Parallel evolution in streptococcus pneumoniae biofilms

Nicholas W.V. Churton, Raju V. Misra, Robert P. Howlin, Raymond N. Allan, Johanna Jefferies, Saul N. Faust, Saheer E. Gharbia, Richard J. Edwards, Stuart C. Clarke, Jeremy S. Webb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Streptococcus pneumoniae is a commensal human pathogen and the causative agent of various invasive and noninvasive diseases. Carriage of the pneumococcus in the nasopharynx is thought to be mediated by biofilm formation, an environment where isogenic populations frequently give rise to morphological colony variants, including small colony variant (SCV) phenotypes. We employed metabolic characterization and whole-genome sequencing of biofilm-derived S. pneumoniae serotype 22F pneumococcal SCVs to investigate diversification during biofilm formation. Phenotypic profiling revealed that SCVs exhibit reduced growth rates, reduced capsule expression, altered metabolic profiles, and increased biofilm formation compared to the ancestral strain. Whole-genome sequencing of 12 SCVs from independent biofilm experiments revealed that all SCVs studied had mutations within the DNA-directed RNA polymerase delta subunit (RpoE). Mutations included four large-scale deletions ranging from 51 to 264 bp, one insertion resulting in a coding frameshift, and seven nonsense single-nucleotide substitutions that result in a truncated gene product. This work links mutations in the rpoE gene to SCV formation and enhanced biofilm development in S. pneumoniae and therefore May have important implications for colonization, carriage, and persistence of the organism. Furthermore, recurrent mutation of the pneumococcal rpoE gene presents an unprecedented level of parallel evolution in pneumococcal biofilm development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1316-1326
Number of pages11
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2016
Externally publishedYes


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