Variability of SCCmec elements in livestock-associated CC398 MRSA
The most common livestock-associated lineage of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in Western Europe is currently clonal complex (CC) 398. CC398-MRSA spread extensively across livestock populations in several Western European countries, and livestock-derived CC398-MRSA strains can also be detected in humans. Based on their SCCmec elements, different CC398 strains can be distinguished. SCCmec elements of 100 veterinary and human CC398-MRSA isolates from Germany and Austria were examined using DNA microarray-based assays. In addition, 589 published SCC and/or genome sequences of CC398-MRSA (including both, fully finished and partially assembled sequences) were analysed by mapping them to the probe sequences of the microarrays. Several isolates and sequences showed an insertion of a large fragment of CC9 genomic DNA into the CC398 chromosome. Fifteen subtypes of SCCmec elements were detected among the 100 CC398 isolates and 41 subtypes could be discerned among the published CC398 sequences. Eleven of these were also experimentally detected within our strain collection, while four subtypes identified in the isolates where not found among the sequences. A high prevalence of heavy metal resistance genes, especially of czrC, was observed among CC398-MRSA. A possible co-selection of resistances to antibiotics and zinc/copper supplements in animal feed as well as a spill-over of SCCmec elements that have evolved in CC398-MRSA to other, possibly more virulent and/or medically relevant S. aureus lineages might pose public health problems in future.