Saturday, May 25, 2013

This Month in Blastocystis Research (MAY 2013)

Now, we have a situation. Last month, I came up with the idea of the post series 'This Month in Blastocystis Research' developed for discussing a couple of papers on Blastocystis appearing recently in pubmed. However, this month only one Blastocystis release has emerged. It is in Turkish with an English abstract and so I'm not in the optimum position to review it. Overall, I'm not entirely clear on why the authors have chosen to publish the work. The paper is apparently about PCR amplification of Blastocystis specific DNA (using the barcoding primers) with subsequent cloning with a view to producing subtype information that could have been obtained simply by direct sequencing. At least when the goal is to subtype a particular positive sample, PCR + sequencing should suffice. Obviously, if you want to explore intra-subtype diversity, cloning is very useful. But it is time consuming for subtyping and also expensive. Therefore, for plain subtyping, I recommend the protocol that I put out on youtube a few weeks ago. The phylogenetic tree produced by the authors looks unfamiliar to me in that the clustering of the subtypes is quite different from the phylogenies inferred by other groups; this should not have anything to do with the SSU rDNA region explored; rather it may boil down to issues with alignment editing or the algorithm chosen for phylogenetic analysis. Well, we should be looking forward to more subtype data from Turkey! Incidentally, I was once involved in a Turkish study where we found ST1, ST2 and ST3 mainly, while ST4 was rare.

Since there are no other papers to discuss, I will try and compensate by providing a link to 'This Week in Parasitism' hosted by Vincent Racaniello and Dickson Despommier, who are going through a case of Blastocystis possibly contracted abroad during a field trip to Bali. Now, there's a lot of digression in this pod cast (some of which is actually quite enjoyable). Also, I do not agree with all the things said about Blastocystis in this conversation. If you cannot make the link work, you can access the podcast directly here

I do think it's a bit strange though that given the clinical focus of the talk, there is not a single word on paromomycin. But I guess the overall take home message is that treating Blastocystis is really difficult, and no single type of therapeutic intervention is consistently efficacious. Unfortunately, the two gentlemen do not touch upon the genetic diversity of Blastocystis, which is probably one of the most interesting things about Blastocystis currently known, and which may also be part of the reason why no single treatment modality seems to work every single time.

I wonder whether Blastocystis will always be stuck in shades of grey... or whether at some point we'll be able to make some clear-cut conclusions that will be useful for clinicians and clinical microbiologists...? I hope! And I believe we are certainly on our way!

Anyway, enjoy a bit of Blastocystis causerie!

Suggested reading:
Sakalar C, Uyar Y, Yürürdurmaz MA, Tokar S, Yeşilkaya H, Gürbüz E, Kuk S, & Yazar S (2013). [Cloning of Blastocystis sp Subtype 3 Small-subunit Ribosomal DNA]. Turkiye Parazitolojii Dergisi / Turkiye Parazitoloji Dernegi = Acta Parasitologica Turcica / Turkish Society for Parasitology, 37 (1), 13-8 PMID: 23619039

Ozyurt M, Kurt O, Mølbak K, Nielsen HV, Haznedaroglu T, & Stensvold CR (2008). Molecular epidemiology of Blastocystis infections in Turkey. Parasitology International, 57 (3), 300-6 PMID: 18337161

Nature Editorial (2013). Shades of grey Nature, 497 (7450), 410-410 DOI: 10.1038/497410a

Friday, May 17, 2013

Abstract Submission Deadline for the European Congress on Tropical Medicine and International Health Extended!

Just a notification about the extended abstract submission deadline for the 8th European Congress on Tropical Medicine and International Health which is now 20th of May, 2013. Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark is Patron of the conference, which will take place 10-13 September, 2013, in Copenhagen.

The 5th Conference of the Scandinavian-Baltic Society for Parasitology will be held in conjunction with the TM&IH meeting.

