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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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Pauline L. Kamath, Jeffrey T. Foster, Kevin P. Drees, Gordon Luikart, Christine Quance, Neil J. Anderson, P. Ryan Clarke, Eric K. Cole, Mark L. Drew, William H. Edwards, Jack C. Rhyan, John J. Treanor, Rick L. Wallen, Patrick J. White, Suelee Robbe-Austerman & Paul C. Cross. Genomics reveals historic and contemporary transmission dynamics of a bacterial disease among wildlife and livestock. Nature Communications 7, Article number: 11448 (2016) https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms11448