Background: An isolate originally labeled Bacillus megaterium CDC 684 was found to contain both pXO1 and pXO2, was non-hemolytic, sensitive to gamma-phage, and produced both the protective antigen and the poly-D-glutamic acid capsule. These phenotypes prompted Ezzell et al., (J. Clin. Microbiol. 28:223) to reclassify this isolate to Bacillus anthracis in 1990.Results: We demonstrate that despite these B. anthracis features, the isolate is severely attenuated in a guinea pig model. This prompted whole genome sequencing and closure. The comparative analysis of CDC 684 to other sequenced B. anthracis isolates and further analysis reveals: a) CDC 684 is a close relative of a virulent strain, Vollum A0488; b) CDC 684 defines a new B. anthracis lineage (at least 51 SNPs) that includes 15 other isolates; c) the genome of CDC 684 contains a large chromosomal inversion that spans 3.3 Mbp; d) this inversion has caused a displacement of the usual spatial orientation of the origin of replication (ori) to the termination of replication (ter) from 180° in wild-type B. anthracis to 120° in CDC 684 and e) this isolate also has altered growth kinetics in liquid media.Conclusions: We propose two alternative hypotheses explaining the attenuated phenotype of this isolate. Hypothesis 1 suggests that the skewed ori/ter relationship in CDC 684 has altered its DNA replication and/or transcriptome processes resulting in altered growth kinetics and virulence capacity. Hypothesis 2 suggests that one or more of the single nucleotide polymorphisms in CDC 684 has altered the expression of a regulatory element or other genes necessary for virulence.
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