Population genetic studies suggest that Yersinia pestis, the cause of plague, is a clonal pathogen that has recently emerged from Yersinia pseudotuberculosis. Plasmid acquisition is likely to have been a key element in this evolutionary leap from an enteric to a flea-transmitted systemic pathogen. However, the origin of Y. pestis-specific plasmids remains obscure. We demonstrate specific plasmid rearrangements in different Y. pestis strains which distinguish Y. pestis bv. Orientalis strains from other biovars. We also present evidence for plasmid-associated DNA exchange between Y. pestis and the exclusively human pathogen Salmonella enterica serovar Typhi
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