We investigated global patterns of variation in 157 whole-genome sequences of Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a free-living and seafood associated marine bacterium. Pandemic clones, responsible for recent outbreaks of gastroenteritis in humans, have spread globally. However, there are oceanic gene pools, one located in the oceans surrounding Asia and another in the Mexican Gulf. Frequent recombination means that most isolates have acquired the genetic profile of their current location. We investigated the genetic structure in the Asian gene pool by calculating the effective population size in two different ways. Under standard neutral models, the two estimates should give similar answers but we found a 27-fold difference. We propose that this discrepancy is caused by the subdivision of the species into a hundred or more ecotypes which are maintained stably in the population. To investigate the genetic factors involved, we used 51 unrelated isolates to conduct a genome-wide scan for epistatically interacting loci. We found a single example of strong epistasis between distant genome regions. A majority of strains had a type VI secretion system associated with bacterial killing. The remaining strains had genes associated with biofilm formation and regulated by cyclic dimeric GMP signaling. All strains had one or other of the two systems and none of isolate had complete complements of both systems, although several strains had remnants. Further "top down" analysis of patterns of linkage disequilibrium within frequently recombining species will allow a detailed understanding of how selection acts to structure the pattern of variation within natural bacterial populations.
Keywords: coalescent theory; molecular epidemiology; population genetics; population structure; whole-genome sequencing.
© The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.