Showing posts with label 1st International Blastocystis Symposium. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1st International Blastocystis Symposium. Show all posts

Thursday, November 10, 2016

This Month in Blatstocystis Research (OCT 2016)

A few things to highlight:

I'm very pleased to announce the Special Issue on Blastocystis recently appearing in Parasitology International - go here for the list of contents. The papers included in this issue represent the breadth of the contributions made to the 1st International Blastocystis Symposium, which took place last year in Ankara. A couple of review and opinion articles written by members of the Scientific Committee are accompanied by several articles outlining original research findings that were presented at the symposium. This special issue is particularly useful for younger researchers who wish to familiarise themselves with some of the methods that are currently in use in surveys of Blastocystis.
Readers should not expect to find articles on Blastocystis in a microbiota context; nor should they expect to see data from seminal studies that challenge the view that Blastocystis is a possible pathogen. Nevertheless, there is an interesting opinion paper with the title "Eradication of Blastocystis in humans--really necessary for all?"

Led by Dr Alison Jacob and Dr Graham Clark, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, our group just published an article on a comparative study of Blastocystis mitochondrial genomes. In general, mitochondrial genomes differ vastly in length, structure, and gene content across organisms, and by studying these genomes it has been possible to develop hypotheses on how these organisms have evolved including the adaptive/non-adaptive processes involved in shaping organismal and genomic complexity. Unlike most anaerobic eukaryotes, Blastocystis does not have true mitochondria but has mitochondrion-related organelles (MROs; also referred to as mitochondrion-like organelles [MLO]) that contain a genome. In the study in question, we sequenced and compared mitochondrial genomes from subtypes 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9. All of them have the same genes in the same order, but two curiosities were noted. One gene, called orf160, as stop codons near the beginning of the coding region in most subtypes. A second gene, coding for ribosomal protein S4, lacks a start codon in some subtypes.
In both cases, these characteristics would normally prevent a gene from being expressed, but because these genes are otherwise conserved and most of the gene is 'intact', it seems likely that the genes are functional. Ribosomal protein S4 is considered an essential component of the ribosome needed for protein synthesis in the organelle. How the genes are expressed to produce functional proteins remains a mystery, - just one more peculiarity of Blastocystis!

In the growing pool of articles exploring relationships between intestinal parasites and gut microbiota, I was pleased to discover an article by Iebba et al. (2016) on "Gut microbiota related to Giardia duodeanlis, Entamoeba spp. and Blastocystis hominis infections in humans from Côte d'Ivoire". In this observational study, the authors used qPCR to detect groups of bacteria that are indicative of dysbiosis vs eubiosis, dysbiosis being a perturbed, imbalanced microbiota and eubiosis being a healthy, balanced gut microbiota. The authors found that individuals with Blastocystis and Entamoeba were characterised by eubiosis, while individuals with Giardia were characterised by dysbiosis. It says that samples (n = 20) were randomly chosen, but even so, the number of samples tested was low, and care should be taken when interpreting the results. The overall approach, however, is interesting, and somewhat resembles the work that we have been doing in our lab (ref). I also recently blogged about another study with a similar aim (go here to view the post).

I would also like to bring your attention to the EMBO Conference "Anaerobic protists: Integrating parasitology with mucosal microbiota and immunology", which will take place in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK in Aug/Sep 2017 (image). I will be there doing my best to deliver a stimulating talk on current knowledge and advances in Blastocystis and Dientamoeba research. You can visit the conference website by folloing this link


Dogruman-Al F, Stensvold CR, & Yoshikawa H (2016). Editorial - PAR INT - special issue on Blastocystis. Parasitology international, 65 (6 Pt B) PMID: 27742000

Iebba V, Santangelo F, Totino V, Pantanella F, Monsia A, Di Cristanziano V, Di Cave D, Schippa S, Berrilli F, & D'Alfonso R (2016). Gut microbiota related to Giardia duodenalis, Entamoeba spp. and Blastocystis hominis infections in humans from Côte d'Ivoire. Journal of infection in developing countries, 10 (9), 1035-1041 PMID: 27694739

Jacob AS, Andersen LO, Pavinski Bitar P, Richards VP, Shah S, Stanhope MJ, Stensvold CR, & Clark CG (2016). Blastocystis mitochondrial genomes appear to show multiple independent gains and losses of start and stop codons. Genome biology and evolution PMID: 27811175

Smith DR (2016). The past, present and future of mitochondrial genomics: have we sequenced enough mtDNAs? Briefings in functional genomics, 15 (1), 47-54 PMID: 26117139

Monday, June 8, 2015

Memories from 1st International Blastocystis Symposium

I'm going to release a tsunami of photos from the 1st International Blastocystis Symposium, hoping that they will help everyone involved commemorate this fantastic event but also in order to share a few moments with the rest of the 'Blastocystis community'.

