The ability to capture genetic variation with unprecedented resolution improves our understanding of bacterial populations and their ability to cause disease. The goal of the pathogenomics era is to define genetic diversity that results in disease. Despite the economic losses caused by vector-borne bacteria in the Order Rickettsiales, little is known about the genetic variants responsible for observed phenotypes. The tick-transmitted rickettsial pathogen Anaplasma marginale infects cattle in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide, including Australia. Genomic analysis of North American A. marginale strains reveals a closed core genome defined by high levels of Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs). Here we report the first genome sequences and comparative analysis for Australian strains that differ in virulence and transmissibility. A list of genetic differences that segregate with phenotype was evaluated for the ability to distinguish the attenuated strain from virulent field strains. Phylogenetic analyses of the Australian strains revealed a marked evolutionary distance from all previously sequenced strains. SNP analysis showed a strikingly reduced genetic diversity between these strains, with the smallest number of SNPs detected between any two A. marginale strains. The low diversity between these phenotypically distinct bacteria presents a unique opportunity to identify the genetic determinants of virulence and transmission.
Keywords: Anaplasma; Rickettsiales; SNPs; comparative genomics; intracellular bacteria.