July 7, 2019  |  

A spontaneous mutation in kdsD, a biosynthesis gene for 3 Deoxy-D-manno-Octulosonic Acid, occurred in a ciprofloxacin resistant strain of Francisella tularensis and caused a high level of attenuation in murine models of tularemia.

Francisella tularensis, a gram-negative facultative intracellular bacterial pathogen, is the causative agent of tularemia and able to infect many mammalian species, including humans. Because of its ability to cause a lethal infection, low infectious dose, and aerosolizable nature, F. tularensis subspecies tularensis is considered a potential biowarfare agent. Due to its in vitro efficacy, ciprofloxacin is one of the antibiotics recommended for post-exposure prophylaxis of tularemia. In order to identify therapeutics that will be efficacious against infections caused by drug resistant select-agents and to better understand the threat, we sought to characterize an existing ciprofloxacin resistant (CipR) mutant in the Schu S4 strain of F. tularensis by determining its phenotypic characteristics and sequencing the chromosome to identify additional genetic alterations that may have occurred during the selection process. In addition to the previously described genetic alterations, the sequence of the CipR mutant strain revealed several additional mutations. Of particular interest was a frameshift mutation within kdsD which encodes for an enzyme necessary for the production of 3-Deoxy-D-manno-Octulosonic Acid (KDO), an integral component of the lipopolysaccharide (LPS). A kdsD mutant was constructed in the Schu S4 strain. Although it was not resistant to ciprofloxacin, the kdsD mutant shared many phenotypic characteristics with the CipR mutant, including growth defects under different conditions, sensitivity to hydrophobic agents, altered LPS profiles, and attenuation in multiple models of murine tularemia. This study demonstrates that the KdsD enzyme is essential for Francisella virulence and may be an attractive therapeutic target for developing novel medical countermeasures.

July 7, 2019  |  

Shared features of cryptic plasmids from environmental and pathogenic Francisella species.

The Francisella genus includes several recognized species, additional potential species, and other representatives that inhabit a range of incredibly diverse ecological niches, but are not closely related to the named species. Francisella species have been obtained from a wide variety of clinical and environmental sources; documented species include highly virulent human and animal pathogens, fish pathogens, opportunistic human pathogens, tick endosymbionts, and free-living isolates inhabiting brackish water. While more than 120 Francisella genomes have been sequenced to date, only a few contain plasmids, and most of these appear to be cryptic, with unknown benefit to the host cell. We have identified several putative cryptic plasmids in the sequenced genomes of three Francisella novicida and F. novicida-like strains (TX07-6608, AZ06-7470, DPG_3A-IS) and two new Francisella species (F. frigiditurris CA97-1460 and F. opportunistica MA06-7296). These plasmids were compared to each other and to previously identified plasmids from other Francisella species. Some of the plasmids encoded functions potentially involved in replication, conjugal transfer and partitioning, environmental survival (transcriptional regulation, signaling, metabolism), and hypothetical proteins with no assignable functions. Genomic and phylogenetic comparisons of these new plasmids to the other known Francisella plasmids revealed some similarities that add to our understanding of the evolutionary relationships among the diverse Francisella species.

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