Genetic elements and molecular mechanisms driving the evolution of the pathogenic marine bacterium Vibrio parahaemolyticus
Hazen, Tracy Heather
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Vibrio parahaemolyticus is an opportunistic human pathogen that occurs naturally in a non-pathogenic form in coastal estuarine and marine environments worldwide. Following the acquisition of virulence-associated genes, V. parahaemolyticus has emerged as a significant pathogen causing seafood-borne illnesses. The mechanisms and conditions that promote the emergence of disease causing V. parahaemolyticus strains are not well understood. In addition, V. parahaemolyticus clinical strains isolated from disease-associated samples and environmental strains from sediment, water, and marine organisms have been identified with considerable diversity; however, the evolutionary relationships of disease-causing strains and environmental strains are not known. In the following research, the evolutionary relationships of V. parahaemolyticus clinical and environmental strains are examined. In addition, the contribution of genetic elements and molecular mechanisms such as deficiency of DNA repair to the evolution of V. parahaemolyticus clinical and environmental strains is shown. Molecular analysis of the evolutionary relationships of V. parahaemolyticus clinical and environmental strains demonstrated separate lineages of pathogenic and non-pathogenic strains with the exception of several environmental strains that may represent a reservoir of disease-causing strains in the environment. Sequence characterization of plasmids isolated from diverse environmental Vibrios indicated a role of plasmids in strain evolution by horizontal transfer of housekeeping genes. In addition, analysis of plasmids from V. parahaemolyticus clinical and environmental strains indicated the existence of a plasmid family distributed among V. parahaemolyticus, V. campbellii, and V. harveyi environmental strains. Sequence characterization of a plasmid of this family from a V. parahaemolyticus environmental strain indicated the contribution of these plasmids to the emergence of the clonal pandemic strains. Investigation of the role of molecular mechanisms to the evolution of V. parahaemolyticus strains showed that inactivation of the DNA repair pathway methyl-directed mismatch repair (MMR) increased the accumulation of spontaneous mutations leading to increased nucleotide diversity in select genes. The research findings in the following chapters demonstrate a considerable contribution of genetic elements and molecular mechanisms to the evolution of genetic and phenotypic diversity.