Genetic comparison of Bacillus anthracis and its close relatives using amplified fragment length polymorphism and polymerase chain reaction analysis

P. J. Jackson, K. K. Hill, M. T. Laker, L. O. Ticknor, P. Keim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) analysis allows a rapid, relatively simple analysis of a large portion of a microbial genome, providing information about the species and its phylogenetic relationship to other microbes (Vos et al. 1995). The method simply surveys the genome for length and sequence polymorphisms. The AFLP pattern identified can be used for comparison to the genomes of other species. Unlike other methods, it does not rely on analysis of a single genetic locus that may bias the interpretation of results and does not require any prior knowledge of the targeted organism. Moreover, a standard set of reagents can be applied to any species without using species-specific information or molecular probes. We are using AFLP analysis to rapidly identify different bacterial species. A comparison of AFLP profiles generated from a large battery of Bacillus anthracis strains shows very little variability among different isolates (Keim et al. 1997). By contrast, there is a significant difference between AFLP profiles generated for any B. anthracis strain and even the most closely related Bacillus species. Sufficient variability is apparent among all known microbial species to allow phylogenetic analysis based on large numbers of genetically unlinked loci. These striking differences among AFLP profiles allow unambiguous identification of previously identified species and phylogenetic placement of newly characterized isolates relative to known species based on a large number of independent genetic loci. Data generated thus far show that the method provides phylogenetic analyses that are consistent with other widely accepted phylogenetic methods. However, AFLP analysis provides a more detailed analysis of the targets and samples a much larger portion of the genome. Consequently, it provides an inexpensive, rapid means of characterizing microbial isolates to further differentiate among strains and closely related microbial species. Such information cannot be rapidly generated by other means. AFLP sample analysis quickly generates a very large amount of molecular information about microbial genomes. However, this information cannot be analysed rapidly using manual methods. We are developing a large archive of electronic AFLP signatures that is being used to identify isolates collected from medical, veterinary, forensic and environmental samples. We are also developing the computational packages necessary to rapidly and unambiguously analyse the AFLP profiles and conduct a phylogenetic comparison of these data relative to information already in our database. We will use this archive and the associated algorithms to determine the species identity of previously uncharacterized isolates and place them phylogenetically relative to other microbes based on their AFLP signatures. This study provides significant new information about microbes with environmental, veterinary and medical significance. This information can be used in further studies to understand the relationships among these species and the factors that distinguish them from one another. It should also allow the identification of unique factors that contribute to important microbial traits, including pathogenicity and virulence. We are also using AFLP data to identify, isolate and sequence DNA fragments that are unique to particular microbial species and strains. The fragment patterns and sequence information provide insights into the complexity and organization of bacterial genomes relative to one another. They also provide the information necessary for the development of species-specific polymerase chain reaction primers that can be used to interrogate complex samples for the presence of B. anthracis, other microbial pathogens or their remnants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-269
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Applied Microbiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


Dive into the research topics of 'Genetic comparison of Bacillus anthracis and its close relatives using amplified fragment length polymorphism and polymerase chain reaction analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this