Competing isogenic Campylobacter strains exhibit variable population structures in vivo

Chris Coward, Pauline M. van Diemen, Andrew J. K. Conlan, Julia R. Gog, Mark P. Stevens, Michael A. Jones, Duncan J. Maskell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Consumption of poultry contaminated with Campylobacter jejuni is a risk factor for human gastrointestinal disease. The rational development of control strategies for Campylobacter within chickens requires an understanding of the colonization process at the molecular and population levels, both within and between hosts. Experiments employing competing strains of Campylobacter have been used to investigate colonization. Implicit in these studies is the assumption that the behavior of competing strains is reproducible between experiments. Variability in the recovery of mutants from the chicken gastrointestinal tract during signature-tagged mutagenesis studies demonstrated that this is not always the case. To further investigate this phenomenon in the absence of confounding factors due to phenotypic differences between mutants, we constructed individually identifiable wild-type isogenic tagged strains (WITS) that have indistinguishable phenotypes in pure culture. By using mixtures of WITS, it is possible to monitor the relative amounts of subpopulations of essentially wild-type bacteria. Using a 2-week-old chicken model of colonization, we observed unpredictable variations in population structure both within and between experiments, even in the simplest case of two competing strains. This variation occurred both when birds were simultaneously infected with two WITS and when birds inoculated with different WITS were cohoused. We present evidence for founder effects during initial colonization with subsequent bird-to-bird transmission. We suggest that these and phenotypic variation contribute to the observed variability. These factors render simple models of colonization which do not take them into account inappropriate for Campylobacter and impact the planning and interpretation of competition experiments using this organism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3857-3867
Number of pages11
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008

Cite this