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Phylogeography of Francisella tularensis subspecies holarctica from the country of Georgia

Gvantsa Chanturia2, Dawn N Birdsell1, Merab Kekelidze2, Ekaterine Zhgenti2, George Babuadze2, Nikoloz Tsertsvadze2, Shota Tsanava2, Paata Imnadze2, Stephen M Beckstrom-Sternberg3, James S Beckstrom-Sternberg3, Mia D Champion3, Shripad Sinari3, Miklos Gyuranecz4, Jason Farlow5, Amanda H Pettus1, Emily L Kaufman1, Joseph D Busch1, Talima Pearson1, Jeffrey T Foster1, Amy J Vogler1, David M Wagner1 and Paul Keim1*

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011-4073, USA

2 National Center for Disease Control and Public Health, Tbilisi, 0177, Georgia

3 Translational Genomics Research Institute, Phoenix, AZ 85004, USA

4 Veterinary Medical Research Institute, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary

5 US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Fort Detrick, Frederick, Maryland 21702-5011, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2011, 11:139  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-11-139

Published: 17 June 2011



Francisella tularensis, the causative agent of tularemia, displays subspecies-specific differences in virulence, geographic distribution, and genetic diversity. F. tularensis subsp. holarctica is widely distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere. In Europe, F. tularensis subsp. holarctica isolates have largely been assigned to two phylogenetic groups that have specific geographic distributions. Most isolates from Western Europe are assigned to the B.Br.FTNF002-00 group, whereas most isolates from Eastern Europe are assigned to numerous lineages within the B.Br.013 group. The eastern geographic extent of the B.Br.013 group is currently unknown due to a lack of phylogenetic knowledge about populations at the European/Asian juncture and in Asia. In this study, we address this knowledge gap by describing the phylogenetic structure of F. tularensis subsp. holarctica isolates from the country of Georgia, and by placing these isolates into a global phylogeographic context.


We identified a new genetic lineage of F. tularensis subsp. holarctica from Georgia that belongs to the B.Br.013 group. This new lineage is genetically and geographically distinct from lineages previously described from the B.Br.013 group from Central-Eastern Europe. Importantly, this new lineage is basal within the B.Br.013 group, indicating the Georgian lineage diverged before the diversification of the other known B.Br.013 lineages. Although two isolates from the Georgian lineage were collected nearby in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, all other global isolates assigned to this lineage were collected in Georgia. This restricted geographic distribution, as well as the high levels of genetic diversity within the lineage, is consistent with a relatively older origin and localized differentiation.


We identified a new lineage of F. tularensis subsp. holarctica from Georgia that appears to have an older origin than any other diversified lineages previously described from the B.Br.013 group. This finding suggests that additional phylogenetic studies of F. tularensis subsp. holarctica populations in Eastern Europe and Asia have the potential to yield important new insights into the evolutionary history and phylogeography of this broadly dispersed F. tularensis subspecies.