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Population Genetics of Bacteria: A Tribute to Thomas S. Whittam

Editors: Seth T. Walk1, Peter C. H. Feng2
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Affiliations: 1: Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor, MI 48100; 2: Division of Microbiology, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, College Park, MD 20740
Content Type: Monograph
Format: Hardcover
Publication Year: 2011

Category: Bacterial Pathogenesis

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explores the field of bacterial population genetics by highlighting the work of the late Thomas S. Whittam, one of the field’s leading innovators and pioneers. Dr. Whittam helped develop a statistical understanding of the abundance and distribution of genetic diversity within populations of the model organism Escherichia coli. Best known for his work with enterohemorrhagic E. coli O157:H7, a foodborne pathogen, he developed the STEC Center, an acclaimed collection of pathogenic E. coli strains that continues to support the research of clinical scientists, evolutionary biologists, microbiologists, and population geneticists.

Focusing on the application of bacterial population genetics to pathogenic E. coli, this book brings together a compilation of research projects and ideas stemming from Dr. Whittam’s work. Readers gain a broad perspective on the historical development of bacterial population genetics, which underscores how Dr. Whittam’s research has shaped and defined the field. Next, individual contributions examine E. coli from ecological, evolutionary, and clinical perspectives. Finally, the book provides a detailed explanation of how population genetics principles have guided the investigations of the lethal O157:H7 lineage.

Each chapter has been written by one or more leading experts in bacterial population genetics who have been inspired to expand upon the investigations of Dr. Whittam. Readers will discover how the methodologies that Dr. Whittam used to study pathogenic E. coli and O157:H7 now serve as models to investigate many other pathogenic bacterial populations.

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Quarterly Review of Biology

17 August 2013

The book represents a compilation of chapters on the topics that one way or another were the focus of research of a recently and untimely departed Thomas S. Whittam—a great scientist and individual who had been one of founders of and undisputed leaders in the modern bacterial population genetics and molecular epidemiology. There are 18 chapters contributed by top experts in the field around the globe (from ten different countries). The broad range of topics are organized into four sections, covering general concepts of microbial evolution, molecular epidemiology, bacterial virulence, and ecology. With exception of the chaptersin the first, general section, the book is centered around Escherichia coli, in particular extraintestinal(ExPEC), enteroaggregative (EAEC), shiga toxinproducing(STEC) and, to the greatest extent, enterohemorrhagic(EHEC) pathotypes of the species. However, an informative chapter on Neisseria and Campylobacter is presented as well.

Overall, the contributions are of exceptional quality, certainly a great reflection on the legacy left by Whittam. Many chapters are devoted to the role of horizontal gene transfer on the population structure and dynamics of the E. coli pathogens and bacterial species overall. Ample genomic evidence is presented to illustrate how gene transfer shapes the evolution of pathotypes. Throughout the volume, the topic of natural ecology of pathogenic E. coli—one of the biggest passions of Whittam — can be clearly traced. How do pathogens emerge? What drives their continuous circulation in nature? What are the molecular epidemiology tools that can be used to track them? These and many other important questions are posed and well answered in the book. Virtually every chapter outlines the great contributions made in the field and individual subfields by Whittam, making this volume a true tribute to him.

This book will be very informative for a wide audience—population biologists, molecular epidemiologists, and ecology/evolution instructors, as well as graduate students.

Quarterly Review of Biology

Reviewer: Evgeni V. Sokurenko, Microbiology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

Review Date: June 2013

Microbiology Today

05 March 2013

This is an excellent book, celebrating Thomas Whittam who died in his prime as a key contributor to understanding of the biology of our most important model bacterium. However only 4 of 18 chapters really reflect the title. There is very little digression towards the broader landscape of bacterial diversity in the context of population genetics and evolution. It is largely a wide-ranging compendium of authoritative reviews of the biology of Escherichia coli, with a slant towards evolutionary and population biology with Whittam's contributions to the field in mind, but with much else besides. There is a focus on E. coli as a pathogen, but its wider existence in the environment and as a commensal organism in the digestive tract - the 'niche' - is also reviewed. I recommend the book unreservedly to anyone interested in the broader biology of E. coli and it should be available in any institution where microbiology is taught.

Society for General Microbiology - Microbiology Today

Reviewer: Charles Penn, University of Birmingham

Review Date: August 2012

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