Open Access Research article

Comparative genomics of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus ST239: distinct geographical variants in Beijing and Hong Kong

Zheng Wang1, Haokui Zhou1, Hui Wang2, Hongbin Chen2, K K Leung3, Stephen Tsui3 and Margaret Ip1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, The Prince of Wales Hospital, Ngan Shing Street, Shatin, Hong Kong

2 Department of Clinical Laboratory, Peking University People’s Hospital, Beijing 100044, China

3 School of Biomedical Sciences, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:529  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-529

Published: 26 June 2014



The ST239 lineage is a globally disseminated, multiply drug-resistant hospital-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (HA-MRSA). We performed whole-genome sequencing of representative HA-MRSA isolates of the ST239 lineage from bacteremic patients in hospitals in Hong Kong (HK) and Beijing (BJ) and compared them with three published complete genomes of ST239, namely T0131, TW20 and JKD6008. Orthologous gene group (OGG) analyses of the Hong Kong and Beijing cluster strains were also undertaken.


Homology analysis, based on highest-percentage nucleotide identity, indicated that HK isolates were closely related to TW20, whereas BJ isolates were more closely related to T0131 from Tianjin. Phylogenetic analysis, incorporating a total of 30 isolates from different continents, revealed that strains from HK clustered with TW20 into the ‘Asian clade’, whereas BJ isolates and T0131 clustered closely with strains of the ‘Turkish clade’ from Eastern Europe. HK isolates contained the typical φSPβ-like prophage with the SasX gene similar to TW20. In contrast, BJ isolates contained a unique 15 kb PT1028-like prophage but lacked φSPβ-like and φSA1 prophages. Besides distinct mobile genetic elements (MGE) in the two clusters, OGG analyses and whole-genome alignment of these clusters highlighted differences in genes located in the core genome, including the identification of single nucleotide deletions in several genes, resulting in frameshift mutations and the subsequent predicted truncation of encoded proteins involved in metabolism and antimicrobial resistance.


Comparative genomics, based on de novo assembly and deep sequencing of HK and BJ strains, revealed different origins of the ST239 lineage in northern and southern China and identified differences between the two clades at single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), core gene and MGE levels. The results suggest that ST239 strains isolated in Hong Kong since the 1990s belong to the Asian clade, present mainly in southern Asia, whereas those that emerged in northern China were of a distinct origin, reflecting the complexity of dissemination and the dynamic evolution of this ST239 lineage.

MRSA; Beijing; Hong Kong; Genome; Orthologous gene groups; ST239