Yersinia pestis, the infamous plague-causing pathogen, appears to have emerged in relatively recent history. Evidence of this fact comes from several studies that document a lack of nucleotide diversity in the Y. pestis genome. In contrast, we report that variable-number tandem repeat (VNTR) sequences are common in the Y. pestis genome and occur frequently in gene coding regions. Larger tandem repeat arrays, most useful for phylogenetic analysis, are present at an average of 2.18 arrays per 10 kbp and are distributed evenly throughout the genome and the two virulence plasmids, pCD1 and pMT1. We examined allelic diversity at 42 chromosomal VNTR loci in 24 selected isolates (12 globally distributed and 12 from Siskiyou County, Calif.). Vast differences in diversity were observed among the 42 VNTR loci, ranging from 2 to 11 alleles. We found that the maximum copy number of repeats in an array was highly correlated with diversity (R = 0.86). VNTR-based phylogenetic analysis of the 24 strains successfully grouped isolates from biovar orientalis and most of the antiqua and mediaevalis strains. Hence, multiple-locus VNTR analysis (MLVA) appears capable of both distinguishing closely related strains and successfully classifying more distant relationships. Harnessing the power of MLVA to establish standardized databases will enable researchers to better understand plague ecology and evolution around the world.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Microbiology (medical)