Characterization of Campylobacter jejuni and Campylobacter coli water isolates

Abstract: Campylobacter jejuni and C. coli are together the most common cause of bacterial gastroenteritis in the European Union. Campylobacter can be transmitted to humans via contaminated water, but it is largely unknown how these bacteria survive in water.The aim of this thesis was to better understand the water survival strategies and pathogenic potential of Campylobacter water isolates. For this purpose, C. jejuni and C. coli, originally isolated from incoming water at surface water plants, were characterized using whole genome sequencing, phenotypical assays, water survival experiments and an in vitro infection model.C. jejuni water isolates included both common and uncommon sequence types for human pathogens, whereas C. coli isolates were assigned to clades 2 and 3, associated with environmental sources. For C. jejuni, comparative genomics revealed genes involved in oxidative and aerobic stress response. In C. coli, various carbon metabolism-related sequences were identified in clade 2 isolates and in clade 3 isolates, oxidative stress and putative virulence genes were detected. All water isolates were motile and the majority of C. jejuni isolates, but none of C. coli isolates, were able to form biofilm. C. jejuni survived better than C. coli in untreated well and lake water. Furthermore, in contrast to C. coli, a seasonal difference in survival was observed for C. jejuni with better survival in lake water collected during autumn than in spring. When tested in an in vitro infection model, all water isolates adhered to and induced IL-8 response in HT-29 cells indicating pathogenic potential. However, C. coli clade 3 isolates demonstrated a strong cytotoxic effect on human HT-29 cells leading to rapid cell death. This novel phenomenon was not observed for C. coli clade 2 or C. jejuni isolates.This is, to the best of our knowledge, the first study on Campylobacter water isolates characterized using genomic, phenotypical and in vitro infection analyses. These findings suggest that some Campylobacter isolates might survive better than others in water and water survival patterns shown here help us further understand the seasonality and predominance of water-related C. jejuni infections.