Identification of anthrax toxin genes in a bacillus cereus associated with an illness resembling inhalation anthrax

Alex R. Hoffmaster, Jacques Ravel, David A. Rasko, Gail D. Chapman, Michael D. Chute, Chung K. Marston, Barun K. De, Claudio T. Sacchi, Collette Fitzgerald, Leonard W. Mayer, M. C J Maiden, Fergus G. Priest, Margaret Barker, Lingxia Jiang, Regina Z. Cer, Jennifer Rilstone, Scott N. Peterson, Robbin S. Weyant, Darrell R. Galloway, Timothy D. ReadTanja Popovic, Claire M. Fraser

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    391 Citations (Scopus)


    Bacillus anthracis is the etiologic agent of anthrax, an acute fatal disease among mammals. It was thought to differ from Bacillus cereus, an opportunistic pathogen and cause of food poisoning, by the presence of plasmids pXO1 and pXO2, which encode the lethal toxin complex and the poly-?-D-glutamic acid capsule, respectively. This work describes a non-B. anthracis isolate that possesses the anthrax toxin genes and is capable of causing a severe inhalation anthrax-like illness. Although initial phenotypic and 16S rRNA analysis identified this isolate as B. cereus, the rapid generation and analysis of a high-coverage draft genome sequence revealed the presence of a circular plasmid, named pBCXO1, with 99.6% similarity with the B. anthracis toxin-encoding plasmid, pXO1. Although homologues of the pXO2 encoded capsule genes were not found, a polysaccharide capsule cluster is encoded on a second, previously unidentified plasmid, pBC218. A/J mice challenged with B. cereus G9241 confirmed the virulence of this strain. These findings represent an example of how genomics could rapidly assist public health experts responding not only to clearly identified select agents but also to novel agents with similar pathogenic potentials. In this study, we combined a public health approach with genome analysis to provide insight into the correlation of phenotypic characteristics and their genetic basis.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)8449-8454
    Number of pages6
    JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    Issue number22
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2004


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