Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Wisconsin Wildlife
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Bruce, S.A., Y-H. Huang, P.L. Kamath, H. van Heerden and W.C. Turner. 2021. The roles of antimicrobial resistance, phage diversity, isolation source and selection in shaping the genomic architecture of Bacillus anthracis, Microbial Genomics, 7:000616. DOI: 10.1099/mgen.0.000616


Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax disease, is a worldwide threat to livestock, wildlife and public health. While analyses of genetic data from across the globe have increased our understanding of this bacterium’s population genomic structure, the influence of selective pressures on this successful pathogen is not well understood. In this study, we investigate the effects of antimicrobial resistance, phage diversity, geography and isolation source in shaping population genomic structure. We also identify a suite of candidate genes potentially under selection, driving patterns of diversity across 356 globally extant B. anthracis genomes. We report ten antimicrobial resistance genes and eleven different prophage sequences, resulting in the first large-scale documentation of these genetic anomalies for this pathogen. Results of random forest classification suggest genomic structure may be driven by a combination of antimicrobial resistance, geography and isolation source, specific to the population cluster examined. We found strong evidence that a recombination event linked to a gene involved in protein synthesis may be responsible for phenotypic differences between comparatively disparate populations. We also offer a list of genes for further examination of B. anthracis evolution, based on high-impact single nucleotide polymorphisms and clustered mutations. The information presented here sheds new light on the factors driving genomic structure in this bacterium and may act as a road map for future studies aimed at understanding functional differences in terms of B. anthracis biogeography, virulence, and evolution.