Genomic Characterization and Copy Number Variation of Bacillus anthracis Plasmids pXO1 and pXO2 in a Historical Collection of 412 Strains
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Genomic Characterization and Copy Number Variation of Bacillus anthracis Plasmids pXO1 and pXO2 in a Historical Collection of 412 Strains

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      Bacillus anthracis plasmids pXO1 and pXO2 carry the main virulence factors responsible for anthrax. However, the extent of copy number variation within the species and how the plasmids are related to pXO1/pXO2-like plasmids in other species of the Bacillus cereus | group remain unclear. To gain new insights into these issues, we sequenced 412 B. anthracis strains representing the total phylogenetic and ecological diversity of the species. Our results revealed that B. anthracis genomes carried, on average, 3.86 and 2.29 copies of pXO1 and pXO2, respectively, and also revealed a positive linear correlation between the copy numbers of pXO1 and pXO2. No correlation between the plasmid copy number and the phylogenetic relatedness of the strains was observed. However, genomes of strains isolated from animal tissues generally maintained a higher plasmid copy number than genomes of strains from environmental sources (| < 0.05 [Welch two-sample t test]). Comparisons against B. cereus genomes carrying complete or partial pXO1-like and pXO2-like plasmids showed that the plasmid-based phylogeny recapitulated that of the main chromosome, indicating limited plasmid horizontal transfer between or within these species. Comparisons of gene content revealed a closed pXO1 and pXO2 pangenome; e.g., plasmids encode <8 unique genes, on average, and a single large fragment deletion of pXO1 in one B. anthracis strain (2000031682) was detected. Collectively, our results provide a more complete view of the genomic diversity of B. anthracis plasmids, their copy number variation, and the virulence potential of other | species carrying pXO1/pXO2-like plasmids. | Bacillus anthracis microorganisms are of historical and epidemiological importance and are among the most homogenous bacterial groups known, even though the B. anthracis genome is rich in mobile elements. Mobile elements can trigger the diversification of lineages; therefore, characterizing the extent of genomic variation in a large collection of strains is critical for a complete understanding of the diversity and evolution of the species. Here, we sequenced a large collection of B. anthracis strains (>400) that were recovered from human, animal, and environmental sources around the world. Our results confirmed the remarkable stability of gene content and synteny of the anthrax plasmids and revealed no signal of plasmid exchange between B. anthracis and pathogenic B. cereus isolates but rather predominantly vertical descent. These findings advance our understanding of the biology and pathogenomic evolution of B. anthracis and its plasmids.
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