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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Brucella 'HOOF-Prints': strain typing by multi-locus analysis of variable number tandem repeats (VNTRs)

Betsy J Bricker1*, Darla R Ewalt2 and Shirley M Halling1

Author Affiliations

1 United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, National Animal Disease Center, 2300 Dayton Rd, Ames, IA, 50010, USA

2 United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services, National Veterinary Services Laboratories, 1800 Dayton Rd, Ames, IA, 50010, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2003, 3:15  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-3-15

Published: 11 July 2003

Abstract

Background

Currently, there are very few tools available for subtyping Brucella isolates for epidemiological trace-back. Subtyping is difficult because of the genetic homogeneity within the genus. Sequencing of the genomes from three Brucella species has facilitated the search for DNA sequence variability. Recently, hypervariability among short tandem repeat sequences has been exploited for strain-typing of several bacterial pathogens.

Results

An eight-base pair tandem repeat sequence was discovered in nine genomic loci of the B. abortus genome. Eight loci were hypervariable among the three Brucella species. A PCR-based method was developed to identify the number of repeat units (alleles) at each locus, generating strain-specific fingerprints. None of the loci exhibited species- or biovar-specific alleles. Sometimes, a species or biovar contained a specific allele at one or more loci, but the allele also occurred in other species or biovars. The technique successfully differentiated the type strains for all Brucella species and biovars, among unrelated B. abortus biovar 1 field isolates in cattle, and among B. abortus strains isolated from bison and elk. Isolates from the same herd or from short-term in vitro passage exhibited little or no variability in fingerprint pattern. Sometimes, isolates from an animal would have multiple alleles at a locus, possibly from mixed infections in enzootic areas, residual disease from incomplete depopulation of an infected herd or molecular evolution within the strain. Therefore, a mixed population or a pool of colonies from each animal and/or tissue was tested.

Conclusion

This paper describes a new method for fingerprinting Brucella isolates based on multi-locus characterization of a variable number, eight-base pair, tandem repeat. We have named this technique "HOOF-Prints" for

    H
ypervariable
    O
ctameric
    O
ligonucleotide
    F
inger-Prints. The technique is highly discriminatory among Brucella species, among previously characterized Brucella strains, and among unrelated field isolates that could not be differentiated by classical methods. The method is rapid and the results are reproducible. HOOF-Printing will be most useful as a follow-up test after identification by established methods since we did not find species-specific or biovar-specific alleles. Nonetheless, this technology provides a significant advancement in brucellosis epidemiology, and consequently, will help to eliminate this disease worldwide.