Genetic diversity and ecological success of Staphylococcus aureus strains colonizing humans

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2009 Jan;75(1):175-83. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01860-08. Epub 2008 Oct 31.


The genetic determinants and phenotypic traits which make a Staphylococcus aureus strain a successful colonizer are largely unknown. The genetic diversity and population structure of 133 S. aureus isolates from healthy, generally risk-free adult carriers were investigated using four different typing methods: multilocus sequence typing (MLST), amplified fragment length polymorphism analysis (AFLP), double-locus sequence typing (DLST), and spa typing were compared. Carriage isolates displayed great genetic diversity which could only be revealed fully by DLST. Results of AFLP and MLST were highly concordant in the delineation of genotypic clusters of closely related isolates, roughly equivalent to clonal complexes. spa typing and DLST provided considerably less phylogenetic information. The resolution of spa typing was similar to that of AFLP and inferior to that of DLST. AFLP proved to be the most universal method, combining a phylogeny-building capacity similar to that of MLST with a much higher resolution. However, it had a lower reproducibility than sequencing-based MLST, DLST, and spa typing. We found two cases of methicillin-resistant S. aureus colonization, both of which were most likely associated with employment at a health service. Of 21 genotypic clusters detected, 2 were most prevalent: cluster 45 and cluster 30 each colonized 24% of the carrier population. The number of bacteria found in nasal samples varied significantly among the clusters, but the most prevalent clusters were not particularly numerous in the nasal samples. We did not find much evidence that genotypic clusters were associated with different carrier characteristics, such as age, sex, medical conditions, or antibiotic use. This may provide empirical support for the idea that genetic clusters in bacteria are maintained in the absence of adaptation to different niches. Alternatively, carrier characteristics other than those evaluated here or factors other than human hosts may exert selective pressure maintaining genotypic clusters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism Analysis
  • Bacterial Typing Techniques*
  • Carrier State / microbiology*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • DNA Fingerprinting
  • DNA, Bacterial / chemistry
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nose / microbiology
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Staphylococcus aureus / classification*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / isolation & purification*


  • DNA, Bacterial