Since its discovery in the early 2000s, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) clonal complex 398 (CC398) has become a rapidly emerging cause of human infections, most often associated with livestock exposure. We applied whole-genome sequence typing to characterize a diverse collection of CC398 isolates (n = 89), including MRSA and methicillin-susceptible S. aureus (MSSA) from animals and humans spanning 19 countries and four continents. We identified 4,238 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) among the 89 core genomes. Minimal homoplasy (consistency index = 0.9591) was detected among parsimony-informative SNPs, allowing for the generation of a highly accurate phylogenetic reconstruction of the CC398 clonal lineage. Phylogenetic analyses revealed that MSSA from humans formed the most ancestral clades. The most derived lineages were composed predominantly of livestock-associated MRSA possessing three different staphylococcal cassette chromosome mec element (SCCmec) types (IV, V, and VII-like) including nine subtypes. The human-associated isolates from the basal clades carried phages encoding human innate immune modulators that were largely missing among the livestock-associated isolates. Our results strongly suggest that livestock-associated MRSA CC398 originated in humans as MSSA. The lineage appears to have undergone a rapid radiation in conjunction with the jump from humans to livestock, where it subsequently acquired tetracycline and methicillin resistance. Further analyses are required to estimate the number of independent genetic events leading to the methicillin-resistant sublineages, but the diversity of SCCmec subtypes is suggestive of strong and diverse antimicrobial selection associated with food animal production.
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