Molecular epidemiology and population structure of the honey bee brood pathogen Melissococcus plutonius

Giles E. Budge, Mark D. F. Shirley, Benjamin Jones, Emiline Quill, Victoria Tomkies, Edward J. Feil, Mike A. Brown, Edward G. Haynes

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Melissococcus plutonius is the causative agent of European foulbrood (EFB), which is a serious brood disease of the European honey bee (Apis mellifera). EFB remains a threat because of a poor understanding of disease epidemiology. We used a recently published multi-locus sequence typing method to characterise 206 M. plutonius isolates recovered from outbreaks in England and Wales over the course of 2 years. We detected 15 different sequence types (STs), which were resolved by eBURST and phylogenetic analysis into three clonal complexes (CCs) 3, 12 and 13. Single and double locus variants within CC3 were the most abundant and widespread genotypes, accounting for 85% of the cases. In contrast, CCs 12 and 13 were rarer and predominantly found in geographical regions of high sampling intensity, consistent with a more recent introduction and localised spread. K-function analysis and interpoint distance tests revealed significant geographical clustering in five common STs, but pointed to different dispersal patterns between STs. We noted that CCs appeared to vary in pathogenicity and that infection caused by the more pathogenic variants is more likely to lead to honey bee colony destruction, as opposed to treatment. The importance of these findings for improving our understanding of disease aetiology and control are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1588-1597
Number of pages10
JournalISME Journal
Early online date6 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014


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