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Summary

We report the autochthonous existence of Vibrio cholerae in coastal waters of Iceland, a geothermally active country where cholera is absent and has never been reported. Seawater, mussel and macroalgae samples were collected close to, and distant from, sites where geothermal activity causes a significant increase in water temperature during low tides. Vibrio cholerae was detected only at geothermal-influenced sites during low-tides. None of the V. cholerae isolates encoded cholera toxin (ctxAB) and all were non-O1/non-O139 serogroups. However, all isolates encoded other virulence factors that are associated with cholera as well as extra-intestinal V. cholerae infections. The virulence factors were functional at temperatures of coastal waters of Iceland, suggesting an ecological role. It is noteworthy that V. cholerae was isolated from samples collected at sites distant from anthropogenic influence, supporting the conclusion that V. cholerae is autochthonous to the aquatic environment of Iceland.