Hope to see you at the conference... Unconfirmed rumours have it that quite a few Blastocystis abstracts have been accepted already...

To submit an abstract, please go here. So, please hurry up and submit!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wrap-Up of Cell Symposium on Microbiome and Host Health

For a parasitologist with a major interest in novel technology like me the Cell Symposium on Microbiome and Host Health (#CMHH) was a challenging, yet stimulating tour de force in bacteriology and immunology, and I realise that gut fungi and protists still fly below the radar of intestinal microbiome research.

The announced line-up of speakers was impressive, and although we missed e.g. Drs Peter Turnbaugh and Fergus Shanahan, we were still spoiled with brilliant talks.

Most of the projects and results presented on the meeting were based on studies on bacterial diversity and structure by either targeted 16S 454 sequencing or metagenomics, while studies of gene function and the 'super-organism' that is the complete microbiome (including the  fungome and protistome I should say, since these genomes are much larger than bacterial ones) were still scarce if represented at all.

Since my focus is on intestinal parasites, my main interest in the vast universe of the human microbiome naturally orbits around the intestinal microbiome. Although there is still a long way to go - due to e.g. significant differences in methodologies and lack of consensus on the analytical basis for 'enterotypes'  - we are slowly but steadily building up a picture of the effect that the human microbiome has on health and disease. Hundreds of species live and have important functions in our gut, to cite Dr Peer Bork, but these species have also been associated with more than 30 human diseases, even neurological ones. Shifts in the composition of the microbiome are associated with an expanding list of chronic diseases that includes obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and diabetes (Dr Ruth Ley).

Many things may influence our susceptibility to intestinal pathogens, including competition between species (colonisation resistance), the ability of some bacteria to synthesise antimicrobial compounds or stimulate innate immune defenses. Differences in susceptibility to infection may boil down to differences in antimicrobial compounds secreted by our individual microbiota (Dr Michael Fischbach). Bacteroides fragilis is a commensal immunoregulatory microbe mediating major effects through a single molecule, polysaccharide A (Dr Dennis Kasper); polysaccharide A mediates immunoregulation via innate and cognate immune system collaboration.

The list of buzz words was endless, and patterns of cause and effect in this fascinating hubbub of cutting edge science difficult to keep apart - but then again, - many pathways and interactions leading to alterations in gut flora and thereby alteration in host clinical phenotype may result from the complex interplay of any type of intervention (diet, antibiotics, surgery (gastric bypass), microbe exposure, etc.) and host genetics. Dr Wendy Garrett used some of her time to address the fact that antibiotic treatment may lead to more significant perturbation of the intestinal microbiota than e.g. diets and immunoregulation, and she also encouraged thoughts on how to approach causality in studies of microbial communities.

Other things that are interesting include how bacteria "talk" together by quorum sensing to control gene expression and crosstalk between beneficial bacteria (e.g. probiotics) and the intestinal ecosystem, and how these systems can be influenced altogether.

Computer technology - the Creed of today: The Barcelona Supercomputing Centre (with 'Mare Nostrum') located in a former chapel. Source.

So, while focus is still on the trillions of bacteria we have in our gut, we hope that it won't be long before common eukaryotic components of the intestinal microbiome will be studied and analysed alongside with bacterial communities. It says on Wikipedia that targeted studies of eukaryotic and viral communities are limited and subject to the challenge of excluding host DNA from amplification and the reduced eukaryotic and viral biomass in the human microbiome. Excluding host DNA is challenging, but not impossible, and who has actually documented that eukaryotic biomass in the human microbiome is 'reduced'?

The meeting was very well organised and took place at the Sheraton Hotel in Lisbon. I've storified a list of the #CMHH tweets here in case you are interested in more 'headlines'. I apologise for any misquotes.

