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Genomics reveals historic and contemporary transmission dynamics of a bacterial disease among wildlife and livestock.

Abstract

Whole-genome sequencing has provided fundamental insights into infectious disease epidemiology, but has rarely been used for examining transmission dynamics of a bacterial pathogen in wildlife. In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), outbreaks of brucellosis have increased in cattle along with rising seroprevalence in elk. Here we use a genomic approach to examine Brucella abortus evolution, cross-species transmission and spatial spread in the GYE. We find that brucellosis was introduced into wildlife in this region at least five times. The diffusion rate varies among Brucella lineages (∼3 to 8 km per year) and over time. We also estimate 12 host transitions from bison to elk, and 5 from elk to bison. Our results support the notion that free-ranging elk are currently a self-sustaining brucellosis reservoir and the source of livestock infections, and that control measures in bison are unlikely to affect the dynamics of unrelated strains circulating in nearby elk populations.

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