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Public Health Genomics. 2013;16(1-2):25-30. doi: 10.1159/000342709. Epub 2013 Mar 18.

Public health genomics and the new molecular epidemiology of bacterial pathogens.

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National Microbiology Laboratory, Public Health Agency of Canada, Winnipeg, Man., Canada.


Laboratory methods that can unambiguously fingerprint pathogenic microbes are needed to investigate the transmission of human infectious diseases from diverse sources, such as from the community, from the environment, within hospitals, or from contaminated food or water sources. Public health investigations currently rely on laboratory subtyping methods that ultimately provide only a fraction of the total genetic information of a pathogen, and although there is widespread success using existing subtyping methods, they do not always provide sufficient evidence to link disease cases together into outbreaks or to link these human cases to the culprit source. Alternatively, whole-genome sequencing of bacterial pathogens provides an unabridged examination of the genetic content of individual pathogen isolates, enabling public health laboratories to benefit from comparative analyses of total genetic content. In this context, whole-genome sequencing represents the ultimate epidemiological typing method - a universally applicable, highly detailed typing platform capable of providing the entire genetic blueprint of a pathogen and distinguishing strains to the single nucleotide level. These new genomic methods, if implemented within existing public health laboratory response programs, promise to revolutionize the ability of the laboratory to provide information and evidence on the evolution, transmission and virulence for bacterial pathogens - and this revolution is launching the new field of 'genomicepidemiology'.

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