The extant World War 1 dysentery bacillus NCTC1: A genomic analysis

Kate S. Baker, Alison E. Mather, Hannah McGregor, Paul Coupland, Gemma C. Langridge, Martin Day, Ana Deheer-Graham, Julian Parkhill, Julie E. Russell, Nicholas R. Thomson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Background Shigellosis (previously bacillary dysentery) was the primary diarrhoeal disease of World War 1, but outbreaks still occur in military operations, and shigellosis causes hundreds of thousands of deaths per year in developing nations. We aimed to generate a high-quality reference genome of the historical Shigella flexneri isolate NCTC1 and to examine the isolate for resistance to antimicrobials. Methods In this genomic analysis, we sequenced the oldest extant Shigella flexneri serotype 2a isolate using single-molecule real-time (SMRT) sequencing technology. Isolated from a soldier with dysentery from the British forces fighting on the Western Front in World War 1, this bacterium, NCTC1, was the first isolate accessioned into the National Collection of Type Cultures. We created a reference sequence for NCTC1, investigated the isolate for antimicrobial resistance, and undertook comparative genetics with S flexneri reference strains isolated during the 100 years since World War 1. Findings We discovered that NCTC1 belonged to a 2a lineage of S flexneri, with which it shares common characteristics and a large core genome. NCTC1 was resistant to penicillin and erythromycin, and contained a complement of chromosomal antimicrobial resistance genes similar to that of more recent isolates. Genomic islands gained in the S flexneri 2a lineage over time were predominately associated with additional antimicrobial resistances, virulence, and serotype conversion. Interpretation This S flexneri 2a lineage is a well adapted pathogen that has continued to respond to selective pressures. We have created a valuable historical benchmark for shigellae in the form of a high-quality reference sequence for a publicly available isolate. Funding The Wellcome Trust.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1691-1697
Number of pages7
JournalThe Lancet
Issue number9955
Publication statusPublished - 8 Nov 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, of which KSB, AEM, PC, GCL, JP, and NRT are employees, has received a grant from the Wellcome Trust. JP has received travel expenses from Illumina and Pacific Biosciences. JER, AD-G, and HMcG's institution has received a grant from the Wellcome Trust. MD declares no competing interests.

Funding Information:
We thank Claire Jenkins from the Gastrointestinal Bacteria Reference Unit, Public Health England, Colindale, for antimicrobial resistance testing and other staff at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (WTSI), including David Harris, members of the sequencing teams, and other support staff. Authors from the WTSI (KSB, AEM, PC, GCL, JP, and NRT) were supported by the Wellcome Trust (grant number 098051).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Baker et al. Open Access article distributed under the terms of CC BY.


Dive into the research topics of 'The extant World War 1 dysentery bacillus NCTC1: A genomic analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this