Background: The World Health Organization has categorized plague as a re-emerging disease and the potential for Yersinia pestis to also be used as a bioweapon makes the identification of new drug targets against this pathogen a priority. Environmental temperature is a key signal which regulates virulence of the bacterium. The bacterium normally grows outside the human host at 28 degrees C. Therefore, understanding the mechanisms that the bacterium used to adapt to a mammalian host at 37 degrees C is central to the development of vaccines or drugs for the prevention or treatment of human disease.
Results: Using a library of over 1 million Y. pestis CO92 random mutants and transposon-directed insertion site sequencing, we identified 530 essential genes when the bacteria were cultured at 28 degrees C. When the library of mutants was subsequently cultured at 37 degrees C we identified 19 genes that were essential at 37 degrees C but not at 28 degrees C, including genes which encode proteins that play a role in enabling functioning of the type III secretion and in DNA replication and maintenance. Using genome-scale metabolic network reconstruction we showed that growth conditions profoundly influence the physiology of the bacterium, and by combining computational and experimental approaches we were able to identify 54 genes that are essential under a broad range of conditions.
Conclusions: Using an integrated computational-experimental approach we identify genes which are required for growth at 37 degrees C and under a broad range of environments may be the best targets for the development of new interventions to prevent or treat plague in humans.