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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Bacillus anthracis in China and its relationship to worldwide lineages

Tatum S Simonson1, Richard T Okinaka12, Bingxiang Wang3, W Ryan Easterday1, Lynn Huynh1, Jana M U'Ren1, Meghan Dukerich1, Shaylan R Zanecki1, Leo J Kenefic1, Jodi Beaudry1, James M Schupp1, Talima Pearson1, David M Wagner1, Alex Hoffmaster4, Jacques Ravel5 and Paul Keim126*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5640, USA

2 Bioscience Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos New Mexico, 87545, USA

3 Lanzhou Institute of Biological Product, Lanzhou, PR China

4 Epidemiologic Investigations Laboratory, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA

5 The J Craig Venter Institute, Rockville, Maryland, USA

6 Pathogen Genomics Division, Translational Genomics Research Institute, Pathogen Genomics Division, 445 N Fifth Street, Phoenix, AZ 85004, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2009, 9:71  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-9-71

Published: 15 April 2009

Abstract

Background

The global pattern of distribution of 1033 B. anthracis isolates has previously been defined by a set of 12 conserved canonical single nucleotide polymorphisms (canSNP). These studies reinforced the presence of three major lineages and 12 sub-lineages and sub-groups of this anthrax-causing pathogen. Isolates that form the A lineage (unlike the B and C lineages) have become widely dispersed throughout the world and form the basis for the geographical disposition of "modern" anthrax. An archival collection of 191 different B. anthracis isolates from China provides a glimpse into the possible role of Chinese trade and commerce in the spread of certain sub-lineages of this pathogen. Canonical single nucleotide polymorphism (canSNP) and multiple locus VNTR analysis (MLVA) typing has been used to examine this archival collection of isolates.

Results

The canSNP study indicates that there are 5 different sub-lineages/sub-groups in China out of 12 previously described world-wide canSNP genotypes. Three of these canSNP genotypes were only found in the western-most province of China, Xinjiang. These genotypes were A.Br.008/009, a sub-group that is spread across most of Europe and Asia; A.Br.Aust 94, a sub-lineage that is present in Europe and India, and A.Br.Vollum, a lineage that is also present in Europe. The remaining two canSNP genotypes are spread across the whole of China and belong to sub-group A.Br.001/002 and the A.Br.Ames sub-lineage, two closely related genotypes. MLVA typing adds resolution to the isolates in each canSNP genotype and diversity indices for the A.Br.008/009 and A.Br.001/002 sub-groups suggest that these represent older and established clades in China.

Conclusion

B. anthracis isolates were recovered from three canSNP sub-groups (A.Br.008/009, A.Br.Aust94, and A.Br.Vollum) in the western most portion of the large Chinese province of Xinjiang. The city of Kashi in this province appears to have served as a crossroads for not only trade but the movement of diseases such as anthrax along the ancient "silk road". Phylogenetic inference also suggests that the A.Br.Ames sub-lineage, first identified in the original Ames strain isolated from Jim Hogg County, TX, is descended from the A.Br.001/002 sub-group that has a major presence in most of China. These results suggest a genetic discontinuity between the younger Ames sub-lineage in Texas and the large Western North American sub-lineage spread across central Canada and the Dakotas.