The Extant World War 1 Dysentery Bacillus NCTC1: A Genomic Analysis

Lancet. 2014 Nov 8;384(9955):1691-7. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(14)61789-X. Epub 2014 Nov 7.

Abstract

Background: Shigellosis (previously bacillary dysentery) was the primary diarrhoeal disease of World War 1, but outbreaks still occur in military operations, and shigellosis causes hundreds of thousands of deaths per year in developing nations. We aimed to generate a high-quality reference genome of the historical Shigella flexneri isolate NCTC1 and to examine the isolate for resistance to antimicrobials.

Methods: In this genomic analysis, we sequenced the oldest extant Shigella flexneri serotype 2a isolate using single-molecule real-time (SMRT) sequencing technology. Isolated from a soldier with dysentery from the British forces fighting on the Western Front in World War 1, this bacterium, NCTC1, was the first isolate accessioned into the National Collection of Type Cultures. We created a reference sequence for NCTC1, investigated the isolate for antimicrobial resistance, and undertook comparative genetics with S flexneri reference strains isolated during the 100 years since World War 1.

Findings: We discovered that NCTC1 belonged to a 2a lineage of S flexneri, with which it shares common characteristics and a large core genome. NCTC1 was resistant to penicillin and erythromycin, and contained a complement of chromosomal antimicrobial resistance genes similar to that of more recent isolates. Genomic islands gained in the S flexneri 2a lineage over time were predominately associated with additional antimicrobial resistances, virulence, and serotype conversion.

Interpretation: This S flexneri 2a lineage is a well adapted pathogen that has continued to respond to selective pressures. We have created a valuable historical benchmark for shigellae in the form of a high-quality reference sequence for a publicly available isolate.

Funding: The Wellcome Trust.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacology
  • Base Sequence
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial / genetics
  • Dysentery, Bacillary / drug therapy
  • Dysentery, Bacillary / microbiology*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genome, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny
  • Shigella flexneri / drug effects
  • Shigella flexneri / genetics*
  • World War I*

Substances

  • Anti-Infective Agents