Population Analysis of Vibrio cholerae in Aquatic Reservoirs Reveals a Novel Sister Species (Vibrio paracholerae sp. nov.) with a History of Association with Humans

Mohammad Tarequl Islam, Tania Nasreen, Paul C. Kirchberger, Kevin Y.H. Liang, Fabini D. Orata, Fatema Tuz Johura, Nora A.S. Hussain, Monica S. Im, Cheryl L. Tarr, Munirul Alam, Yann F. Bouchera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most efforts to understand the biology of Vibrio cholerae have focused on a single group, the pandemic-generating lineage harboring the strains responsible for all known cholera pandemics. Consequently, little is known about the diversity of this species in its native aquatic environment. To understand the differences in the V. cholerae populations inhabiting regions with a history of cholera cases and those lacking such a history, a comparative analysis of population composition was performed. Little overlap was found in lineage compositions between those in Dhaka, Bangladesh (where cholera is endemic), located in the Ganges Delta, and those in Falmouth, MA (no known history of cholera), a small coastal town on the United States east coast. The most striking difference was the presence of a group of related lineages at high abundance in Dhaka, which was completely absent from Falmouth. Phylogenomic analysis revealed that these lineages form a cluster at the base of the phylogeny for the V. cholerae species and were sufficiently differentiated genetically and phenotypically to form a novel species. A retrospective search revealed that strains from this species have been anecdotally found from around the world and were isolated as early as 1916 from a British soldier in Egypt suffering from choleraic diarrhea. In 1935, Gardner and Venkatraman unofficially referred to a member of this group as Vibrio paracholerae. In recognition of this earlier designation, we propose the name Vibrio paracholerae sp. nov. for this bacterium. Genomic analysis suggests a link with human populations for this novel species and substantial interaction with its better-known sister species. IMPORTANCE Cholera continues to remain a major public health threat around the globe. Understanding the ecology, evolution, and environmental adaptation of the causative agent (Vibrio cholerae) and tracking the emergence of novel lineages with pathogenic potential are essential to combat the problem. In this study, we investigated the population dynamics of Vibrio cholerae in an inland locality, which is known as endemic for cholera, and compared them with those of a cholera-free coastal location. We found the consistent presence of the pandemic-generating lineage of V. cholerae in Dhaka, where cholera is endemic, and an exclusive presence of a lineage phylogenetically distinct from other V. cholerae lineages. Our study suggests that this lineage represents a novel species that has pathogenic potential and a human link to its environmental abundance. The possible association with human populations and coexistence and interaction with toxigenic V. cholerae in the natural environment make this potential human pathogen an important subject for future studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Vibrio cholerae
  • cholera
  • novel species
  • paracholera
  • population genomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Ecology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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