Insights from Bacillus anthracis strains isolated from permafrost in the tundra zone of Russia

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Abstract

This article describes Bacillus anthracis strains isolated during an outbreak of anthrax on the Yamal Peninsula in the summer of 2016 and independently in Yakutia in 2015. A common feature of these strains is their conservation in permafrost, from which they were extracted either due to the thawing of permafrost (Yamal strains) or as the result of paleontological excavations (Yakut strains). All strains isolated on the Yamal share an identical genotype belonging to lineage B.Br.001/002, pointing to a common source of infection in a territory over 250 km in length. In contrast, during the excavations in Yakutia, three genetically different strains were recovered from a single pit. One strain belongs to B.Br.001/002, and whole genome sequence analysis showed that it is most closely related to the Yamal strains in spite of the remoteness of Yamal from Yakutia. The two other strains contribute to two different branches of A.Br.008/011, one of the remarkable polytomies described so far in the B. anthracis species. The geographic distribution of the strains belonging to A.Br.008/ 011 is suggesting that the polytomy emerged in the thirteenth century, in combination with the constitution of a unified Mongol empire extending from China to Eastern Europe. We propose an evolutionary model for B. anthracis recent evolution in which the B lineage spread throughout Eurasia and was subsequently replaced by the A lineage except in some geographically isolated areas.

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Timofeev, V., Bahtejeva, I., Mironova, R., Titareva, G., Lev, I., Christiany, D., … Vergnaud, G. (2019). Insights from Bacillus anthracis strains isolated from permafrost in the tundra zone of Russia. PLoS ONE, 14(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0209140

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