As Clear as Mud? Determining the Diversity and Prevalence of Prophages in the Draft Genomes of Estuarine Isolates of Clostridium difficile

Hargreaves KR, Otieno JR, Thanki A, Blades MJ, Millard AD, Browne HP, Lawley TD, Clokie MR
Genome Biol Evol. 2015;7

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The bacterium Clostridium difficile is a significant cause of nosocomial infections worldwide. The pathogenic success of this organism can be attributed to its flexible genome which is characterized by the exchange of mobile genetic elements, and by ongoing genome evolution. Despite its pathogenic status, C. difficile can also be carried asymptomatically, and has been isolated from natural environments such as water and sediments where multiple strain types (ribotypes) are found in close proximity. These include ribotypes which are associated with disease, as well as those that are less commonly isolated from patients. Little is known about the genomic content of strains in such reservoirs in the natural environment. In this study, draft genomes have been generated for 13 C. difficile isolates from estuarine sediments including clinically relevant and environmental associated types. To identify the genetic diversity within this strain collection, whole-genome comparisons were performed using the assemblies. The strains are highly genetically diverse with regards to the C. difficile "mobilome," which includes transposons and prophage elements. We identified a novel transposon-like element in two R078 isolates. Multiple, related and unrelated, prophages were detected in isolates across ribotype groups, including two novel prophage elements and those related to the transducing phage phiC2. The susceptibility of these isolates to lytic phage infection was tested using a panel of characterized phages found from the same locality. In conclusion, estuarine sediments are a source of genetically diverse C. difficile strains with a complex network of prophages, which could contribute to the emergence of new strains in clinics.