Phylogenetic inference of Coxiella burnetii by 16S rRNA gene sequencing

PLoS One. 2017 Dec 29;12(12):e0189910. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0189910. eCollection 2017.


Coxiella burnetii is a human pathogen that causes the serious zoonotic disease Q fever. It is ubiquitous in the environment and due to its wide host range, long-range dispersal potential and classification as a bioterrorism agent, this microorganism is considered an HHS Select Agent. In the event of an outbreak or intentional release, laboratory strain typing methods can contribute to epidemiological investigations, law enforcement investigation and the public health response by providing critical information about the relatedness between C. burnetii isolates collected from different sources. Laboratory cultivation of C. burnetii is both time-consuming and challenging. Availability of strain collections is often limited and while several strain typing methods have been described over the years, a true gold-standard method is still elusive. Building upon epidemiological knowledge from limited, historical strain collections and typing data is essential to more accurately infer C. burnetii phylogeny. Harmonization of auspicious high-resolution laboratory typing techniques is critical to support epidemiological and law enforcement investigation. The single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) -based genotyping approach offers simplicity, rapidity and robustness. Herein, we demonstrate SNPs identified within 16S rRNA gene sequences can differentiate C. burnetii strains. Using this method, 55 isolates were assigned to six groups based on six polymorphisms. These 16S rRNA SNP-based genotyping results were largely congruent with those obtained by analyzing restriction-endonuclease (RE)-digested DNA separated by SDS-PAGE and by the high-resolution approach based on SNPs within multispacer sequence typing (MST) loci. The SNPs identified within the 16S rRNA gene can be used as targets for the development of additional SNP-based genotyping assays for C. burnetii.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Coxiella burnetii / classification*
  • Coxiella burnetii / genetics
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Genes, Bacterial*
  • Genotype
  • Phylogeny*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics*


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate [interagency agreement contract no. HSHQDC-09-X-00240]. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.