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Microbiology. 2005 Jan;151(Pt 1):183-97.

Emetic toxin formation of Bacillus cereus is restricted to a single evolutionary lineage of closely related strains.

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Lehrstuhl für Mikrobielle Okologie, Department für Grundlagen der Biowissenschaften, Technische Universität München, Weihenstephaner Berg 3, D-85354 Freising, Germany.


An in-depth polyphasic approach was applied to study the population structure of the human pathogen Bacillus cereus. To assess the intraspecific biodiversity of this species, which is the causative agent of gastrointestinal diseases, a total of 90 isolates from diverse geographical origin were studied by genetic [M13-PCR, random amplification of polymorphic DNA (RAPD), multilocus sequence typing (MLST)] and phenetic [Fourier transform Infrared (FTIR), protein profiling, biochemical assays] methods. The strain set included clinical strains, isolates from food remnants connected to outbreaks, as well as isolates from diverse food environments with a well documented strain history. The phenotypic and genotypic analysis of the compiled panel of strains illustrated a considerable diversity among B. cereus connected to diarrhoeal syndrome and other non-emetic food strains, but a very low diversity among emetic isolates. Using all typing methods, cluster analysis revealed a single, distinct cluster of emetic B. cereus strains. The isolates belonging to this cluster were neither able to degrade starch nor could they ferment salicin; they did not possess the genes encoding haemolysin BL (Hbl) and showed only weak or no haemolysis. In contrast, haemolytic-enterotoxin-producing B. cereus strains showed a high degree of heterogeneity and were scattered over different clusters when different typing methods were applied. These data provide evidence for a clonal population structure of cereulide-producing emetic B. cereus and indicate that emetic strains represent a highly clonal complex within a potentially panmictic or weakly clonal background population structure of the species. It may have originated only recently through acquisition of specific virulence factors such as the cereulide synthetase gene.

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