Dr Funda Dogruman-Al giving her opening remarks.

In his opening lecture, Dr Graham Clark summarised the advances in Blastocystis research over the past century.

Coffee break outside the plenary room.

Graham and me with Iranian delegates, including Dr Elham Razmjou.

Drs Shashiraja Padukone and Chen-Chieh Liao trying out the local ney flutes...

Dr Hisao Yoshikawa enjoying a bit of masterclass...

Funda with her wonderful students and staff who helped making it all happen.

During coffee breaks, we had time to enjoy a variety of art exhibitions.

Dr Kevin Tan busy with his camera as usual!

Mesmerising "Turkish Delight"...

Funda and me busy handing out awards...

Chen-Chieh Liao receives the prize for the third-best poster, the book 'Blastocystis - pathogen or passenger', from Dr Hisao Yoshikawa, one of the editors.

Erdogan Malatyali won the prize for the best oral presentation.

I was very honoured to receive a plate from Prof Dr Sacit Turanli.

Some of the delegates, members of the arrangement committee, staff and students.

Funda and me with Dr Özgür Kurt and Funda's fantastic students.

The Clark couple with Funda, Özgür, and Funda's students.

Drs Kevin Tan, Javed Jakoob, Philippe Poirier, Hisao Yoshikawa together with Funda and her students.

A great couple in Turkish microbiology: Drs Özgür Kurt and Funda Dogruman-Al.

The six prize winners (please see previous blog post for names and affiliations).

Funda Dogruman-Al teaching Blastocystis diagnostic methods at the pre-Symposium workshop...

The workshop included both practicals...

... and theoreticals.

Some of the workshop participants.

Turkish food is probably palatable to most ethnicities...

The mandatory Turkish coffee did not let us down!

We were absolutely spoiled with good food and drink along the way... I clearly remember how it was pouring down outside!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

This Month in Blastocystis Research (MAY 2015)

Words cannot describe my gratitude for being part of the 1st International Blastocystis Symposium, which was seen through to marvelous success by Dr Funda Dogruman-Al, her colleagues and students, her professional arrangement committee and the scientific committee, made up by Dr Graham Clark, Dr Kevin Tan, Dr Hisao Yoshikawa, Professor Ibrahim Dogan, Funda Dogruman-Al, and myself.

Funda Dogruman-Al in the middle flanked by some of the delegates outside Gazi Hastanesi.

A total of 70 delegates had registered, comprising 37 national and 33 international attendees. Countries represented included Australia, Japan, Russia, China, Taiwan, India, Pakistan, Qatar, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Spain, France, Denmark, UK, USA, and Mexico.

Some of the delegates gathering before the gala dinner.

A presymposium workshop taking place the day before the launching of the actual symposium focussed on methods for diagnosis and molecular epidemiological studies of Blastocystis.

The two-day symposium included 13 half-hour lectures, 10 shorter oral presentations, and 27 posters.

Lectures were given by Dr Graham Clark (one of his three talks was on behalf on Prof Andrew Roger and post doc Laura Eme), Dr Kevin Tan, Dr Hisao Yoshikawa, Dr Philippe Poirier, Dr Özgür Kurt, Dr Javed Jakoob, Dr Funda Dogruman-Al, and myself, and covered updates on genomics, cell biology, host-parasite interactions, genetic diversity, epidemiology, clinical significance, treatment, and methods used for detection and molecular characterisation.

We were spoilt with lots of 'Turkish Delight': Here are some of the dancers performing at the gala dinner.

There were six prizes in total; three for the best oral presentations and three for the best posters. Prize money was donated by Elsevier.

The prize winners were as follows: 

Oral presentations:
1st Prize: Erdogan Malatyali, Adnan Menderes University, Aydin, Turkey
2nd Prize: Sitara SR Ajjampur, National University of Singapore, Singapore
3rd Prize: Unaiza Parkar, Murdoch University, Murdoch, Western Australia

Poster presentations:
1st Prize:  John Anthony Yason, National University of Singapore, Singapore
2nd Prize: Joel Martinez-Ocana, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico City, Mexico
3rd Prize: Chen-Chieh Liao, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan

Over the next few months, original manuscripts – seminal papers and reviews – will be developed for a special issue on Blastocystis in of Parasitology International to mark the event.

