Insignia is a novel DNA computational system which uses highly efficient algorithms to compare bacterial genomes and to identify specific DNA signatures to distinguish a target bacterium, or group of bacteria, from all other known bacterial species. It is currently being validated using different bacterial groups, including Vibrio spp. In this study, the genomic analysis by Insignia was conducted on Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a halophilic gram-negative bacteria which constitutes a leading cause of seafood-borne disease. Insignia was used to identify 37 V. parahaemolyticus-specific signatures and to design PCR assays to validate the representative signature sequences by TaqMan essays. The 37 assays targeted loci distributed around the genome and detected genes coding for hypothetical proteins and for proteins involved in adhesion, starvation and virulence. A panel of V. parahaemolyticus environmental strains isolated from the North Adriatic Sea (Italy) and from the Black Sea (Georgia) was used to validate the selected signatures. The signature assays revealed both sensitive and specific and the method allowed a more accurate identification of the tested bacterial strains at the species level when compared to biochemical and PCR standard methods. Using Insignia, it was possible to distinguish two different groups among the strains previously identified as V. parahaemolyticus: most of the strains were included in a "V. parahaemolyticus-like group" showing nearly all of the signatures assayed while a small group of 10 strains contained only a few of the signatures tested. By sequencing the 16S rDNA of this latter group, it was confirmed that they were not V. parahaemolyticus but in fact belonged to other Vibrio species. No significant genome-wide differences were detected between the strains isolated in Italy and in Georgia though the very different geographical origin.
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