BACKGROUND: New strains of Vibrio parahaemolyticus that cause diarrhea in humans by seafood ingestion periodically emerge through continuous evolution in the ocean. Influx and expansion in the Southern Chilean ocean of a highly clonal V. parahaemolyticus (serotype O3:K6) population from South East Asia caused one of the largest seafood-related diarrhea outbreaks in the world. Here, genomics analyses of isolates from this rapidly expanding clonal population offered an opportunity to observe the molecular evolutionary changes often obscured in more diverse populations.
RESULTS: Whole genome sequence comparison of eight independent isolates of this population from mussels or clinical cases (from different years) was performed. Differences of 1366 to 217,729 bp genome length and 13 to 164 bp single nucleotide variants (SNVs) were found. Most genomic differences corresponded to the presence of regions unique to only one or two isolates, and were probably acquired by horizontal gene transfer (HGT). Some DNA gain was chromosomal but most was in plasmids. One isolate had a large region (8,644 bp) missing, which was probably caused by excision of a prophage. Genome innovation by the presence of unique DNA, attributable to HGT from related bacteria, varied greatly among the isolates, with values of 1,366 (ten times the number of highest number of SNVs) to 217,729 (a thousand times more than the number of highest number of SNVs).
CONCLUSIONS: The evolutionary forces (SNVs, HGT) acting on each isolate of the same population were found to differ to an extent that probably depended on the ecological scenario and life circumstances of each bacterium.