The development of rapid genotyping methods for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus

Stephens, Alex J. (2008) The development of rapid genotyping methods for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.

Alexander Stephens Thesis.pdf.


Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is an important human pathogen that is endemic in hospitals all over the world. It has more recently emerged as a serious threat to the general public in the form of community-acquired MRSA. MRSA has been implicated in a wide variety of diseases, ranging from skin infections and food poisoning to more severe and potentially fatal conditions, including; endocarditis, septicaemia and necrotising pneumonia. Treatment of MRSA disease is complicated and can be unsuccessful due to the bacterium's remarkable ability to develop antibiotic resistance.

The considerable economic and public health burden imposed by MRSA has fuelled attempts by researchers to understand the evolution of virulent and antibiotic resistant strains and thereby improve epidemiological management strategies. Central to MRSA transmission management strategies is the implementation of active surveillance programs, via which unique genetic fingerprints, or genotypes, of each strain can be identified. Despite numerous advances in MRSA genotyping methodology, there remains a need for a rapid, reproducible, cost-effective method that is capable of producing a high level of genotype discrimination, whilst being suitable for high throughput use. Consequently, the fundamental aim of this thesis was to develop a novel MRSA genotyping strategy incorporating these benefits.

This thesis explored the possibility that the development of more efficient genotyping strategies could be achieved through careful identification, and then simple interrogation, of multiple, unlinked DNA loci that exhibit progressively increasing mutation rates. The baseline component of the MRSA genotyping strategy described in this thesis is the allele-specific real-time PCR interrogation of slowly evolving core single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). The genotyping SNP set was identified previously from the Multi-locus sequence typing (MLST) sequence database using an in-house software package named Minimum SNPs. As discussed in Chapter Three, the genotyping utility of the SNP set was validated on 107 diverse Australian MRSA isolates, which were largely clustered into groups of related strains as defined by MLST. To increase the resolution of the SNP genotyping method, a selection of binary virulence genes and antimicrobial resistance plasmids were tested that were successful at sub typing the SNP groups.

A comprehensive MRSA genotyping strategy requires characterisation of the clonal background as well as interrogation of the hypervariable Staphylococcal Cassette Chromosome mec (SCCmec) that carries the β-lactam resistance gene, mecA. SCCmec genotyping defines the MRSA lineages; however, current SCCmec genotyping methods have struggled to handle the increasing number of SCCmec elements resulting from a recent explosion of comparative genomic analyses. Chapter Four of this thesis collates the known SCCmec binary marker diversity and demonstrates the ability of Minimum SNPs to identify systematically a minimal set of binary markers capable of generating maximum genotyping resolution. A number of binary targets were identified that indeed permit high resolution genotyping of the SCCmec element. Furthermore, the SCCmec genotyping targets are amenable for combinatorial use with the MLST genotyping SNPs and therefore are suitable as the second component of the MRSA genotyping strategy.

To increase genotyping resolution of the slowly evolving MLST SNPs and the SCCmec binary markers, the analysis of a hypervariable repeat region was required. Sequence analysis of the Staphylococcal protein A (spa) repeat region has been conducted frequently with great success. Chapter Five describes the characterisation of the tandem repeats in the spa gene using real-time PCR and high resolution melting (HRM) analysis. Since the melting rate and precise point of dissociation of double stranded DNA is dependent on the size and sequence of the PCR amplicon, the HRM method was used successfully to identify 20 of 22 spa sequence types, without the need for DNA sequencing.

The accumulation of comparative genomic information has allowed the systematic identification of key MRSA genomic polymorphisms to genotype MRSA efficiently. If implemented in its entirety, the strategy described in this thesis would produce efficient and deep-rooted genotypes. For example, an unknown MRSA isolate would be positioned within the MLST defined population structure, categorised based on its SCCmec lineage, then subtyped based on the polymorphic spa repeat region. Overall, by combining the genotyping methods described here, an integrated and novel MRSA genotyping strategy results that is efficacious for both long and short term investigations. Furthermore, an additional benefit is that each component can be performed easily and cost-effectively on a standard real-time PCR platform.

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ID Code: 20172
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Giffard, Philip & Huygens, Flavia
Additional Information: Recipient of 2008 Outstanding Thesies Award
Keywords: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA, single nucleotide polymorphism, SNP, Multi-locus sequence typing, MLST, genotyping, high resolution melt, HRM, Minimum SNPs, real-time PCR, Staphylococcal cassette chromosome mec, SCCmec, Staphylococcal protein A, spa, comparative genomics, bioinformatics, binary markers
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Past > Schools > School of Life Sciences
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 28 Apr 2009 02:10
Last Modified: 11 Jun 2013 06:28

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