Yersinia Pestis Evolution on a Small Timescale: Comparison of Whole Genome Sequences From North America

PLoS One. 2007 Aug 22;2(8):e770. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0000770.


Background: Yersinia pestis, the etiologic agent of plague, was responsible for several devastating epidemics throughout history and is currently of global importance to current public heath and biodefense efforts. Y. pestis is widespread in the Western United States. Because Y. pestis was first introduced to this region just over 100 years ago, there has been little time for genetic diversity to accumulate. Recent studies based upon single nucleotide polymorphisms have begun to quantify the genetic diversity of Y. pestis in North America.

Methodology/principal findings: To examine the evolution of Y. pestis in North America, a gapped genome sequence of CA88-4125 was generated. Sequence comparison with another North American Y. pestis strain, CO92, identified seven regions of difference (six inversions, one rearrangement), differing IS element copy numbers, and several SNPs.

Conclusions/significance: The relatively large number of inverted/rearranged segments suggests that North American Y. pestis strains may be undergoing inversion fixation at high rates over a short time span, contributing to higher-than-expected diversity in this region. These findings will hopefully encourage the scientific community to sequence additional Y. pestis strains from North America and abroad, leading to a greater understanding of the evolutionary history of this pathogen.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Chromosome Inversion
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genome, Bacterial*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • North America
  • Plague / epidemiology
  • Plague / genetics
  • Plague / microbiology
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Yersinia pestis / genetics*