Showing posts with label genome. Show all posts
Showing posts with label genome. 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

References:

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

This Month in Blastocystis Research (AUG 2014)

Some August highlights in Blastocystis research:

1) The PRE-IOPCA Molecular Parasitology Workshop took place from the 7-10 August at CINVESTAV, Mexico City. Top-motivated students from some 10-15 countries worked hard from 7 am to 7 pm in dry+wet lab sessions, and we all had a really great time, thanks to both participants and fantastic organisers. There was a 4 h session on Blastocystis molecular epidemiology, and I was pleased to learn that some of the participants currently work with (or plan to work with) Blastocystis. I look forward to doing something similar in Ankara, Turkey on the 27th of May next year (www.blastomeeting2015.com - did you bookmark it?).

Most of the task force of the Molecular Parasitology Workshop (ICOPA 2014).
2) At the actual ICOPA conference, I chaired a session on Blastocystis in the context of IBS, with talks delivered by Ken Boorom, Pablo Maravilla, Pauline Scanlan and myself. In the audience I was honoured to see and meet Dr Hisao Yoshikawa, who has been a main contributor to Blastocystis research over the past 25 years or so (you can look up the publications by Dr Yoshikawa here). Considering the focus of this post, I guess that Pauline's talk was of particular interest, since she presented the data that we just published in FEMS Microbiology and Ecology:

3) The microbial eukaryote Blastocystis is a prevalent and diverse member of the healthy human gut microbiota. That's the title of the paper appearing in FEMS Microbiology and Ecology. The study, led by Pauline, showed that Blastocystis was present in 56% of 105 healthy adults, which is much higher than previously reported from an industrialised county (Ireland). Moreover, a diversity of different subtypes (species) were detected and Blastocystis was present in a subset of individuals sampled over a period of time between six and ten years, indicating that it is capable of long-term host colonisation. These observations show that Blastocystis is a common and diverse member of the healthy gut microbiota, thereby extending our knowledge of the microbial ecology of the healthy human intestine. And one of the interesting things here is: Why do we see this great divide? Why does half of the population appear colonised while the other half not? What are the factors driving successful Blastocystis colonisation? Would some people be refractory to colonisation or does it really boil down to some sort of enterotype-driven phenomenon as previously indicated?

4) I would like to reiterate the paper by Klimes et al. published a study in Genome Biology and Evolution (GBE) on a striking finding in the Blastocystis nuclear genome. Stop codons created by mRNA polyadenylation have been seen so far in mitochondrial genomes only and not in nuclear genomes; however, the authors observered this feature in Blastocystis's nuclear genome. Partly due to limitations of currently available annotation software, this finding ostensibly calls for reannotation of the genome currently available in GenBank (ST7). The paper was highlighted in a separate article in GBE that can be accessed from here.

5) Speaking of Blastocystis genomes: The genome of Blastocystis ST4 (WR1 strain) is now available on-line and can be accessed here.

6) Wang and colleagues studied the location and pathogenic potential of Blastocystis in the porcine intestine. They studied a total of 28 pigs from a commercial piggery, a small animal farm, and a research facility, and all pigs were positive (for ST5, and mixed subtypes were also seen in some). Post-mortem analyses showed that all pigs were consistently found to harbour Blastocystis in the colon, and approximately 90% of the caeca and rectums examined were positive. Some of the pigs were immunosuppresed (Dexamethasone), and interestingly, Blastocystis was occasionally detected in the small intestine, notably in immunosuppressed pigs, suggesting that immunosuprression may alter host-agent relations and predispose to small intestinal colonisation. Histopathological analysis saw the presence of vacuolar and granular forms of Blastocystis, but there was no evidence of attachment or invasion of the intestinal epithelium. The lack of pathology, including inflammation, epithelial damage, mucosal sloughing, and lamina propria oedema, confirmed the trend from a previous study carried out by Ron Fayer's group (see reference below). The study adds to the string of papers finding no evidence in support for Blastocystis causing primary intestinal damage.

6) Lastly, I want to extend a cordial thank you to Shashiraja Padukone and Subhash Chandra Parija, Department of Microbiology, Jipmer, Puducherry, India, for writing up a review of my 'Thoughts on Blastocystis' available on Amazon for the price of only one US$ or so. The review was published recently in Tropical Parasitology and can be accessed here.

