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The correct interpretation of microbial sequencing data applied to surveillance and outbreak investigation depends on accessible genomic databases to provide vital genetic context. Our aim was to construct and describe a United Kingdom MRSA database containing over 1000 methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) genomes drawn from England, Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and the Republic of Ireland over a decade. We sequenced 1013 MRSA submitted to the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy by 46 laboratories between 2001 and 2010. Each isolate was assigned to a regional healthcare referral network in England and was otherwise grouped based on country of origin. Phylogenetic reconstructions were used to contextualize MRSA outbreak investigations and to detect the spread of resistance. The majority of isolates (n = 783, 77%) belonged to CC22, which contains the dominant United Kingdom epidemic clone (EMRSA-15). There was marked geographic structuring of EMRSA-15, consistent with widespread dissemination prior to the sampling decade followed by local diversification. The addition of MRSA genomes from two outbreaks and one pseudo-outbreak demonstrated the certainty with which outbreaks could be confirmed or refuted. We identified local and regional differences in antibiotic resistance profiles, with examples of local expansion, as well as widespread circulation of mobile genetic elements across the bacterial population. We have generated a resource for the future surveillance and outbreak investigation of MRSA in the United Kingdom and Ireland and have shown the value of this during outbreak investigation and tracking of antimicrobial resistance.

Original publication




Journal article


Genome research

Publication Date





263 - 270


Department of Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, United Kingdom; Pathogen Genomics, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton CB10 1SA, United Kingdom;


Humans, Staphylococcal Infections, Molecular Diagnostic Techniques, Sequence Analysis, DNA, Disease Outbreaks, Phylogeny, Methicillin Resistance, Genome, Bacterial, Ireland, Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Epidemiological Monitoring, United Kingdom