Background: Clostridium perfringens causes a range of diseases in animals and humans including necrotic enteritis in chickens and food poisoning and gas gangrene in humans. Necrotic enteritis is of concern in commercial chicken production due to the cost of the implementation of infection control measures and to productivity losses. This study has focused on the genomic analysis of a range of chicken-derived C. perfringens isolates, from around the world and from different years. The genomes were sequenced and compared with 20 genomes available from public databases, which were from a diverse collection of isolates from chickens, other animals, and humans. We used a distance based phylogeny that was constructed based on gene content rather than sequence identity. Similarity between strains was defined as the number of genes that they have in common divided by their total number of genes. In this type of phylogenetic analysis, evolutionary distance can be interpreted in terms of evolutionary events such as acquisition and loss of genes, whereas the underlying properties (the gene content) can be interpreted in terms of function. We also compared these methods to the sequence-based phylogeny of the core genome. Results: Distinct pathogenic clades of necrotic enteritis-causing C. perfringens were identified. They were characterised by variable regions encoded on the chromosome, with predicted roles in capsule production, adhesion, inhibition of related strains, phage integration, and metabolism. Some strains have almost identical genomes, even though they were isolated from different geographic regions at various times, while other highly distant genomes appear to result in similar outcomes with regard to virulence and pathogenesis. Conclusions: The high level of diversity in chicken isolates suggests there is no reliable factor that defines a chicken strain of C. perfringens, however, disease-causing strains can be defined by the presence of netB-encoding plasmids. This study reveals that horizontal gene transfer appears to play a significant role in genetic variation of the C. perfringens chromosome as well as the plasmid content within strains.
- Clostridium perfringens
- Necrotic enteritis