An important landmark in Blastocystis history has been made, and we are already looking into our chances of developing the 2nd International Blastocystis Symposium, which may be in 2017.

A huge THANK YOU to Funda for all her efforts, and KUDOS to all contributors for making this such a fantastic event!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Expected Social/Cultural Activities at 1st International Blastocystis Symposium

A lot of thrilling activities and ideas are in the making for the 1st International Blastocystis Symposium in Ankara later this month (!

For instance, the social programme is expected to include the following:

1) Performances of Turkish classical music and folk music by students from Gazi University State Conservatory of Turkish Music at the opening and closing ceremonies
2) Needle work exhibition
3) Traditional Turkish arts exhibition
4) Glass work workshop
5) Marbling workshop
6) Gilding workshop 
7) Reed flute (‘ney’) contest

This should provide the delegates with lots of opportunity to meet different branches of Turkish culture.

Hence, the ceremonies + coffee breaks and lunches will be busy and fun! For the Gala Dinner we are currently trying to engage with two different folk dancer teams from Gazi University… and...(suspense!)...  there might be a chance the Gala Dinner will be free of charge for all participants! Stay tuned!

1st International Blastocystis Symposium - Accommodation Funding!

We are pleased to announce that "Society for General Microbiology" ( is going to fund two nights of accommodation for 40 young researchers (below 40 years old) attending the 1st International Blastocystis Symposium (

Those who apply with a presentation and with no other funding will have priority in application.

Please inform your other colleagues who are interested in Blastocystis research about this important news.

(Please note: Applications should be sent to alfunda[at]

Looking forward to seeing you in Ankara...

Unstained Blastocystis. Courtesy of Dr Marianne Lebbad.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Updated programme for the 1st International Blastocystis Symposium + Pre-Symposium Course programme

There has been changes to the programme for the 1st International Blastocystis Symposium (May 28-29), please go here to see the updated programme.

Also, the Pre-Symposium Course programme (May 27) can be viewed here.

We will be absolutely spoilt with speakers!

Please do not forget to visit the official website for updates on the social programme plus abstract/registration deadlines.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

This Month in Blastcystis Research - JAN 2015

I'm going to dedicate this blog post entirely to the upcoming 1st International Blastocystis Symposium.

I'm not sure how much advertising there is for this congress (our budgets are limited), but the fact that we are already receiving abstracts is a good sign! Abstacts may be submitted until April 1st, 2015. Please note that the 'early bird' registration discount expires at the 15th of February.

You will find the online abstract submission form here.

If you think about going but have not paid a visit to the official conference website, I recommend you to do so, clicking this link. You'll hopefully find most if not all the information that you'd be looking for, and there's a lot to be learned. Please also make sure to browse the social programme in order to be able to make appropriate arrangments.

It's a two-day symposium, running from the 28th to the 29th of May, 2015. Moreover, on the 27th, there will be an all-day workshop on various diagnostic and molecular epidemiological aspects, including a barcoding (subtyping) course. There will be more info on that very soon, - please keep an eye on the website.

We are doing all we can to attract scientists with vast experience in Blastocystis research to cover the floor with exciting and stimulating talks, and I think we're doing more than OK. Some of the speakers will be writing up reviews on their respective topics, and these reviews will appear in a special themed issue in Parasitology International.

There will be a quite a few prizes for best talks and posters, etc., thanks to ELSEVIER among others.

It will be one-track symposium, and the first day will focus mostly on some fundamental topics, such as genomics and biochemistry, while the next day will include talks on clinical and diagnostic data.

It's my clear impression that main organiser Dr Funda Dogruman-Al is working 25 hours a day to make everything come together, and Dr Hisao Yoshikawa has also already invested a lot of energy.

Again: please note that early registration will close at the 15th of February, and abstract submission deadline has been extended to April 1st, 2015.

Looking very much forward to seeing you there!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Launch of Official Website for 1st International Blastocystis Symposium.

We are now able to introduce the official website for The 1st International Blastocystis Symposium in May 2015, in Ankara, Turkey. Please check it out! 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

More Details on The 1st International Blastocystis Symposium

Over at we have posted information on the Organising Committee and the Scientific Programme Advisory Committee of the 1st International Blastocystis Meeting - by some nicknamed the 1st IBS (not too sure about whether this is a fitting acronym, but anyway...).

We will soon be back with more information about the venue, registration, scientific topics, and abstract submission.

Moreover, it is very likely that there will be a pre-symposium workshop on the 27th of May (the day before the conference) on diagnostic methods and tools for studying the molecular epidemiology of Blastocystis. So stay tuned here and at!


