Phage-mediated horizontal transfer of a Staphylococcus aureus virulence-associated genomic island

Bo Youn Moon, Joo Youn Park, Sun Yung Hwang, D. Ashley Robinson, Jonathan C. Thomas, J. Ross Fitzgerald, Yong Ho Park, Keun Seok Seo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Staphylococcus aureus is a major pathogen of humans and animals. The capacity of S. aureus to adapt to different host species and tissue types is strongly influenced by the acquisition of mobile genetic elements encoding determinants involved in niche adaptation. The genomic islands nu Sa alpha and nu Sa beta are found in almost all S. aureus strains and are characterized by extensive variation in virulence gene content. However the basis for the diversity and the mechanism underlying mobilization of the genomic islands between strains are unexplained. Here, we demonstrated that the genomic island, nu Sa beta, encoding an array of virulence factors including staphylococcal superantigens, proteases, and leukotoxins, in addition to bacteriocins, was transferrable in vitro to human and animal strains of multiple S. aureus clones via a resident prophage. The transfer of the nu Sa beta appears to have been accomplished by multiple conversions of transducing phage particles carrying overlapping segments of the nu Sa beta. Our findings solve a long-standing mystery regarding the diversification and spread of the genomic island nu Sa beta, highlighting the central role of bacteriophages in the pathogenic evolution of S. aureus.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9784
Number of pages6
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 20 Apr 2015

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