Multiple-locus, variable number of tandem repeat analysis (MLVA) of the fish-pathogen Francisella noatunensis
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Background: Since Francisella noatunensis was first isolated from cultured Atlantic cod in 2004, it has emerged as a global fish pathogen causing disease in both warm and cold water species. Outbreaks of francisellosis occur in several important cultured fish species making a correct management of this disease a matter of major importance. Currently there are no vaccines or treatments available. A strain typing system for use in studies of F. noatunensis epizootics would be an important tool for disease management. However, the high genetic similarity within the Francisella spp. makes strain typing difficult, but such typing of the related human pathogen Francisella tullarensis has been performed successfully by targeting loci with higher genetic variation than the traditional signature sequences. These loci are known as Variable Numbers of Tandem Repeat (VNTR). The aim of this study is to identify possible useful VNTRs in the genome of F. noatunensis. Results: Seven polymorphic VNTR loci were identified in the preliminary genome sequence of F. noatunensis ssp. noatunensis GM2212 isolate. These VNTR-loci were sequenced in F. noatunensis isolates collected from Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) from Norway (n = 21), Three-line grunt (Parapristipoma trilineatum) from Japan (n = 1), Tilapia (Oreochromis spp.) from Indonesia (n = 3) and Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) from Chile (n = 1). The Norwegian isolates presented in this study show both nine allelic profiles and clades, and that the majority of the farmed isolates belong in two clades only, while the allelic profiles from wild cod are unique. Conclusions: VNTRs can be used to separate isolates belonging to both subspecies of F. noatunensis. Low allelic diversity in F. noatunensis isolates from outbreaks in cod culture compared to isolates wild cod, indicate that transmission of these isolates may be a result of human activity. The sequence based MLVA system presented in this study should provide a good starting point for further development of a genotyping system that can be used in studies of epizootics and disease management of francisellosis.