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.
Ochrobactrum (O.) anthropi is an opportunistic emerging pathogen closely related to the genus Brucella. Identification and differentiation from brucellae and other Ochrobactrum spp. using routine biochemical test systems is not reliable due to the high phenotypic similarity. In this study, antibiotic susceptibilities of 103 Ochrobactrum isolates were determined using Etest for 19 clinically relevant antimicrobial agents. Ochrobactrum strains were highly resistant to beta-lactam antibiotics, susceptible to ciprofloxacin, and 97.1% were susceptible to trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole. It was also demonstrated that biochemical reaction profiles of the API and BD Phoenix 100 systems for identifying Ochrobactrum isolates can only be used on the genus level. Our in vitro data suggest that combinations of antimicrobial agents including ciprofloxacin and/or trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole may be useful for empirical treatment of Ochrobactrum infections.
Tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) causes one of the most important inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system, namely severe encephalitis in Europe and Asia. Since the 1980s tick-borne encephalitis is known in Mongolia with increasing numbers of human cases reported during the last years. So far, however, data on TBEV strains are still sparse. We herein report the isolation of a TBEV strain from Ixodes persulcatus ticks collected in Mongolia in 2010. Phylogenetic analysis of the E-gene classified this isolate as Siberian subtype of TBEV. The Mongolian TBEV strain showed differences in virus titers, plaque sizes, and growth properties in two human neuronal cell-lines. In addition, the 10,242 nucleotide long open-reading frame and the corresponding polyprotein sequence were revealed. The isolate grouped in the genetic subclade of the Siberian subtype. The strain Zausaev (AF527415) and Vasilchenko (AF069066) had 97 and 94 % identity on the nucleotide level. In summary, we herein describe first detailed data regarding TBEV from Mongolia. Further investigations of TBEV in Mongolia and adjacent areas are needed to understand the intricate dispersal of this virus.
Since the year 2005, clinical patterns resembling tick-borne rickettsioses have been noticed in Mongolia. Epidemiological data regarding species of the aetiological agent, tick vector, prevalence, and distribution as well as incidence of human cases throughout Mongolia are still sparse to date. In order to identify Rickettsia species occurring in Mongolia, we investigated Dermacentor nuttalli (n=179) and Ixodes persulcatus (n=374) collected in 4 selected provinces. Rickettsia raoultii was the predominant Rickettsia (82% prevalence) found in D. nuttalli and was also detected in I. persulcatus (0.8%). The Rickettsia prevalence in D. nuttalli from different provinces varied between 70% and 97%. In addition, R. sibirica was identified in approximately 4% of D. nuttalli, but solely from Arkhanghai province. The results of this study extend the common knowledge about the geographic distribution of R. raoultii and its high prevalence in D. nuttalli. Although the pathogenicity of this Rickettsia is still unclear, it should be considered in Mongolian patients suspected of having tick-borne rickettsiosis.
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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