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Whole-genome sequencing of a quarter-century melioidosis outbreak in temperate Australia uncovers a region of low-prevalence endemicity

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Stephanie N. J. Chapple, Derek S. Sarovich, Matthew T. G. Holden, Sharon J. Peacock, Nicky Buller, Clayton Golledge, Bart J Currie, Mark Mayo, Erin P. Price

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Melioidosis, caused by the highly recombinogenic bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei, is a disease with high mortality. Tracing the origin of melioidosis outbreaks and understanding how the bacterium spreads and persists in the environment are essential to protecting public and veterinary health and reducing mortality associated with outbreaks. We used whole-genome sequencing to compare isolates from a historical quarter-century outbreak that occurred between 1966 and 1991 in the Avon Valley, Western Australia, a region far outside the known range of B. pseudomallei endemicity. All Avon Valley outbreak isolates shared the same multilocus sequence type (ST-284), which has not been identified outside this region. We found substantial genetic diversity among isolates based on a comparison of genome-wide variants, with no clear correlation between genotypes and temporal, geographical or source data. We observed little evidence of recombination in the outbreak strains, indicating that genetic diversity among these isolates has primarily accrued by mutation. Phylogenomic analysis demonstrated that the isolates confidently grouped within the Australian B. pseudomallei clade, thereby ruling out introduction from a melioidosis-endemic region outside Australia. Collectively, our results point to B. pseudomallei ST-284 being present in the Avon Valley for longer than previously recognized, with its persistence and genomic diversity suggesting long-term, low-prevalence endemicity in this temperate region. Our findings provide a concerning demonstration of the potential for environmental persistence of B. pseudomallei far outside the conventional endemic regions. An expected increase in extreme weather events may reactivate latent B. pseudomallei populations in this region.


Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalMicrobial Genomics
Issue number7
StatePublished - 11 Jul 2016

    Research areas

  • Australia , Evolution, Melioidosis, Endemicity, Burkholderia pseudomallei, Temperate

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