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PLoS Genet. 2017 Feb 23;13(2):e1006546. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1006546. eCollection 2017 Feb.

Rapid evolution of distinct Helicobacter pylori subpopulations in the Americas.

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Microbiology, Tumour and Cell Biology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.
Dept. of Bacteriology II, National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Tokyo, Japan.
Medical Microbiology and Infectious Disease group, Swansea University, Swansea, Wales, United Kingdom.
Integrative Epidemiology Unit, School of Social and Community Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom.
Karmanos Cancer Institute, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, United States of America.
Instituto Politecnico Nacional, ENCB, Mexico City, Mexico.
Dipartimento di Ricerca Traslazionale e Nuove Tecnologie in Medicina e Chirurgia, Universitá di Pisa, Pisa, Italy.
Grupo de Investigación en Biología del Cáncer, Instituto Nacional de Cancerología, Bogota, Colombia.
Dept. of Environmental and Preventive Medicine, Oita University Faculty of Medicine, Oita, Japan.
Unidad de Investigación en Enfermedades Infecciosas, UMAE Pediatria, IMSS, Mexico City, Mexico.
Milner Center for Evolution, Dept. of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom.


For the last 500 years, the Americas have been a melting pot both for genetically diverse humans and for the pathogenic and commensal organisms associated with them. One such organism is the stomach-dwelling bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which is highly prevalent in Latin America where it is a major current public health challenge because of its strong association with gastric cancer. By analyzing the genome sequence of H. pylori isolated in North, Central and South America, we found evidence for admixture between H. pylori of European and African origin throughout the Americas, without substantial input from pre-Columbian (hspAmerind) bacteria. In the US, strains of African and European origin have remained genetically distinct, while in Colombia and Nicaragua, bottlenecks and rampant genetic exchange amongst isolates have led to the formation of national gene pools. We found three outer membrane proteins with atypical levels of Asian ancestry in American strains, as well as alleles that were nearly fixed specifically in South American isolates, suggesting a role for the ethnic makeup of hosts in the colonization of incoming strains. Our results show that new H. pylori subpopulations can rapidly arise, spread and adapt during times of demographic flux, and suggest that differences in transmission ecology between high and low prevalence areas may substantially affect the composition of bacterial populations.

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