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Genome Res. 2008 Mar;18(3):431-41. doi: 10.1101/gr.7229808. Epub 2008 Feb 6.

Multigenome analysis identifies a worldwide distributed epidemic Legionella pneumophila clone that emerged within a highly diverse species.

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Unité de Génomique des Microorganismes Pathogènes, Institut Pasteur, 75724 Paris Cedex 15, France.


Genomics can provide the basis for understanding the evolution of emerging, lethal human pathogens such as Legionella pneumophila, the causative agent of Legionnaires' disease. This bacterium replicates within amoebae and persists in the environment as a free-living microbe. Among the many Legionella species described, L. pneumophila is associated with 90% of human disease and within the 15 serogroups (Sg), L. pneumophila Sg1 causes over 84% of Legionnaires' disease worldwide. Why L. pneumophila Sg1 is so predominant is unknown. Here, we report the first comprehensive screen of the gene content of 217 L. pneumophila and 32 non-L. pneumophila strains isolated from humans and the environment using a Legionella DNA-array. Strikingly, we uncovered a high conservation of virulence- and eukaryotic-like genes, indicating strong environmental selection pressures for their preservation. No specific hybridization profile differentiated clinical and environmental strains or strains of different serogroups. Surprisingly, the gene cluster coding the determinants of the core and the O side-chain synthesis of the lipopolysaccaride (LPS cluster) determining Sg1 was present in diverse genomic backgrounds, strongly implicating the LPS of Sg1 itself as a principal cause of the high prevalence of Sg1 strains in human disease and suggesting that the LPS cluster can be transferred horizontally. Genomic analysis also revealed that L. pneumophila is a genetically diverse species, in part due to horizontal gene transfer of mobile genetic elements among L. pneumophila strains, but also between different Legionella species. However, the genomic background also plays a role in disease causation as demonstrated by the identification of a globally distributed epidemic strain exhibiting the genotype of the sequenced L. pneumophila strain Paris.

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