And, for those who are worried about researchers 'overselling' microbiome research, there is a small comment in Nature calling for sound scepticism to be applied to research dealing with the relationship between the microbiome and different types of diseases. There is much to be agreed upon, and what I find particularly important, is to take the reductionist approach where possible - in terms of Blastocystis there are lots of ways to study the impact of Blastocystis on bacteria in vitro, and also host microbiota, physiology and immunology in vivo; ways that can be controlled quite diligently. Also, I think that simple validation of methods applied to map e.g. intestinal microbiota is key. This is for some reason something that is generally being utterly and completely ignored. Why?

References 

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

Hanage, W. (2014). Microbiology: Microbiome science needs a healthy dose of scepticism Nature, 512 (7514), 247-248 DOI: 10.1038/512247a

Klimeš V, Gentekaki E, Roger AJ, & Eliáš M (2014). A large number of nuclear genes in the human parasite blastocystis require mRNA polyadenylation to create functional termination codons. Genome Biology and Evolution, 6 (8), 1956-61 PMID: 25015079

Scanlan PD, Stensvold CR, Rajilić-Stojanović M, Heilig HG, De Vos WM, O'Toole PW, & Cotter PD (2014). The microbial eukaryote Blastocystis is a prevalent and diverse member of the healthy human gut microbiota. FEMS Microbiology Ecology PMID: 25077936 

Venton, D. (2014). Highlight: Not Like a Textbook--Nuclear Genes in Blastocystis Use mRNA Polyadenylation for Stop Codons Genome Biology and Evolution, 6 (8), 1962-1963 DOI: 10.1093/gbe/evu167

Wang W, Bielefeldt-Ohmann H, Traub RJ, Cuttell L, & Owen H (2014). Location and pathogenic potential of Blastocystis in the porcine intestine. PloS One, 9 (8) PMID: 25093578 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2014 Prospects

Happy New Year!

So, what's in store for us in 2014?

Difficult to say, but as least I can try and say a little about what is going on in our lab. Firstly, we are trying to publish what we are think are very interesting data on how gut bacteria may select for Blastocystis colonisation, a hypothesis we have developed based on studies of metagenomic data.

We are also working with the assembly and annotation of mitochondrial and nuclear genomes in collaboration with our international colleagues; something that will definitely take a while, since we have so few people in our lab to do it (literally one-two persons) but oceans of data (!!) - it's a pity that we cannot speed this up, since genomes are expected to hold keys to some of the great gates of Blastocystis enlightenment. Of course, a constant aim is to attract funding that can help us employ one or more PhD students/post docs interested in genomics and parasites. As always, I encourage my readers to come up with suggestions for funding.

Funding-wise we are also going to try and establish a Marie Curie ITN-network on the roles of intestinal microbial eukaryotes in health and disease and we are also awaiting decisions on other applications; hopefully, we will get some money for gut microbiome and immunological host profiling in experimental animals challenged with Blastocytis cysts. There may also be some work in our lab dealing with the impact of Blastocystis on bacterial communities in in-vitro studies.

Epidemiological data are produced as we speak; luckily, quite a few colleagues in different parts of the world are taking an interest in characterisation of Blastocystis in various cohorts so that we will know more about its epidemiology.

Those are the seminal things. Of course, there will be some exciting conferences, which I've mentioned before, and I'm also looking forward to putting together a Blastocystis review.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Blastocystis Highlights 2013

For decades man has striven to improve sanitation and protect production animals and crops from infectious agents to prevent diseases in humans, animals and plants. We tend to eat highly processed foods and many children grow up in almost sterile surroundings, for instance without contact to animals. Consequently, in developed parts of the world we are much less exposed to microorganisms and helminths than previously, and the extensive use of antibiotics for prevention, treatment and control of microorganisms is well-known.

As we are now starting to get a much deeper understanding of the role of the human microbiome (whatever that is) in health and disease, we become aware that microbes are to a large extent beneficial to us; for instance we are currently realising that human health is more or less proportional to intestinal biodiversity, including colonisation by parasites. I have previously mentioned the intentional use of eggs of the parasite Trichuris suis to alleviate symptoms and maybe even reduce disease processes in inflammatory bowel disease, a disorder seemingly stemming from immunological processes out of balance. Also in the food sector, steps may now be taken to diminish breeding and gene manipulation to increase crop yield; instead manipulation of microbes (e.g endophytes) may be used to makes crops hardier. Using microbes to combat other microbes and disease processes, thereby reducing the use of antibiotics and other chemical compounds will probably - and hopefully - be central to controlling diseases and increasing production yields.

