Genomic perspectives on the evolution and spread of bacterial pathogens

Proc Biol Sci. 2015 Dec 22;282(1821):20150488. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0488.


Since the first complete sequencing of a free-living organism, Haemophilus influenzae, genomics has been used to probe both the biology of bacterial pathogens and their evolution. Single-genome approaches provided information on the repertoire of virulence determinants and host-interaction factors, and, along with comparative analyses, allowed the proposal of hypotheses to explain the evolution of many of these traits. These analyses suggested many bacterial pathogens to be of relatively recent origin and identified genome degradation as a key aspect of host adaptation. The advent of very-high-throughput sequencing has allowed for detailed phylogenetic analysis of many important pathogens, revealing patterns of global and local spread, and recent evolution in response to pressure from therapeutics and the human immune system. Such analyses have shown that bacteria can evolve and transmit very rapidly, with emerging clones showing adaptation and global spread over years or decades. The resolution achieved with whole-genome sequencing has shown considerable benefits in clinical microbiology, enabling accurate outbreak tracking within hospitals and across continents. Continued large-scale sequencing promises many further insights into genetic determinants of drug resistance, virulence and transmission in bacterial pathogens.

Keywords: bacterial evolution; bacterial genomics; bacterial transmission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity
  • Bacterial Infections / epidemiology
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology*
  • Bacterial Infections / transmission
  • Communicable Diseases / epidemiology
  • Communicable Diseases / microbiology
  • Communicable Diseases / transmission
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genome, Bacterial*
  • Genomics
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / genetics
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny
  • Virulence Factors / genetics


  • Virulence Factors