Geographically structured genomic diversity of non-human primate-infecting Treponema pallidum subsp. Pertenue.

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Individuals in several populations of wild non-human primates (NHP) in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with Treponema pallidum subsp. pertenue (TPE), a pathogen causing yaws disease in humans. In humans, yaws is characterized by skin lesions of the extremities and face. In contrast, Treponema pallidum subsp. pallidum, which causes venereal syphilis in humans, has not been observed in NHPs. We describe a combination of yaws- and syphilis-like symptoms in a sooty mangabey (Cercocebus atys atys) social group in Taï National Park (TNP), Côte d’Ivoire. We sampled lesioned animals and collected and tested NHP bones from field sites across sub-Saharan Africa. We were able to reconstruct four genomes from swabs/biopsies and five partial genomes from bone samples. Phylogenomic analyses revealed that syphilis-like lesions and yaws-like lesions in TNP were caused by a large diversity of TPE strains. Additionally, simian TPE isolates did not form monophyletic clades based on the host species or the types of symptoms caused by an isolate, but rather clustered by geographic origin. This is suggestive of cross-species transmission of TPE within ecosystems or environmental exposure leading to acquisition of closely related strains.

Erin G. Wessling
Erin G. Wessling
Postdoctoral Fellow

My research interests include distributed robotics, mobile computing and programmable matter.