis and used to characterize the genotypic relatedness of 71 isolates from commercial laying hens in Iowa and 18 international reference isolates. Genomic comparisons suggest that G. anatis is a highly diverse bacterial species, with some strains possessing previously described and potential virulence factors, but with a core genome containing several antigenic candidates. Multilocus sequence typing effectively distinguished 82 sequence types and several clonal complexes of G. anatis, and some clones seemed to predominate among G. anatis populations from commercial layers in Iowa. Biofilm formation and resistance to antimicrobial agents was also observed in several clades. Overall, the genomic diversity of G. anatis suggests that multiple lineages exist with differing pathogenic potential towards birds.
PMCID: PMC3554606  PMID: 23359626
18.  Correction: A Genomic Island in Salmonella enterica ssp. salamae Provides New Insights on the Genealogy of the Locus of Enterocyte Effacement 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):10.1371/annotation/bdce3895-9160-4f51-a162-4811b3e6d2e1.
PMCID: PMC3553194
19.  Comparative Analysis of the First Complete Enterococcus faecium Genome 
Journal of Bacteriology  2012;194(9):2334-2341.
Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) are one of the leading causes of nosocomial infections in health care facilities around the globe. In particular, infections caused by vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium are becoming increasingly common. Comparative and functional genomic studies of E. faecium isolates have so far been limited owing to the lack of a fully assembled E. faecium genome sequence. Here we address this issue and report the complete 3.0-Mb genome sequence of the multilocus sequence type 17 vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium strain Aus0004, isolated from the bloodstream of a patient in Melbourne, Australia, in 1998. The genome comprises a 2.9-Mb circular chromosome and three circular plasmids. The chromosome harbors putative E. faecium virulence factors such as enterococcal surface protein, hemolysin, and collagen-binding adhesin. Aus0004 has a very large accessory genome (38%) that includes three prophage and two genomic islands absent among 22 other E. faecium genomes. One of the prophage was present as inverted 50-kb repeats that appear to have facilitated a 683-kb chromosomal inversion across the replication terminus, resulting in a striking replichore imbalance. Other distinctive features include 76 insertion sequence elements and a single chromosomal copy of Tn1549 containing the vanB vancomycin resistance element. A complete E. faecium genome will be a useful resource to assist our understanding of this emerging nosocomial pathogen.
PMCID: PMC3347086  PMID: 22366422
20.  Transcriptional Profiling of a Yeast Colony Provides New Insight into the Heterogeneity of Multicellular Fungal Communities 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e46243.
Understanding multicellular fungal structures is important for designing better strategies against human fungal pathogens. For example, the ability to form multicellular biofilms is a key virulence property of the yeast Candida albicans. C. albicans biofilms form on indwelling medical devices and are drug resistant, causing serious infections in hospital settings. Multicellular fungal communities are heterogeneous, consisting of cells experiencing different environments. Heterogeneity is likely important for the phenotypic characteristics of communities, yet it is poorly understood. Here we used colonies of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a model fungal multicellular structure. We fractionated the outside colony layers from the cells in the center by FACS, using a Cit1-GFP marker expressed exclusively on the outside. Transcriptomics analysis of the two subpopulations revealed that the outside colony layers are actively growing by fermentative metabolism, while the cells residing on the inside are in a resting state and experience changes to mitochondrial activity. Our data shows several parallels with C. albicans biofilms providing insight into the contributions of heterogeneity to biofilm phenotypes. Hallmarks of C. albicans biofilms – the expression of ribosome and translation functions and activation of glycolysis and ergosterol biosynthesis occur on the outside of colonies, while expression of genes associates with sulfur assimilation is observed in the colony center. Cell wall restructuring occurs in biofilms, and cell wall functions are enriched in both fractions: the outside cells display enrichment of cell wall biosynthesis enzymes and cell wall proteins, while the inside cells express cell wall degrading enzymes. Our study also suggests that noncoding transcription and posttranscriptional mRNA regulation play important roles during growth of yeast in colonies, setting the scene for investigating these pathways in the development of multicellular fungal communities.
PMCID: PMC3460911  PMID: 23029448
21.  A Genomic Island in Salmonella enterica ssp. salamae Provides New Insights on the Genealogy of the Locus of Enterocyte Effacement 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e41615.
