Deep evolutionary history of bacterial pathogens


  • Prof Mark Achtman

    University of Warwick

Project summary

How old are bacterial pathogens and what evolutionary steps have they undergone? Despite all the genomes that have been analysed since 1995, we do not understand the broad evolutionary history of the bacterial pathogens that threaten humanity. 

Comparative genomics has reconstructed the demographics of pathogens that emerged a few decades ago. With the help of ancient genomes (aDNA), genetic lineages that caused diseases such as plague, cholera, tuberculosis and leprosy, have also been reconstructed. These pathogens were easy to deal with because of limited genetic diversity and he rarity recombination. However, other approaches are needed to address the evolutionary history of most bacterial pathogens.
We will use an approach that combines ancient DNA sequences with a broad overview of modern genetic diversity.

We will use the latest developments in aDNA sequencing, devise new bioinformatic approaches for metagenomic analyses and combine them with a big-data overview of modern genetic diversity. We will initially use Salmonella enterica to develop this strategy and then apply it to other pathogens found in aDNA metagenomic samples.

The project will illuminate the global breadth of current bacterial diseases, which has been obscured by the absence of an historical framework.