Laboratory for Bacterial Evolution and Pathogenesis (LBEP)

Gene exchange allows Staphylococcus to infect multiple hosts

New article in Nature Ecology & Evolution sheds light into the ecological success of S. aureus

We have just published a highly anticipated article, "Gene exchange drives the ecological success of a multi-host bacterial pathogen" in Nature Ecology & Evolution. This work was a joint effort with collaborators from other groups in the University of Edinburgh but also from the Sanger Institute and the universities of Cambridge, Glasgow, St Andrews, Bath and Imperial College London as well as other institutes in Australia and Nigeria. This is the article abstract:

The capacity for some pathogens to jump into different host-species populations is a major threat to public health and food security. Staphylococcus aureus is a multi-host bacterial pathogen responsible for important human and livestock diseases. Here, using a population-genomic approach, we identify humans as a major hub for ancient and recent S. aureus host-switching events linked to the emergence of endemic livestock strains, and cows as the main animal reservoir for the emergence of human epidemic clones. Such host-species transitions are associated with horizontal acquisition of genetic elements from host-specific gene pools conferring traits required for survival in the new host-niche. Importantly, genes associated with antimicrobial resistance are unevenly distributed among human and animal hosts, reflecting distinct antibiotic usage practices in medicine and agriculture. In addition to gene acquisition, genetic diversification has occurred in pathways associated with nutrient acquisition, implying metabolic remodelling after a host switch in response to distinct nutrient availability. For example, S. aureus from dairy cattle exhibit enhanced utilization of lactose—a major source of carbohydrate in bovine milk. Overall, our findings highlight the influence of human activities on the multi-host ecology of a major bacterial pathogen, underpinned by horizontal gene transfer and core genome diversification.

For more information, you can find the article here.

Full citation:

Richardson EJ*, Bacigalupe R*, Harrison EM*, Weinert LA*, Lycett S, Vrieling M, Robb K, Hoskisson PA, Holden MTG, Feil EJ, Paterson GK, Tong SYC, Shittu A, van Wamel W, Aanensen DM, Parkhill J, Peacock SJ, Corander J, Holmes M, Fitzgerald JR.  Gene exchange drives the ecological success of a multi-host bacterial pathogen. Nat Ecol Evol. 2018 Sep;2(9):1468-1478. doi: 10.1038/s41559-018-0617-0. 

(* denotes equal contribution)

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