Listeria monocytogenes Database

Listeria monocytogenes HPB2262

Project Background

Listeria monocytogenes is the causative agent of listeriosis, a systemic bacterial infection which causes miscarriage in pregnant women and is often fatal to immunocompromised individuals (Farber and Peterkin, 1991; Jurado et al, 1993). In addition, L. monocytogenes is a leading cause of meningitis in neonates and the elderly. Listeriosis is frequently fatal, causing an estimated 500 deaths annually in the US alone, with kill rates as high as 30% in treated individuals, and the fetal death rate caused by Listeria is most likely higher due to an unknown number of unexplained abortions attributable to Listeria.

L. monocytogenes is an NIAID category B bioterrorism agent. This bacterium is particularly dangerous because it can grow at low temperatures and under high salt conditions, and as a result it is commonly spread by contaminated food, such as soft cheese and meat products, even when they have been properly stored. Several large outbreaks of listeriosis have been traced back to food packaging plants, and we will be sequencing two strains isolated at the same food plant ten years apart.

Listeria can infect large number of possible mammalian hosts, in addition to birds, insects, and crustaceans. Different strains of Listeria show strong host preference, suggesting that genetic determinants guide host-pathogen interactions (Jeffers, et al. 2001; Weidmann, et al. 1997). Sequencing representative strains showing strong non-human host preference will permit discovery of bacterial factors important for human infection. Comparison with non-human pathogenic strains also will reveal the core complement of Listeria virulence factors. To this end, we are sequencing a number of Listeria animal isolates for comparison with existing and additional human isolates. A series of environmental and food isolates will also be sequenced to provide a measure of background sequence and gene content variability in Listeria.

Project Collaborators

  • Martin Wiedmann, Cornell University
  • Bala Swaminathan, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Peter Lauer, Cerus Corporation
  • Dan Portnoy, UC Berkeley
  • Pascale Cossart, Institut Pasteur
  • Carmen Buchrieser, Institut Pasteur
  • Darren Higgins, Harvard Medical School


  • Farber, J. M. and P. I. Peterkin (1991) Microbiol. Rev. 55, 476-511.
  • Jurado, R. L., et al. (1993) Clin. Infect. Dis. 17, 224.
  • Nelson, K.E., et al. (2004) NAR 32(8):2386-2395.
  • Doumith, M., et al. (2004) Infection and Immunity 72(2):1072-1083.
  • Glaser, P., et al. (2001) Science 294:849-852.
  • Jeffers, G. T. et al. (2001) Microbiol. 147: 1095-1104.
  • Wiedmann, M., et al. (1997) Infect. Immun. 65:2707-2716.

Photo Captions and Credits

The images on the home page are, from left to right:

  1. Electron micrograph of a Listeria bacterium in tissue. CDC/Dr. Balasubr Swaminathan; Peggy Hayes. Photo: Elizabeth White.
  2. Electron micrograph of a flagellated Listeria monocytogenes bacterium, Magnified 41,250X. CDC/Dr. Balasubr Swaminathan; Peggy Hayes. Photo: Elizabeth White.
  3. This fluorescence micrograph, provided by Dr. Peter Lauer of Cerus Corp., shows Listeria monocytogenes strain 10403S at 5 hr. post infection in J774 cells. Bacteria (green) were stained with polyclonal anti-listeria O antigen antibody and a FITC secondary. Actin (red) was stained with Rhodamine phalloidin and DNA (blue) was visualized with DAPI.
  4. The lifecycle diagram was provided by Professor Daniel Portnoy in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley. A detailed description of the Listeria monocytogenes lifecycle can be found at
  5. The photomicrograph shows a kidney epithelial cell from Potoroo tridactylis infected with Listeria monocytogenes. Filamentous actin is stained red with rhodamine phalloidin. The bacteria are stained green by indirect immunofluorescence with polyclonal antibody raised against Listeria monocytogenes. Provided by Professor Daniel Portnoy in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley.