Using whole genome sequencing to study American foulbrood epidemiology in honeybees
American foulbrood (AFB), caused by Paenibacillus larvae, is a devastating disease in honeybees. In most countries, the disease is controlled through compulsory burning of symptomatic colonies causing major economic losses in apiculture. The pathogen is endemic to honeybees world-wide and is readily transmitted via the movement of hive equipment or bees. Molecular epidemiology of AFB currently largely relies on placing isolates in one of four ERIC-genotypes. However, a more powerful alternative is multi-locus sequence typing (MLST) using whole-genome sequencing (WGS), which allows for high-resolution studies of disease outbreaks. To evaluate WGS as a tool for AFB-epidemiology, we applied core genome MLST (cgMLST) on isolates from a recent outbreak of AFB in Sweden. The high resolution of the cgMLST allowed different bacterial clones involved in the disease outbreak to be identified and to trace the source of infection. The source was found to be a beekeeper who had sold bees to two other beekeepers, proving the epidemiological link between them. No such conclusion could have been made using conventional MLST or ERIC-typing. This is the first time that WGS has been used to study the epidemiology of AFB. The results show that the technique is very powerful for high-resolution tracing of AFB-outbreaks.