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Keywords:

  • disease emergence;
  • epidemiology;
  • host associations;
  • Zoonotic disease

Abstract

Zoonotic pathogens often infect several animal species, and gene flow among populations infecting different host species may affect the biological traits of the pathogen including host specificity, transmissibility and virulence. The bacterium Campylobacter jejuni is a widespread zoonotic multihost pathogen, which frequently causes gastroenteritis in humans. Poultry products are important transmission vehicles to humans, but the bacterium is common in other domestic and wild animals, particularly birds, which are a potential infection source. Population genetic studies of C. jejuni have mainly investigated isolates from humans and domestic animals, so to assess C. jejuni population structure more broadly and investigate host adaptation, 928 wild bird isolates from Europe and Australia were genotyped by multilocus sequencing and compared to the genotypes recovered from 1366 domestic animal and human isolates. Campylobacter jejuni populations from different wild bird species were distinct from each other and from those from domestic animals and humans, and the host species of wild bird was the major determinant of C. jejuni genotype, while geographic origin was of little importance. By comparison, C. jejuni differentiation was restricted between more phylogenetically diverse farm animals, indicating that domesticated animals may represent a novel niche for C. jejuni and thereby driving the evolution of those bacteria as they exploit this niche. Human disease is dominated by isolates from this novel domesticated animal niche.