Pathogenicity, population genetics and dissemination of Bacillus anthracis.

Pilo, Paola; Frey, Joachim (2018). Pathogenicity, population genetics and dissemination of Bacillus anthracis. Infection, genetics and evolution, 64, pp. 115-125. Elsevier 10.1016/j.meegid.2018.06.024

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Bacillus anthracis, the etiological agent of anthrax, procures its particular virulence by a capsule and two AB type toxins: the lethal factor LF and the edema factor EF. These toxins primarily disable immune cells. Both toxins are translocated to the host cell by the adhesin-internalin subunit called protective antigen PA. PA enables LF to reach intra-luminal vesicles, where it remains active for long periods. Subsequently, LF translocates to non-infected cells, leading to inefficient late therapy of anthrax. B. anthracis undergoes slow evolution because it alternates between vegetative and long spore phases. Full genome sequence analysis of a large number of worldwide strains resulted in a robust evolutionary reconstruction of this bacterium, showing that B. anthracis is split in three main clades: A, B and C. Clade A efficiently disseminated worldwide underpinned by human activities including heavy intercontinental trade of goat and sheep hair. Subclade A.Br.WNA, which is widespread in the Northern American continent, is estimated to have split from clade A reaching the Northern American continent in the late Pleistocene epoch via the former Bering Land Bridge and further spread from Northwest southwards. An alternative hypothesis is that subclade A.Br.WNA. evolved from clade A.Br.TEA tracing it back to strains from Northern France that were assumingly dispatched by European explorers that settled along the St. Lawrence River. Clade B established mostly in Europe along the alpine axis where it evolved in association with local cattle breeds and hence displays specific geographic subclusters. Sequencing technologies are also used for forensic applications to trace unintended or criminal acts of release of B. anthracis. Under natural conditions, B. anthracis generally affects domesticated and wild ruminants in arid ecosystems. The more recently discovered B. cereus biovar anthracis spreads in tropical forests, where it threatens particularly endangered primate populations.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Review Article)


05 Veterinary Medicine > Department of Infectious Diseases and Pathobiology (DIP)
05 Veterinary Medicine > Department of Infectious Diseases and Pathobiology (DIP) > Institute of Veterinary Bacteriology

UniBE Contributor:

Pilo, Paola, Frey, Joachim


600 Technology > 630 Agriculture








Barbara Bach

Date Deposited:

14 Feb 2019 10:48

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:24

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Anthrax Forensic Global epidemiology Migrations Phylogeny Toxins




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