Over the past decades, Salmonella 4,,12:i:- has rapidly emerged and it is isolated with high frequency in the swine food chain. Although many studies have documented the epidemiological success of this serovar, few investigations have tried to explain this phenomenon from a genetic perspective. Here a comparative whole-genome analysis of 50 epidemiologically unrelated S. 4,,12:i:-, isolated in Italy from 2010 to 2016 was performed, characterizing them in terms of genetic elements potentially conferring resistance, tolerance and persistence characteristics. Phylogenetic analyses indicated interesting distinctions among the investigated isolates. The most striking genetic trait characterizing the analyzed isolates is the widespread presence of heavy metals tolerance gene cassettes: most of the strains possess genes expected to confer resistance to copper and silver, whereas about half of the isolates also contain the mercury tolerance gene merA. A functional assay showed that these genes might be useful for preventing the toxic effects of metals, thus supporting the hypothesis that they can contribute to the success of S. 4,,12:i:- in farming environments. In addition, the analysis of the distribution of type II toxin-antitoxin families indicated that these elements are abundant in this serovar, suggesting that this is another factor that might favor its successful spread.
Keywords: Salmonella; antimicrobial resistance; swine foodchain; tolerance to heavy metals; toxin-antitoxin.