Genome-Wide Identification of Host-Segregating Epidemiological Markers for Source Attribution in Campylobacter jejuni

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2017 Mar 17;83(7):e03085-16. doi: 10.1128/AEM.03085-16. Print 2017 Apr 1.


Campylobacter is among the most common worldwide causes of bacterial gastroenteritis. This organism is part of the commensal microbiota of numerous host species, including livestock, and these animals constitute potential sources of human infection. Molecular typing approaches, especially multilocus sequence typing (MLST), have been used to attribute the source of human campylobacteriosis by quantifying the relative abundance of alleles at seven MLST loci among isolates from animal reservoirs and human infection, implicating chicken as a major infection source. The increasing availability of bacterial genomes provides data on allelic variation at loci across the genome, providing the potential to improve the discriminatory power of data for source attribution. Here we present a source attribution approach based on the identification of novel epidemiological markers among a reference pan-genome list of 1,810 genes identified by gene-by-gene comparison of 884 genomes of Campylobacter jejuni isolates from animal reservoirs, the environment, and clinical cases. Fifteen loci involved in metabolic activities, protein modification, signal transduction, and stress response or coding for hypothetical proteins were selected as host-segregating markers and used to attribute the source of 42 French and 281 United Kingdom clinical C. jejuni isolates. Consistent with previous studies of British campylobacteriosis, analyses performed using STRUCTURE software attributed 56.8% of British clinical cases to chicken, emphasizing the importance of this host reservoir as an infection source in the United Kingdom. However, among French clinical isolates, approximately equal proportions of isolates were attributed to chicken and ruminant reservoirs, suggesting possible differences in the relative importance of animal host reservoirs and indicating a benefit for further national-scale attribution modeling to account for differences in production, behavior, and food consumption.IMPORTANCE Accurately quantifying the relative contribution of different host reservoirs to human Campylobacter infection is an ongoing challenge. This study, based on the development of a novel source attribution approach, provides the first results of source attribution in Campylobacter jejuni in France. A systematic analysis using gene-by-gene comparison of 884 genomes of C. jejuni isolates, with a pan-genome list of genes, identified 15 novel epidemiological markers for source attribution. The different proportions of French and United Kingdom clinical isolates attributed to each host reservoir illustrate a potential role for local/national variations in C. jejuni transmission dynamics.

Keywords: Campylobacter; food-borne diseases; gene-by-gene approach; genomics; source attribution.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Typing Techniques
  • Campylobacter / isolation & purification
  • Campylobacter Infections / epidemiology*
  • Campylobacter Infections / microbiology*
  • Campylobacter Infections / transmission
  • Campylobacter jejuni / classification
  • Campylobacter jejuni / genetics*
  • Chickens / microbiology
  • Disease Reservoirs / microbiology
  • Food Microbiology*
  • France / epidemiology
  • Genetic Markers
  • Genome, Bacterial*
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Multilocus Sequence Typing
  • Ruminants / microbiology
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology


  • Genetic Markers

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.m86k3
  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.8t80s
  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.28n35