Rapid bacterial genome sequencing: methods and applications in clinical microbiology

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The recent advances in sequencing technologies have given all microbiology laboratories access to whole genome sequencing. Providing that tools for the automated analysis of sequence data and databases for associated meta-data are developed, whole genome sequencing will become a routine tool for large clinical microbiology laboratories. Indeed, the continuing reduction in sequencing costs and the shortening of the ‘time to result’ makes it an attractive strategy in both research and diagnostics. Here, we review how high-throughput sequencing is revolutionizing clinical microbiology and the promise that it still holds. We discuss major applications, which include: (i) identification of target DNA sequences and antigens to rapidly develop diagnostic tools; (ii) precise strain identification for epidemiological typing and pathogen monitoring during outbreaks; and (iii) investigation of strain properties, such as the presence of antibiotic resistance or virulence factors. In addition, recent developments in comparative metagenomics and single-cell sequencing offer the prospect of a better understanding of complex microbial communities at the global and individual levels, providing a new perspective for understanding host–pathogen interactions. Being a high-resolution tool, high-throughput sequencing will increasingly influence diagnostics, epidemiology, risk management, and patient care.

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