The genomic island encoding the locus of enterocyte effacement (LEE) is an important virulence factor of the human pathogenic Escherichia coli. LEE typically encodes a type III secretion system (T3SS) and secreted effectors capable of forming attaching and effacing lesions. Although prominent in the pathogenic E. coli such as serotype O157:H7, LEE has also been detected in Citrobacter rodentium, E. albertii, and although not confirmed, it is likely to also be in Shigella boydii. Previous phylogenetic analysis of LEE indicated the genomic island was evolving through stepwise acquisition of various components. This study describes a new LEE region from two strains of Salmonella enterica subspecies salamae serovar Sofia along with a phylogenetic analysis of LEE that provides new insights into the likely evolution of this genomic island. The Salmonella LEE contains 36 of the 41 genes typically observed in LEE within a genomic island of 49, 371 bp that encodes a total of 54 genes. A phylogenetic analysis was performed on the entire T3SS and four T3SS genes (escF, escJ, escN, and escV) to elucidate the genealogy of LEE. Phylogenetic analysis inferred that the previously known LEE islands are members of a single lineage distinct from the new Salmonella LEE lineage. The previously known lineage of LEE diverged between islands found in Citrobacter and those in Escherichia and Shigella. Although recombination and horizontal gene transfer are important factors in the genealogy of most genomic islands, the phylogeny of the T3SS of LEE can be interpreted with a bifurcating tree. It seems likely that the LEE island entered the Enterobacteriaceae through horizontal gene transfer as a single unit, rather than as separate subsections, which was then subjected to the forces of both mutational change and recombination.
PMCID: PMC3408504  PMID: 22860002
22.  Colistin-Resistant, Lipopolysaccharide-Deficient Acinetobacter baumannii Responds to Lipopolysaccharide Loss through Increased Expression of Genes Involved in the Synthesis and Transport of Lipoproteins, Phospholipids, and Poly-β-1,6-N-Acetylglucosamine 
We recently demonstrated that colistin resistance in Acinetobacter baumannii can result from mutational inactivation of genes essential for lipid A biosynthesis (Moffatt JH, et al., Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 54:4971–4977). Consequently, strains harboring these mutations are unable to produce the major Gram-negative bacterial surface component, lipopolysaccharide (LPS). To understand how A. baumannii compensates for the lack of LPS, we compared the transcriptional profile of the A. baumannii type strain ATCC 19606 to that of an isogenic, LPS-deficient, lpxA mutant strain. The analysis of the expression profiles indicated that the LPS-deficient strain showed increased expression of many genes involved in cell envelope and membrane biogenesis. In particular, upregulated genes included those involved in the Lol lipoprotein transport system and the Mla-retrograde phospholipid transport system. In addition, genes involved in the synthesis and transport of poly-β-1,6-N-acetylglucosamine (PNAG) also were upregulated, and a corresponding increase in PNAG production was observed. The LPS-deficient strain also exhibited the reduced expression of genes predicted to encode the fimbrial subunit FimA and a type VI secretion system (T6SS). The reduced expression of genes involved in T6SS correlated with the detection of the T6SS-effector protein AssC in culture supernatants of the A. baumannii wild-type strain but not in the LPS-deficient strain. Taken together, these data show that, in response to total LPS loss, A. baumannii alters the expression of critical transport and biosynthesis systems associated with modulating the composition and structure of the bacterial surface.
PMCID: PMC3256090  PMID: 22024825
23.  Genome Sequences and Phylogenetic Analysis of K88- and F18-Positive Porcine Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli 
Journal of Bacteriology  2012;194(2):395-405.
