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Nat Rev Microbiol. 2003 Oct;1(1):55-64.

The yersiniae--a model genus to study the rapid evolution of bacterial pathogens.

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  • 1Department of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT, UK.


Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague, seems to have evolved from a gastrointestinal pathogen, Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, in just 1,500-20,000 years--an 'eye blink' in evolutionary time. The third pathogenic Yersinia, Yersinia enterocolitica, also causes gastroenteritis but is distantly related to Y. pestis and Y. pseudotuberculosis. Why do the two closely related species cause remarkably different diseases, whereas the distantly related enteropathogens cause similar symptoms? The recent availability of whole-genome sequences and information on the biology of the pathogenic yersiniae have shed light on this paradox, and revealed ways in which new, highly virulent pathogens can evolve.

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