A single natural nucleotide mutation alters bacterial pathogen host tropism

Viana, D., Comos, M., McAdam, P. R., Ward, M. J., Selva, L., Guinane, C. M., González-Muñoz, B. M., Tristan, A., Foster, S. J., Fitzgerald, J. R. & Penadés, J. R.
Nature Genetics
Journal publication date: 

The capacity of microbial pathogens to alter their host tropism leading to epidemics in distinct host species populations is a global public and veterinary health concern. To investigate the molecular basis of a bacterial host-switching event in a tractable host species, we traced the evolutionary trajectory of the common rabbit clone of Staphylococcus aureus. We report that it evolved through a likely human-to-rabbit host jump over 40 years ago and that only a single naturally occurring nucleotide mutation was required and sufficient to convert a human-specific S. aureus strain into one that could infect rabbits. Related mutations were identified at the same locus in other rabbit strains of distinct clonal origin, consistent with convergent evolution. This first report of a single mutation that was sufficient to alter the host tropism of a microorganism during its evolution highlights the capacity of some pathogens to readily expand into new host species populations.