The majority of Legionnaires' disease (LD) cases are caused by Legionella pneumophila, a genetically heterogeneous species composed of at least 17 serogroups. Previously, it was demonstrated that L. pneumophila consists of three subspecies: pneumophila, fraseri and pascullei. During an LD outbreak investigation in 2012, we detected that representatives of both subspecies fraseri and pascullei colonized the same water system and that the outbreak-causing strain was a new member of the least represented subspecies pascullei. We used partial sequence based typing consensus patterns to mine an international database for additional representatives of fraseri and pascullei subspecies. As a result, we identified 46 sequence types (STs) belonging to subspecies fraseri and two STs belonging to subspecies pascullei. Moreover, a recent retrospective whole genome sequencing analysis of isolates from New York State LD clusters revealed the presence of a fourth L. pneumophila subspecies that we have termed raphaeli. This subspecies consists of 15 STs. Comparative analysis was conducted using the genomes of multiple members of all four L. pneumophila subspecies. Whereas each subspecies forms a distinct phylogenetic clade within the L. pneumophila species, they share more average nucleotide identity with each other than with other Legionella species. Unique genes for each subspecies were identified and could be used for rapid subspecies detection. Improved taxonomic classification of L. pneumophila strains may help identify environmental niches and virulence attributes associated with these genetically distinct subspecies. Published by Elsevier B.V.
Journal: Infection, genetics and evolution