Porcine enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) continues to result in major morbidity and mortality in the swine industry via postweaning diarrhea. The key virulence factors of ETEC strains, their serotypes, and their fimbrial components have been well studied. However, most studies to date have focused on plasmid-encoded traits related to colonization and toxin production, and the chromosomal backgrounds of these strains have been largely understudied. Here, we generated the genomic sequences of K88-positive and F18-positive porcine ETEC strains and examined the phylogenetic distribution of clinical porcine ETEC strains and their plasmid-associated genetic content. The genomes of porcine ETEC strains UMNK88 and UMNF18 were both found to contain remarkable plasmid complements containing known virulence factors, potential novel virulence factors, and antimicrobial resistance-associated elements. The chromosomes of these strains also possessed several unique genomic islands containing hypothetical genes with similarity to classical virulence factors, although phage-associated genomic islands dominated the accessory genomes of these strains. Phylogenetic analysis of 78 clinical isolates associated with neonatal and porcine diarrhea revealed that a limited subset of porcine ETEC lineages exist that generally contain common toxin and fimbrial profiles, with many of the isolates belonging to the ST10, ST23, and ST169 multilocus sequencing types. These lineages were generally distinct from existing human ETEC database isolates. Overall, most porcine ETEC strains appear to have emerged from a limited subset of E. coli lineages that either have an increased propensity to carry plasmid-encoded virulence factors or have the appropriate ETEC core genome required for virulence.
PMCID: PMC3256668  PMID: 22081385
24.  On the origin of Mycobacterium ulcerans, the causative agent of Buruli ulcer 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:258.
Mycobacterium ulcerans is an unusual bacterial pathogen with elusive origins. While closely related to the aquatic dwelling M. marinum, M. ulcerans has evolved the ability to produce the immunosuppressive polyketide toxin mycolactone and cause the neglected tropical disease Buruli ulcer. Other mycolactone-producing mycobacteria (MPM) have been identified in fish and frogs and given distinct species designations (M. pseudoshottsii, M. shinshuense, M. liflandii and M. marinum), however the evolution of M. ulcerans and its relationship to other MPM has not been defined. Here we report the comparative analysis of whole genome sequences from 30 MPM and five M. marinum.
A high-resolution phylogeny based on genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) showed that M. ulcerans and all other MPM represent a single clonal group that evolved from a common M. marinum progenitor. The emergence of the MPM was driven by the acquisition of the pMUM plasmid encoding genes for the biosynthesis of mycolactones. This change was accompanied by the loss of at least 185 genes, with a significant overrepresentation of genes associated with cell wall functions. Cell wall associated genes also showed evidence of substantial adaptive selection, suggesting cell wall remodeling has been critical for the survival of MPM. Fine-grain analysis of the MPM complex revealed at least three distinct lineages, one of which comprised a highly clonal group, responsible for Buruli ulcer in Africa and Australia. This indicates relatively recent transfer of M. ulcerans between these continents, which represent the vast majority of the global Buruli ulcer burden. Our data provide SNPs and gene sequences that can differentiate M. ulcerans lineages, suitable for use in the diagnosis and surveillance of Buruli ulcer.
M. ulcerans and all mycolactone-producing mycobacteria are specialized variants of a common Mycobacterium marinum progenitor that have adapted to live in restricted environments. Examination of genes lost or retained and now under selective pressure suggests these environments might be aerobic, and extracellular, where slow growth, production of an immune suppressor, cell wall remodeling, loss or modification of cell wall antigens, and biofilm-forming ability provide a survival advantage. These insights will guide our efforts to find the elusive reservoir(s) of M. ulcerans and to understand transmission of Buruli ulcer.
PMCID: PMC3434033  PMID: 22712622
25.  Population Genomics and Phylogeography of an Australian Dairy Factory Derived Lytic Bacteriophage 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2012;4(3):382-393.
In this study, we present the full genomic sequences and evolutionary analyses of a serially sampled population of 28 Lactococcus lactis–infecting phage belonging to the 936-like group in Australia. Genome sizes were consistent with previously available genomes ranging in length from 30.9 to 32.1 Kbp and consisted of 55–65 open reading frames. We analyzed their genetic diversity and found that regions of high diversity are correlated with high recombination rate regions (P value = 0.01). Phylogenetic inference showed two major clades that correlate well with known host range. Using the extended Bayesian Skyline model, we found that population size has remained mostly constant through time. Moreover, the dispersion pattern of these genomes is in agreement with human-driven dispersion as suggested by phylogeographic analysis. In addition, selection analysis found evidence of positive selection on codon positions of the Receptor Binding Protein (RBP). Likewise, positively selected sites in the RBP were located within the neck and head region in the crystal structure, both known determinants of host range. Our study demonstrates the utility of phylogenetic methods applied to whole genome data collected from populations of phage for providing insights into applied microbiology.
PMCID: PMC3318435  PMID: 22355195
bacteriophage; selection; phylodynamics; pyrosequencing; population genomics

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