Whole genome sequencing for genomics-guided investigations of Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreaks

Brigida Rusconi, Fatemeh Sanjar, Sara S.K. Koenig, Mark K. Mammel, Phillip I. Tarr, Mark Eppinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Multi isolate whole genome sequencing (WGS) and typing for outbreak investigations has become a reality in the post-genomics era. We applied this technology to strains from Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreaks. These include isolates from seven North America outbreaks, as well as multiple isolates from the same patient and from different infected individuals in the same household. Customized high-resolution bioinformatics sequence typing strategies were developed to assess the core genome and mobilome plasticity. Sequence typing was performed using an in-house single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) discovery and validation pipeline. Discriminatory power becomes of particular importance for the investigation of isolates from outbreaks in which macrogenomic techniques such as pulse-field gel electrophoresis or multiple locus variable number tandem repeat analysis do not differentiate closely related organisms. We also characterized differences in the phage inventory, allowing us to identify plasticity among outbreak strains that is not detectable at the core genome level. Our comprehensive analysis of the mobilome identified multiple plasmids that have not previously been associated with this lineage. Applied phylogenomics approaches provide strong molecular evidence for exceptionally little heterogeneity of strains within outbreaks and demonstrate the value of intra-cluster comparisons, rather than basing the analysis on archetypal reference strains. Next generation sequencing and whole genome typing strategies provide the technological foundation for genomic epidemiology outbreak investigation utilizing its significantly higher sample throughput, cost efficiency, and phylogenetic relatedness accuracy. These phylogenomics approaches have major public health relevance in translating information from the sequence-based survey to support timely and informed countermeasures. Polymorphisms identified in this work offer robust phylogenetic signals that index both short- and long-term evolution and can complement currently employed typing schemes for outbreak ex- and inclusion, diagnostics, surveillance, and forensic studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number985
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberJUN
StatePublished - 2016


  • EHEC
  • Escherichia coli
  • Genomic epidemiology
  • O157:H7
  • Outbreaks
  • Phylogenomics
  • Single nucleotide polymorphism
  • Whole genome sequence typing


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