An additional step in the transmission of Yersinia pestis?
W Ryan Easterday et al. in The ISME Journal
Plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, is a mammalian vector-borne disease, transmitted by fleas that serve as the vector between rodent hosts. For many pathogens, including Y. pestis, there are strong evolutionary pressures that lead to a reduction in ‘useless genes’, with only those retained that reflect function in the specific environment inhabited by the pathogen. Genetic traits critical for survival and transmission between two environments, the rodent and the flea, are conserved in epizootic/epidemic plague strains. However, there are genes that remain conserved for which no function in the flea–rodent cycle has yet been observed, indicating an additional environment may exist in the transmission cycle of plague. Here, we present evidence for highly conserved genes that suggests a role in the persistence of Y. pestis after death of its host. Furthermore, maintenance of these genes points to Y. pestis traversing a post-mortem path between, and possibly within, epizootic periods and offering insight into mechanisms that may allow Y. pestis an alternative route of transmission in the natural environment.
2012, 6:231-236. DOI: 10.1038/ismej.2011.105