Characterization of Cronobacter sakazakii Strains Originating from Plant-Origin Foods Using Comparative Genomic Analyses and Zebrafish Infectivity Studies

Hyein Jang, Athmanya Eshwar, Angelika Lehner, Jayanthi Gangiredla, Isha R. Patel, Junia Jean Gilles Beaubrun, Hannah R. Chase, Flavia Negrete, Samantha Finkelstein, Leah M. Weinstein, Katie Ko, Nicole Addy, Laura Ewing, Jungha Woo, Youyoung Lee, Kunho Seo, Ziad Jaradat, Shabarinath Srikumar, Séamus Fanning, Roger StephanBen D. Tall, Gopal R. Gopinath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Cronobacter sakazakii continues to be isolated from ready-to-eat fresh and frozen produce, flours, dairy powders, cereals, nuts, and spices, in addition to the conventional sources of powdered infant formulae (PIF) and PIF production environments. To understand the sequence diversity, phylogenetic relationship, and virulence of C. sakazakii originating from plant-origin foods, comparative molecular and genomic analyses, and zebrafish infection (ZI) studies were applied to 88 strains. Whole genome sequences of the strains were generated for detailed bioinformatic analysis. PCR analysis showed that all strains possessed a pESA3-like virulence plasmid similar to reference C. sakazakii clinical strain BAA-894. Core genome analysis confirmed a shared genomic backbone with other C. sakazakii strains from food, clinical and environmental strains. Emerging nucleotide diversity in these plant-origin strains was highlighted using single nucleotide polymorphic alleles in 2000 core genes. DNA hybridization analyses using a pan-genomic microarray showed that these strains clustered according to sequence types (STs) identified by multi-locus sequence typing (MLST). PHASTER analysis identified 185 intact prophage gene clusters encompassing 22 different prophages, including three intact Cronobacter prophages: ENT47670, ENT39118, and phiES15. AMRFinderPlus analysis identified the CSA family class C β-lactamase gene in all strains and a plasmid-borne mcr-9.1 gene was identified in three strains. ZI studies showed that some plant-origin C. sakazakii display virulence comparable to clinical strains. Finding virulent plant-origin C. sakazakii possessing significant genomic features of clinically relevant STs suggests that these foods can serve as potential transmission vehicles and supports widening the scope of continued surveillance for this important foodborne pathogen.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1396
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Cronobacter sakazakii
  • draft genomes
  • dried foods
  • plant-origin foods
  • whole genome sequencing (WGS)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Virology


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