Showing posts with label genomics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label genomics. 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

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 ( - 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?


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.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fellowships in Blastocystis Research

We are continually looking into the opportunity for funding for research in Blastocystis and we are on the lookout for young researchers with a MSc or PhD degree who want to spend at least a couple of years in Blastocystis research. Right now, taking an omics approach to studying the clinical significance of Blastocystis is extremely relevant of course, given the amount of genetic diversity of the parasite, its apparent association to groups of bacteria/bacterial richness, its varied distribution across different cohorts, and the general availability of ngs technology and data pipelines.

I'm going to focus my next funding application on the integration of metagenomics, metabolomics, comparative genomics, and transcriptomics, and I'm hoping to find one or two persons with track records documenting extensive experience with one or more of these disciplines and who take an interest in parasites/parasitic protists in general and/or in Blastocystis in particular.

Please note that this is NOT a job offer, but merely an invitation to get into some sort of a dialogue. What we can offer is access to samples, strains, technology, and a Blastocystis-centred network.

Please do not answer in the comments section, but contact me directly (mail/phone) for further info + expression of interest. You'll find a link to my contact details in the previous blog post. Thanks.