For us in the 'Blasto business' these trends are particularly intriguing. I'm not the only one who just a couple of years ago thought that functional bowel disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to a large extent might be directly attributable to undiagnosed parasite infections (e.g. Blastocystis and Dientamoeba), something that could be supported by data going out from one of the studies that I carried out during my PhD studies. Over the years, however, we and other groups have produced data showing that patients with IBS are in fact significantly less colonised by the microbial eukaryotes Blastocystis and Dientamoeba than the healthy 'background' population (see this blog post). We also have access to metagenomic data that link the presence of these microbial eukaryotes with high bacterial diversity in the intestine, and I have colleagues confirming that patients suffering post infectious IBS-like symptoms do practically not harbour these parasites. Our hypothesis now is that - generally speaking - Blastocystis and Dientamoeba are proxies for high intestinal microbial diversity and thereby for a healthy gut ecology. This does of course not rule out the possibility of pathogenic strains/subtypes/whatever of microbial eukaryotes, and we are currently increasing our efforts to investigate whether these organisms can cause disease directly or indirectly, - I'll post a few lines on some of the work we have in mind for 2014 in my next post. I believe that one of the things that most Blastocystis researchers are interested in currently, is to increase our knowledge on the diversity and biological characteristics of mitochondrial and nuclear genomes.

It takes time to produce, analyse and interpret genomic data on Blastocystis, simply because we have so little money that can be allocated to PhD students and post docs. Although we try hard to get funding, we only have one PhD student working with Blastocystis genome data... I could have wished for at least one more. One year ago, I thought that 2013 would see at least one more Blastocystis genome paper, but so far, only very little data have emerged and only included in conference abstracts. But so far it appears that the genetic universe of Blastocystis is even bigger than most of us may have thought! To get a very preliminary impression of their data and how much ST1 differs from ST7 (currently the only available genome), you may want to visit a previous blog post. This basically means that even though we know about genes present and expressed by one subtype, the situation may be completely different for other subtypes! Very interesting, but it also means that a lot of work remains to get a clear picture of what Blastocystis actually does and is capable of doing.

This year was also the year where three seminal papers came out from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, all of them first authored by Dr Mohammed Alfellani, who did a magnificent job collecting, culturing and 'DNA extracting' samples from both humans, non-human primates, and other animals from various geographic regions. I have already given numerous examples of his findings. Dr Alfellani identified new subtypes, and did a great job in identifying remarkable variations in the geographical distribution of subtypes in both humans and animals. There are also some useful tables in Alfellani's papers showing overviews of molecular data produced by him and our colleagues. We definitely hope that his papers will stimulate other colleagues to pursuing the epidemiology of Blastocystis and should definitely hold some useful tools for those who are new to Blastocystis epidemiology research. 

I had the pleasure to write up a paper to Trends in Parasitology together with Dr Pauline Scanlan. The paper was free for download in November, and we received quite a lot of positive feedback, so thank you all who are so supportive of the work! It was also very rewarding to put together a review for Advances in Parasitology together with Drs Alfellani, van der Giezen and Clark on 'Recent Developments in Blastocystis Research'.

2013 was also the year where my SSI colleagues and I published a comment in the ISME Journal on how impatiently we are awaiting data on the human 'eukaryotic' microbiome. To map the microbial eukaryotes of the intestine and to try and characterise their structure and function and the intestinal ecology that accompany these organisms are activities that should receive top priority in my opinion. There is a link to the comment here.

Congress-wise, I experienced my first-time-ever Blastocystis session at a conference! It was at the merged meeting arranged by the Scandinavian-Baltic Society for Parasitology and the European Society for Tropical Medicine & International Health. Next year, I will be involved in the session 'Passion for Parasites' at the general ASM 2014 meeting in Boston (morning session,18th of May 2014), where I'll be giving a talk on Blastocystis, and, later next year, I will also be leading a lecture/workshop associated with the ICOPA conference in Mexico on Blastocystis barcoding, - I hope to see a few upcoming Blastocystis geeks there!