Further reading:

Koren O, Knights D, Gonzalez A, Waldron L, Segata N, Knight R, Huttenhower C, & Ley RE (2013). A guide to enterotypes across the human body: meta-analysis of microbial community structures in human microbiome datasets. PLoS Computational Biology, 9 (1) PMID: 23326225

Andersen LO, Vedel Nielsen H, & Stensvold CR (2013). Waiting for the human intestinal Eukaryotome. The ISME Journal PMID: 23407309

Ivanov II, & Honda K (2012). Intestinal commensal microbes as immune modulators. Cell Host & Microbe, 12 (4), 496-508 PMID: 23084918

Brown J, de Vos WM, Distefano PS, Doré J, Huttenhower C, Knight R, Lawley TD, Raes J, & Turnbaugh P (2013). Translating the human microbiome. Nature Biotechnology, 31 (4), 304-8 PMID: 23563424

Blaser M, Bork P, Fraser C, Knight R, & Wang J (2013). The microbiome explored: recent insights and future challenges. Nature Reviews. Microbiology, 11 (3), 213-7 PMID: 23377500

Friday, May 10, 2013

Cell Symposium: Microbiome & Host Health - Lisbon 2013

My colleagues from Statens Serum Institut and I are heading to Lisbon, Portugal, tomorrow morning to attend the Cell Symposium on Microbiome and Host Health (link may be really busy now).

We are bringing a poster displaying some of our work related to our GUT18S project: A Novel Approach For Eukaryotic Phylogenetic Interrogation Of Clinical Samples Using Next Generation Sequencing Of SSU rRNA Genes; a pdf version of the poster can be downloaded here.

The GUT18S work is partly funded by the Marie Curie Actions (FP7) program.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

YouTube Video on Blastocystis Subtyping

For those who want to venture into Blastocystis subtyping - the easy way - I've recorded and uploaded a video on YouTube fyi.

For even more information, please visit a selection of relevant blog posts here.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

More on 'Bugs as Drugs'

This morning, I was doing a lazy ramble through my favourite blogs and found a post by Carl Zimmer on 'Bugs as Drugs' - primarily on probiotics. And I just came to realise that there is a very interesting tendency these years of using bugs as drugs in a variety of fields.

We are all very much aware of the worries about the increase in antibiotic resistance in bacterial and other pathogens. Moreover, it appears that sometimes antibiotic treatment leads to imbalance in the intestinal microbiota (dysbiosis); a well-known example is intractable Clostridium difficile infections which can potentially lead to pseudomembranous colitis.

C. difficile infection can lead to pseudomembranous colitis
Earlier this year, an article appeared in the renowned The New England Journal of Medicine on a randomised, controlled treatment study on duodenal infusion of donor faeces for recurrent C. difficile. The researchers found that the infusion of donor faeces was significantly more effective for the treatment of recurrent C. difficile infection than the use of vancomycin, the drug usually recommended in this situation. In fact 15/16 patients had resolution of C. difficile-associated diarrhoea upon first or second infusion; however, it might be worthwhile 'shopping around' for the right donor.

And so, how are these faecal transplants developed and administered? Well, it appears that donors are volunteers who have been through a selection process based on a questionnaire on risk factors of infectious diseases. Then donor faeces is screened for parasites (including Blastocystis and Dientamoeba - yes, it warms my heart to see this so explicitly spelled out in the paper... but I wonder which methods were used - it doesn't say!) and enteropathogenic bacteria. Moreover, blood samples from donors are screened for e.g. HIV, hepatitis and antibodies against e.g. Entamoeba histolytica and Strongyloides. Next, a donor pool is created with repeated screening every 4 months. On the day of infusion, faeces is collected by the donor and immediately brought to the hospital, where it is diluted with 500 mL of sterile saline. The solution is stirred, and the supernatant strained and poured in a sterile bottle. Within 6 h after collection of the faecal sample by the donor, the solution is infused through a nasoduodenal tube (2 to 3 mintues per 50 mL). Patients are subsequently monitored for 2 h. Apparently, this is how it works!