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Insights into the long-term persistence of Legionella in facilities from whole-genome sequencing

Wells, Megan, Lasek-Nesselquist, Erica, Schoonmaker-Bopp, Dianna, Baker, Deborah, Thompson, Lisa, Wroblewski, Danielle, Nazarian, Elizabeth, Lapierre, Pascal, Musser, Kimberlee A.
Infection, genetics, and evolution 2018 v.65 pp. 200-209
DNA fingerprinting, Legionella micdadei, Legionella pneumophila, genome, health services, phylogeny, pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, sequence analysis, serotypes, single nucleotide polymorphism
We investigated the value of whole-genome sequencing (WGS) and single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) analyses in determining the relationships among and evolutionary rates of Legionella species with long-term persistence in three healthcare facilities. We examined retrospective clinical and environmental isolates of Legionella micdadei and Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1 isolates with identical PFGE DNA fingerprints sampled over the course of up to 18 years. WGS analyses demonstrated that heterogeneous populations of Legionella were present within each facility despite displaying the same PFGE profiles. Additionally, clustering of some clinical isolates with those from a separate but related institution exposed a source of infection not previously detected, underscoring the importance of considering phylogenetic relationships when assessing epidemiological links. The data supported an average substitution rate of 0.80 SNPs per genome per year for L. micdadei but a reliable estimate for L. pneumophila serogroup 1 could not be obtained due to complicating factors such as non-chronological links among isolates and inadequate sampling depths. While the substitution rate for L. micdadei is consistent with previous estimates for L. pneumophila, the lack of a temporal signal in our sequence data for L. pneuomphila serogroup 1 isolates suggests either insufficient change to provide an estimate or variable evolutionary rates, which could reflect the presence of both actively dividing and viable but non-culturable Legionella spp. in the built environment. This study highlights the increased discriminatory power of WGS SNP analysis as compared to PFGE, emphasizes the need for extended sampling, and provides insight into the evolution of Legionella from longitudinal investigations.