Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) is a major human foodborne pathogen. Numerous Lm outbreaks have been reported worldwide and associated with a high case fatality rate, reinforcing the need for strongly coordinated surveillance and outbreak control. We developed a universally applicable genome-wide strain genotyping approach and investigated the population diversity of Lm using 1,696 isolates from diverse sources and geographical locations. We define, with unprecedented precision, the population structure of Lm, demonstrate the occurrence of international circulation of strains and reveal the extent of heterogeneity in virulence and stress resistance genomic features among clinical and food isolates. Using historical isolates, we show that the evolutionary rate of Lm from lineage I and lineage II is low (∼2.5 × 10-7 substitutions per site per year, as inferred from the core genome) and that major sublineages (corresponding to so-called epidemic clones') are estimated to be at least 50-150 years old. This work demonstrates the urgent need to monitor Lm strains at the global level and provides the unified approach needed for global harmonization of Lm genome-based typing and population biology.
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