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A 14th century CE Brucella melitensis genome and the recent expansion of the Western Mediterranean clade

A high-quality 14th C. CE Brucella melitensis genome points to a speciation event contemporaneous to sheep domestication.

Aug 01, 2023

Authors: George S. Long, Jessica Hider, Ana T. Duggan, Jennifer Klunk, Katherine Eaton, Emil Karpinski, Valentina Giuffra, Luca Ventura, Tracy L. Prowse, Antonio Fornaciari, Gino Fornaciari, Edward C. Holmes, G. Brian Golding, Hendrik N. Poinar



Brucellosis is a disease caused by the bacterium Brucella and typically transmitted through contact with infected ruminants. It is one of the most common chronic zoonotic diseases and of particular interest to public health agencies. Despite its well-known transmission history and characteristic symptoms, we lack a more complete understanding of the evolutionary history of its best-known species—Brucella melitensis. To address this knowledge gap we fortuitously found, sequenced and assembled a high-quality ancient B. melitensis draft genome from the kidney stone of a 14th-century Italian friar. The ancient strain contained fewer core genes than modern B. melitensis isolates, carried a complete complement of virulence genes, and did not contain any indication of significant antimicrobial resistances. The ancient B. melitensis genome fell as a basal sister lineage to a subgroup of B. melitensis strains within the Western Mediterranean phylogenetic group, with a short branch length indicative of its earlier sampling time, along with a similar gene content. By calibrating the molecular clock we suggest that the speciation event between B. melitensis and B. abortus is contemporaneous with the estimated time frame for the domestication of both sheep and goats. These results confirm the existence of the Western Mediterranean clade as a separate group in the 14th CE and suggest that its divergence was due to human and ruminant co-migration.


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