Burkholderia pseudomallei is a soil-dwelling bacterium and the causative agent of melioidosis. The global burden and distribution of melioidosis is poorly understood, including in the Caribbean. B. pseudomallei was previously isolated from humans and soil in eastern Puerto Rico but the abundance and distribution of B. pseudomallei in Puerto Rico as a whole has not been thoroughly investigated.
We collected 600 environmental samples (500 soil and 100 water) from 60 sites around Puerto Rico. We identified B. pseudomallei by isolating it via culturing and/or using PCR to detect its DNA within complex DNA extracts. Only three adjacent soil samples from one site were positive for B. pseudomallei with PCR; we obtained 55 isolates from two of these samples. The 55 B. pseudomallei isolates exhibited fine-scale variation in the core genome and contained four novel genomic islands. Phylogenetic analyses grouped Puerto Rico B. pseudomallei isolates into a monophyletic clade containing other Caribbean isolates, which was nested inside a larger clade containing all isolates from Central/South America. Other Burkholderia species were commonly observed in Puerto Rico; we cultured 129 isolates from multiple soil and water samples collected at numerous sites around Puerto Rico, including representatives of B. anthina, B. cenocepacia, B. cepacia, B. contaminans, B. glumae, B. seminalis, B. stagnalis, B. ubonensis, and several unidentified novel Burkholderia spp.
B. pseudomallei was only detected in three soil samples collected at one site in north central Puerto Rico with only two of those samples yielding isolates. All previous human and environmental B. pseudomallei isolates were obtained from eastern Puerto Rico. These findings suggest B. pseudomallei is ecologically established and widely dispersed in the environment in Puerto Rico but rare. Phylogeographic patterns suggest the source of B. pseudomallei populations in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the Caribbean may have been Central or South America.