Glanders, caused by the gram-negative bacterium Burkholderia mallei, is a highly infectious zoonotic disease of solipeds causing severe disease in animals and men. Although eradicated from many Western countries, it recently emerged in Asia, the Middle-East, Africa, and South America. Due to its rareness, little is known about outbreak dynamics of the disease and its epidemiology.
The genus Yersinia has been used as a model system to study pathogen evolution. Using whole-genome sequencing of all Yersinia species, we delineate the gene complement of the whole genus and define patterns of virulence evolution. Multiple distinct ecological specializations appear to have split pathogenic strains from environmental, nonpathogenic lineages. This split demonstrates that contrary to hypotheses that all pathogenic Yersinia species share a recent common pathogenic ancestor, they have evolved independently but followed parallel evolutionary paths in acquiring the same virulence determinants as well as becoming progressively more limited metabolically. Shared virulence determinants are limited to the virulence plasmid pYV and the attachment invasion locus ail. These acquisitions, together with genomic variations in metabolic pathways, have resulted in the parallel emergence of related pathogens displaying an increasingly specialized lifestyle with a spectrum of virulence potential, an emerging theme in the evolution of other important human pathogens.
Yersinia pestis has caused at least three human plague pandemics. The second (Black Death, 14-17th centuries) and third (19-20th centuries) have been genetically characterised, but there is only a limited understanding of the first pandemic, the Plague of Justinian (6-8th centuries). To address this gap, we sequenced and analysed draft genomes of Y pestis obtained from two individuals who died in the first pandemic.
Yersinia pestis, the etiologic agent of the disease plague, has been implicated in three historical pandemics. These include the third pandemic of the 19(th) and 20(th) centuries, during which plague was spread around the world, and the second pandemic of the 14(th)-17(th) centuries, which included the infamous epidemic known as the Black Death. Previous studies have confirmed that Y. pestis caused these two more recent pandemics. However, a highly spirited debate still continues as to whether Y. pestis caused the so-called Justinianic Plague of the 6(th)-8(th) centuries AD. By analyzing ancient DNA in two independent ancient DNA laboratories, we confirmed unambiguously the presence of Y. pestis DNA in human skeletal remains from an Early Medieval cemetery. In addition, we narrowed the phylogenetic position of the responsible strain down to major branch 0 on the Y. pestis phylogeny, specifically between nodes N03 and N05. Our findings confirm that Y. pestis was responsible for the Justinianic Plague, which should end the controversy regarding the etiology of this pandemic. The first genotype of a Y. pestis strain that caused the Late Antique plague provides important information about the history of the plague bacillus and suggests that the first pandemic also originated in Asia, similar to the other two plague pandemics.
Yersinia pestis has been identified as the causative agent of the Black Death pandemic in the 14(th) century. However, retrospective diagnostics in human skeletons after more than 600 years are critical. We describe a strategy following a modern diagnostic algorithm and working under strict ancient DNA regime for the identification of medieval human plague victims. An initial screening and DNA quantification assay detected the Y. pestis specific pla gene of the high copy number plasmid pPCP1. Results were confirmed by conventional PCR and sequence analysis targeting both Y. pestis specific virulence plasmids pPCP1 and pMT1. All assays were meticulously validated according to human clinical diagnostics requirements (ISO 15189) regarding efficiency, sensitivity, specificity, and limit of detection (LOD). Assay specificity was 100% tested on 41 clinically relevant bacteria and 29 Y. pseudotuberculosis strains as well as for DNA of 22 Y. pestis strains and 30 previously confirmed clinical human plague samples. The optimized LOD was down to 4 gene copies. 29 individuals from three different multiple inhumations were initially assessed as possible victims of the Black Death pandemic. 7 samples (24%) were positive in the pPCP1 specific screening assay. Confirmation through second target pMT1 specific PCR was successful for 4 of the positive individuals (14%). A maximum of 700 and 560 copies per µl aDNA were quantified in two of the samples. Those were positive in all assays including all repetitions, and are candidates for future continuative investigations such as whole genome sequencing. We discuss that all precautions taken here for the work with aDNA are sufficient to prevent external sample contamination and fulfill the criteria of authenticity. With regard to retrospective diagnostics of a human pathogen and the uniqueness of ancient material we strongly recommend using a careful strategy and validated assays as presented in our study.
Although Mongolia is regarded as one of the possible places of plague radiation, only few data are available from Mongolian Yersinia pestis strains. In this study a total of 100 Mongolian Y. pestis strains isolated from wild mammals and their parasites between the years 1960 and 2007 were analyzed for their phenotype. All strains grew well on selective Cefsulodin-Irgasan-Novobiocin agar and were positive for the F1-antigen, the F1-gene (caf1), and the plasminogen activator gene (pla). Biochemical analyses using the API20E® system identified 93% of the strains correctly as Y. pestis. The BWY in-house system consisting of 38 biochemical reactions was used to differentiate among Y. pestis subspecies pestis biovars Antiqua and Medievalis and also between the subspecies microtus biovars Ulegeica and Caucasica. Antibiotic susceptibility testing according to Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute-guidelines identified one strain as being multiresistant. This strain was isolated from a wildlife rodent with no anthropogenic influence and thus suggests naturally acquired resistance.
