Random sorting of Campylobacter jejuni phase variants due to a narrow bottleneck during colonization of broiler chickens.
journal contributionposted on 03.07.2018, 11:59 by Joseph J. Wanford, Lea Lango-Scholey, Harald Nothaft, Yue Hu, Christine M. Szymanski, Christopher D. Bayliss
Phase variation (PV), involving stochastic switches in gene expression, is exploited by the human pathogen Campylobacter jejuni to adapt to different environmental and host niches. Phase-variable genes of C. jejuni modulate expression of multiple surface determinants, and hence may influence host colonization. Population bottlenecks can rapidly remove the diversity generated by PV, and strict single-cell bottlenecks can lead to propagation of PV states with highly divergent phenotypes. Using a combination of high-throughput fragment size analysis and comparison with in vivo and in silico bottleneck models, we have characterized a narrow population bottleneck during the experimental colonization of broiler chickens with C. jejuni strain 81-176. We identified high levels of variation in five PV genes in the inoculum, and subsequently, massively decreased population diversity following colonization. Each bird contained a dominant five-gene phasotype that was present in the inoculum indicative of random sorting through a narrow, non-selective bottleneck during colonization. These results are evidence of the potential for confounding effects of PV on in vivo studies of Campylobacter colonization factors and poultry vaccine studies. Our results are also an argument for population bottlenecks as mediators of stochastic variability in the propensity to survive through the food chain and cause clinical human disease.