Sunday, June 1, 2014

This Month in Blastocystis Research (MAY 2014)

To me, this month was mostly about Blastocystis finding its way to the ASM 2014 general meeting. It was a huge honour for me to be one of the speakers in the Parasitology session 'Passion for Parasites', thanks to an invitation from Dr Lynne Garcia and ASM.

ASM2014 took place in Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
It's pleasing that the Blastocystis research community is continuously expanding. I currently have contact to several research groups who are venturing into Blastocystis research, including epidemiology, genome sequence analysis, and Blastocystis (and other intestinal microbial eukaryotes (IMEs)) as part of the human intestinal microbiome. At the ICOPA2014 conference in Mexico in August, there will be a full session on Blastocystis from an IBS perspective with talks by Dr Pablo Maravilla, Kenneth Boorom, Dr Pauline D Scanlan and myself. There will also be a pre-congress workshop on molecular parasitology which will include Blastocystis subtyping arranged by Dr Juan David Ramirez Gonzalez and myself.

This month we also launched the website for the 1st International Blastocystis Symposium, which can be accessed at  - we hope that the meeting will receive great interest and contribute to promoting research on Blastocystis and other IMEs. Please go to the site to sign up for updates.

Moving on to 'paper of the month', I would just briefly highlight a study by Wu, Mirza and Tan, who used Caco-2 human colonic cells and different strains of Blastocystis sp. ST4 and ST7 to compare and demonstrate the strains' relative ability to adhere to enterocytes and to disturb cell barrier function. The paper is very interesting for a variety of reasons. For instance it appears that metronidazole resistance may be linked to a fitness cost as indicated by reduced adhesion ability.

But it would be nice to know how the results reflect the in vivo situation: What actually happens in the colon? It may be so that Blastocystis can adhere to enterocytes and even inflict damage as indicated in the paper, but what if Blastocystis is not able to make it anywhere near the enterocytes?

Now, some parasites are intracellular - e.g. Cryptosporidium and microsporidia -, Giardia has a ventral disc by which it can latch on to the intestinal lining; Entamoebas are motile, etc. Blastocystis is neither intracellular, nor is it motile, but can it attach to enterocytes or is it simply being 'kneeded' and passed along with the remaining luminal content by peristalsis? Or is it lodged in the mucus layer perhaps - trapped by chance, or actively making its way to/through it?

In the colon, two mucus layers exist; an inner layer void of bacteria, and an outer layer that serves as a home for some bacteria but that also prevents these bacteria from reaching the inner layer. Hence, the colon inner mucus layer separates the intestinal lining from the trillions of bacteria inhabiting our large intestine and as such has a tremendously important role in limiting bacterial contact with the epithelium and moving bacteria distally. Mucus is produced by our goblet cells and is made up by mucins, highly glycosylated proteins that we cannot degrade. Moreover, these mucins serve as food for commensal bacteria and are highly resistant to protease activity unless destabilised. The mucus layer traps antimicrobial peptides and other immune effectors and hence creates an effective barrier between the mucosal lining and the microbiota.

Some pathogenic bacteria, and also Giardia for instance, have flagella that allow them to move against the flow caused by secreted mucins, towards the intestinal epithelium, - one way of getting past the iron doors of the mucus layer.

Entamoeba histolytica possesses a lectin-like adhesin that enables it to anchor to the inner mucus layer. After actively destabilising the mucus layer, E. histolytica can disrupt the mucus layer by cysteine protease activity and get into contact with enterocytes. By enzyme activity the parasite can cleave MUC2, the major intestinal mucin, and this may be an initial step in a series of events resulting in invasive disease; however, in many cases enzymatic cleavage of MUC2 may be blocked by glycosylation of the cleavage site; this may be one of the explanations why E. histolytica infection may only sometimes proceed to invasive disease.

Recently, Fayer and colleagues observed that in histology sections Blastocystis was seen to adhere to the intestinal epithelium. However, since about 98% of the mucus is water, the mucus layer may vanish completely during histological procedures with important consequences for the interpretation of observations.

I believe that the use of the mucosal simulator of the human intestinal microbial ecosystem (M-SHIME) would be nearly ideal for studying Blastocystis. M-SHIME is an in vitro dynamic gut model that takes advantage of five double-jacketed vessels, respectively simulating the stomach, small intestine and the three colon regions. The model is supplemented with human gut microbiota and mucin-covered microcosms. My colleagues and I have applied for funding in order to use this model to study Blastocystis ecology, but so far, we have not had any luck with the funding agencies.

Genome and transcriptome studies of Blastocystis should also enable us to identify whether this organism has and expresses proteins that facilitate invasion of the mucus layer and adherence to enterocytes and in which way these potential mechanisms may be influenced.