I don't think we have ever had better opportunities to do significant research on Blastocystis. More and more people are working with it, our epidemiological data have become a lot stronger, enabling more subtle hypotheses, lots of strains have been sequenced, we have developed protocols for experimental in-vitro and in-vivo studies, so here's to hoping for a vast increase in funding and work in 2014!

Attaching an image of the Nutcracker display currently adorning the facade of the Hotel d'Angleterre in Copenhagen, I wish all of the readers of this blog a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!



Literature:

Nicola Jones (2013). Food fuelled with fungi. Nature, 504 DOI: 10.1038/504199a

Monday, April 29, 2013

Transcriptomic Analysis of Blastocystis ST1!

BLASTing Breaking News!

Probably to support their genomic data, researchers in Andrew Roger's group in Canada have performed transcriptomic analysis of the Nand II strain, which belongs to Blastocystis sp. ST1.

Running from April 29 to May 2 is the SMBE (Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution) satellite meeting on Eukaryotic-Omics; the abstract booklet can be downloaded here. And fellow tweeps, don't let yourselves down by not following #SMBEeuks!

Until now, we've only known of one complete Blastocystis nuclear genome, namely that of ST7. Now, the release of the ST1 genome may be imminent! In any case, Roger's group have used their transcriptomic data to compare the protein content in ST1 with that in ST7, and it appears from their conference abstract that "the genes encoded by the Nand II strain (ST1) are surprisingly distantly related to ST7 orthologues, sharing on average ~50% identity at the protein level." And more: "Preliminary analyses allowed us to detect ~1000 genes in ST1 that have no homologue in Blastocystis sp. ST7". This means that the extreme genetic diversity that we see across the SSU ribosomal RNA genes is reflected and may be even more pronounced at nuclear genome level.

The group also studied genes acquired by lateral gene transfer (LGT; see previous post for more on LGT, also known as horizontal gene transfer), and what they basically found was that ST1 appears to have acquired bacterial genes related mainly to metabolism, while genes acquired from eukaryotes code for proteins related to cellular processes and signaling mechanisms.

Finally, they have discovered genes obtained by LGT that has had importance for Blastocystis' adaptation to parasitism; among these genes that enable resistance to host immune responses.

Roger's group is based at the Dept. of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Dalhouise University, Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada.




Monday, January 14, 2013

A Penny For Your Thoughts

So, what should we do about Blastocystis? What do we want to know?

I believe the imminent answer to the latter question is easy: We want to know whether it’s pathogenic, whether we should treat it and how. But I also think that there are many other interesting aspects of Blastocystis which are also of broad interest to the general public, namely: How about the many cases of asymptomatic Blastocystis carriage? What does Blastocystis do in our guts? Could it have any potentially beneficial impact on our health?

Given the fact that Blastocystis has not been implicated in any outbreaks (admittedly: I guess that no one actually ever looked for Blastocystis in outbreak investigations... except for me!), I reckon that the chance of it being involved in acute diarrhoea is small. So, in that respect it's very different from the other intestinal protists such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, microsporidia, even Entamoeba histolytica. It's actually more reminiscent of helminth infections, which are are often chronic, and when light hardly give rise to symptoms (depending on species that is!).So I'm more thinking along the lines of co-evolution, adaptation, etc.

Maybe future research will call for a shift in paradigm, but until then I think that we should do what we already can, just at a larger scale and see where it takes us, namely:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Blastocystis Highlights 2012

2012 is coming to an end and it is also time for taking stock of the year Blastocystis-wise. We saw many significant scientific papers, among them a paper by Poirier and colleagues, predicting a potential role for Blastocystis in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), based on analysis of their recent genome data.They propose that Blastocystis is genetically armed with the equipment necessary to cause intestinal dysbiosis, and potentially IBS, which may be a cause of dysbiosis. Indeed, members of this group found that the Blastocystis genome encodes various proteases and hydrolases that, if secreted, may be involved with perturbations of the gut flora; however, we need transcriptional profiling or similar studies to find out, whether these enzymes are actually expressed. Some species of Entamoeba are also in possession of multiple "virulence genes", but for some species they apparently remain un-expressed, and most Entamoeba species are still considered harmless.