Insights from genomics into bacterial pathogen populations.

D. J. Wilson (2012)
PLoS Pathogens 8: e1002874. (pdf)

Bacterial pathogens impose a heavy burden of disease on human populations worldwide. The gravest threats are posed by highly virulent respiratory pathogens, enteric pathogens, and HIV-associated infections. Tuberculosis alone is responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million people annually. Treatment options for bacterial pathogens are being steadily eroded by the evolution and spread of drug resistance. However, population-level whole genome sequencing offers new hope in the fight against pathogenic bacteria. By providing insights into bacterial evolution and disease etiology, these approaches pave the way for novel interventions and therapeutic targets. Sequencing populations of bacteria across the whole genome provides unprecedented resolution to investigate (i) within-host evolution, (ii) transmission history, and (iii) population structure. Moreover, advances in rapid benchtop sequencing herald a new era of real-time genomics in which sequencing and analysis can be deployed within hours in response to rapidly changing public health emergencies. The purpose of this review is to highlight the transformative effect of population genomics on bacteriology, and to consider the prospects for answering abiding questions such as why bacteria cause disease.