Clostridium botulinum is a taxonomic designation that encompasses a broad variety of spore-forming, Gram-positive bacteria producing the botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT). C. botulinum is the etiologic agent of botulism, a rare but severe neuroparalytic disease. Fine-resolution genetic characterization of C. botulinum isolates of any BoNT type is relevant for both epidemiological studies and forensic microbiology. A 10-locus multiple-locus variable-number tandem-repeat analysis (MLVA) was previously applied to isolates of C. botulinum type A. The present study includes five additional loci designed to better address proteolytic B and F serotypes. We investigated 79 C. botulinum group I strains isolated from human and food samples in several European countries, including types A (28), B (36), AB (4), and F (11) strains, and 5 nontoxic Clostridium sporogenes. Additional data were deduced from in silico analysis of 10 available fully sequenced genomes. This 15-locus MLVA (MLVA-15) scheme identified 86 distinct genotypes that clustered consistently with the results of amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) and MLVA genotyping in previous reports. An MLVA-7 scheme, a subset of the MLVA-15, performed on a lab-on-a-chip device using a nonfluorescent subset of primers, is also proposed as a first-line assay. The phylogenetic grouping obtained with the MLVA-7 does not differ significantly from that generated by the MLVA-15. To our knowledge, this report is the first to analyze genetic variability among all of the C. botulinum group I serotypes by MLVA. Our data provide new insights into the genetic variability of group I C. botulinum isolates worldwide and demonstrate that this group is genetically highly diverse.
The wild red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a known indicator species for natural foci of brucellosis. Here, we describe phenotypic and molecular characteristics of two atypical Brucella strains isolated from two foxes hunted 2008 in Eastern Austria. Both strains agglutinated with monospecific anti-Brucella A serum and were positive in ELISA with monoclonal antibodies directed against various Brucella lipopolysaccharide epitopes. However, negative nitrate reductase- and negative oxidase-reaction were atypical traits. Affiliation to the genus Brucella was confirmed by 16S rRNA gene sequencing and by detection of the Brucella specific insertion element IS711 and gene bcsp31 using real-time PCR. Both fox strains showed identical IS711 Southern blot profiles but were distinct from known brucellae. The number of IS711 copies detected was as high as found in B. ovis or marine mammal Brucella strains. Molecular analyses of the recA and omp2a/b genes suggest that both strains possibly represent a novel Brucella species.
So far, data on the natural cycle of rickettsiae of the tick-borne spotted fever group (SFG) in Central Europe are barely available. Some studies showed the occurrence of different Rickettsia species in their arthropod vectors, but it is unclear which animals might have any kind of reservoir function. This survey was therefore set up to provide information on the occurrence of SFG rickettsiae in small mammals in Germany. A total of 124 rodents and insectivores were collected over a period of 3 years in Lower Bavaria, South-Eastern Germany. Screening for Rickettsia antibodies was performed using immunofluorescence with Rickettsia conorii and R. helvetica slides, and the comparability of sera and body fluids (transudates) was investigated in these assays. Further, real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was used for screening of Rickettsial DNA in rodents and insectivores. Ear versus liver tissue was compared to evaluate the more suitable tissue for detection of specific DNA. Further, a new PCR targeting the 18S ribosomal nucleic acid was established as internal control. The results indicated that transudates are a sufficient alternative to proof infection in cases where no sera are available. Rickettsial DNA, that is, Rickettsia felis and R. helvetica, was found in seven animals with the ears proving to be a proper choice for PCR. Statistical analyses revealed that the presence of ectoparasites and the body size positively correlated with the occurrence of rickettsial DNA. Overall, our study suggests that rodents and other small mammals may act as reservoir hosts for Rickettsia. However, with the course of infection and its transmission in wild animals still unknown, further investigations are needed to better understand the natural cycle of SFG rickettsiae.
Yersinia (Y.) pestis, the causative agent of plague, is endemic in natural foci of Asia, Africa, and America. Real-time PCR assays have been described as rapid diagnostic tools, but so far none has been validated for its clinical use. In a retrospective clinical study we evaluated three real-time PCR assays in two different assay formats, 5-nuclease and hybridization probes assays. Lymph node aspirates from 149 patients from Madagascar with the clinical diagnosis of bubonic plague were investigated for the detection of Y. pestis DNA. Results of real-time PCR assays targeting the virulence plasmids pPCP1 (pla gene), and pMT1 (caf1, Ymt genes) were compared with an F1-antigen immunochromatographic test (ICT) and cultivation of the organism. Out of the 149 samples an infection with Y. pestis was confirmed by culture in 47 patients while ICT was positive in 88 including all culture proven cases. The best real-time PCR assay was the 5-nuclease assay targeting pla which was positive in 120 cases. In conclusion, the 5-nuclease assay targeting pla can be recommended as diagnostic tool for establishing a presumptive diagnosis when bubonic plague is clinically suspected.
After returning from Thailand, a 35-year-old man from Switzerland was hospitalized with an abscess of the head. Material cultured from the abscess and adjacent bone grew a gram-negative rod, which was misidentified by an automated microbiology system as Burkholderia cepacia. The organism was eventually identified by molecular methods as B. pseudomallei.
Burkholderia pseudomallei, the etiologic agent of melioidosis, is endemic to tropic regions, mainly in Southeast Asia and northern Australia. Melioidosis occurs only sporadically in travellers returning from disease-endemic areas. Severe clinical disease is seen mostly in patients with alteration of immune status. In particular, pericardial effusion occurs in 1-3% of patients with melioidosis, confined to endemic regions. To our best knowledge, this is the first reported case of melioidosis in a traveller complicated by a hemodynamically significant pericardial effusion without predisposing disease.
Whole genome sequencing allowed the development of a number of high resolution sequence based typing tools for Yersinia (Y.) pestis. The application of these methods on isolates from most known foci worldwide and in particular from China and the Former Soviet Union has dramatically improved our understanding of the population structure of this species. In the current view, Y. pestis including the non or moderate human pathogen Y. pestis subspecies microtus emerged from Yersinia pseudotuberculosis about 2,600 to 28,600 years ago in central Asia. The majority of central Asia natural foci have been investigated. However these investigations included only few strains from Mongolia.
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