Population genomics: diversity and virulence in the Neisseria.
Advances in high-throughput nucleotide sequencing and bioinformatics make the study of genomes at the population level feasible. Preliminary population genomic studies have explored the relationships among three closely related bacteria, Neisseria meningitidis, Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Neisseria lactamica, which exhibit very different phenotypes with respect to human colonisation. The data obtained have been especially valuable in the establishing of the role of horizontal genetic exchange in bacterial speciation and shaping population structure. In the meningococcus, they have been used to define invasive genetic types, search for virulence factors and potential vaccine components and investigate the effects of vaccines on population structure. These are generic approaches and their application to the Neisseria provides a foretaste for their application to the wider bacterial world.