Note to iOS users: You have the option of making a 'Blastocystis Parasite Blog' app! When you're browsing the site on your iPad for instance, simply add the site to your home screen (use the arrow/box icon in the top of the browser), and there you go - you've created an app icon on your desktop!


Hansson GC (2012). Role of mucus layers in gut infection and inflammation. Current Opinion in Microbiology, 15 (1), 57-62 PMID: 22177113

Fayer R, Elsasser T, Gould R, Solano G, Urban J Jr, & Santin M (2014). Blastocystis tropism in the pig intestine. Parasitology Research, 113 (4), 1465-72 PMID: 24535732 

Johansson ME, Sjövall H, & Hansson GC (2013). The gastrointestinal mucus system in health and disease. Nature Reviews  Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 10 (6), 352-61 PMID: 23478383 

Van den Abbeele, P., Roos, S., Eeckhaut, V., MacKenzie, D., Derde, M., Verstraete, W., Marzorati, M., Possemiers, S., Vanhoecke, B., Van Immerseel, F., & Van de Wiele, T. (2012). Incorporating a mucosal environment in a dynamic gut model results in a more representative colonization by lactobacilli Microbial Biotechnology, 5 (1), 106-115 DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-7915.2011.00308.x

Wu Z, Mirza H, & Tan KS (2014). Intra-subtype variation in enteroadhesion accounts for differences in epithelial barrier disruption and is associated with metronidazole resistance in Blastocystis subtype-7. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 8 (5) PMID: 24851944

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Blastocystis Conference Website Launched!

I have the pleasure of introducing the official website for the 1st International Blastocystis Symposium scheduled for the 28-29 May, 2015, in Ankara, Turkey.

Please go to to visit and bookmark the page and to subscribe to updates via email or rss.

We'll be back shortly on the site with updates on the scientific committee, the venue, and how to submit abstracts (including deadline).

Please share. Thanks.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

'Save the Date's + Resources

Some 'Save the Date's:

1. ASM Meeting, Boston, MAY 2014:
Speaker: Christen Rune Stensvold 
Session Title: Passion for Parasites! Current Topics in Medical Parasitology 
Session Date/Time:  5/18/2014 8:00:00 AM 
Presentation Title: Blastocystis Clinical Relevance: More Common and Important than You Think

2. ICOPA, Mexico City, AUGUST 2014:
3. 1st International Blastocystis Symposium, Ankara, 28-29 MAY 2015:

Please go here for more information.

Just found out that out of 1065 Blastocystis papers in PubMed, 269 are can be downloaded for free! If you enter 'Blastocystis' in the search box, you'll see the 1065 or so hits, but if you go to the right side bar, you have the option of having the Free Full Text (269) display.

I have disabled Google+ comments for now due to repetitive abuse. However, it is still possible to comment on blog posts, only now comments will be reviewed and potentially moderated by me prior to publishing.

In case there should be readers who think that I'm trying to propagate the view that Blastocystis is pathogenic, I hope that after going through my blog posts they will realise that I'm not; in fact, I'm much more trying to be the devil's advocate: Blastocystis is 'innocent' unless proven otherwise. In my opinion we have very little clinical evidence of pathogenicity. And at our lab, we generally do not recommend treating patients with Blastocystis. In fact, we really don't know HOW to treat Blastocystis, - and maybe that's one of the most fundamental issues in Blastocystis research. I know that many treatment regimens are currently in use for Blastocystis despite the absence of clinical guidelines, and some of them are used systematically at various clinics it seems, but off the top of my head I cannot think of one single randomised controlled treatment study that have explored the microbiological and clinical effect of treatment. Such studies are critical to our understanding of  the role of the parasite in health and disease, although even this type of studies have limitations such as non-specific drug actions that will blur our ability to point out Blastocystis as the culprit, and also some drugs may have adverse effects that mimic symptoms potentially caused by Blastocystis, including symptoms related to intestinal dysbiosis. I hope that those who have extensive experience with Blastocystis treatment will soon take to sharing their knowledge.

But I guess that what we are currently trying in various fields is to get a differentiated view of Blastocystis - for instance: can colonisation turn into infection, and is there any such thing as a Blastocystis infection at all? Can, and if so, when does Blastocystis carriage lead to pathology/disease? Which are the interactions between Blastocystis and the remaining microbiota? What host factors may be responsible for potential differences in Blastocystis-mediated disease susceptibility?

Don't miss the February issue of 'This Month In Blastocystis Research' which will be available in a week or so.