Vibrio parahaemolyticus is the leading cause of seafood-related infections with illnesses undergoing a geographic expansion. In this process of expansion, the most fundamental change has been the transition from infections caused by local strains to the surge of pandemic clonal types. Pandemic clone sequence type 3 (ST3) was the only example of transcontinental spreading until 2012, when ST36 was detected outside the region where it is endemic in the U.S. Pacific Northwest causing infections along the U.S. northeast coast and Spain. Here, we used genome-wide analyses to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the V. parahaemolyticus ST36 clone over the course of its geographic expansion during the previous 25 years. The origin of this lineage was estimated to be in ~1985. By 1995, a new variant emerged in the region and quickly replaced the old clone, which has not been detected since 2000. The new Pacific Northwest (PNW) lineage was responsible for the first cases associated with this clone outside the Pacific Northwest region. After several introductions into the northeast coast, the new PNW clone differentiated into a highly dynamic group that continues to cause illness on the northeast coast of the United States. Surprisingly, the strains detected in Europe in 2012 diverged from this ancestral group around 2000 and have conserved genetic features present only in the old PNW lineage. Recombination was identified as the major driver of diversification, with some preliminary observations suggesting a trend toward a more specialized lifestyle, which may represent a critical element in the expansion of epidemics under scenarios of coastal warming.IMPORTANCEVibrio parahaemolyticus and Vibrio cholerae represent the only two instances of pandemic expansions of human pathogens originating in the marine environment. However, while the current pandemic of V. cholerae emerged more than 50 years ago, the global expansion of V. parahaemolyticus is a recent phenomenon. These modern expansions provide an exceptional opportunity to study the evolutionary process of these pathogens at first hand and gain an understanding of the mechanisms shaping the epidemic dynamics of these diseases, in particular, the emergence, dispersal, and successful introduction in new regions facilitating global spreading of infections. In this study, we used genomic analysis to examine the evolutionary divergence that has occurred over the course of the most recent transcontinental expansion of a pathogenic Vibrio, the spreading of the V. parahaemolyticus sequence type 36 clone from the region where it is endemic on the Pacific coast of North America to the east coast of the United States and finally to the west coast of Europe.
Keywords: Pacific Northwest; Vibrio parahaemolyticus; WGS; climate change; gastroenteritis; seafood.