Showing posts with label host specificity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label host specificity. Show all posts

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Pre-empting Pandora's Box - Update on Blastocystis Subtypes and Reference Data

Back in 2006, when we came up with the subtype terminology for Blastocystis, the spectrum of and boundaries between Blastocystis subtypes were quite clear and distinct. Since then, the genetic make-up of Blastocystis has appeared to be an even bigger universe than we (or at least I) expected, and we may be far from having explored the entire 'galaxy' yet.

New technologies make it easier to sequence DNA, and sequences attributed to Blastocystis are accumulating in the publicly available databases with great speed. While this situation is one of the things that stimulate research (genetic diversity, co-evolution, host specificity, parasite-host-microbiome interaction, etc.), issues have emerged when it comes quality-controlling DNA sequences and putting taxonomic identifiers on these sequences.

For Blastocystis, the main taxonomic identifier is the 'subtype'. In 2013, 17 subtypes of Blastocystis had been acknowledged based on SSU rDNA analysis, and since then, quite a few more have been suggested by independent researchers all around the world. While it's great to see the field advance and more and more researchers 'checking in' on Blastocystis, care should be taken to ensure that Blastocystis terminology remains a useful one. And this... is not an easy task!

Some things are relatively straightforward though. For instance, sequence quality control. A simple BLAST query in GenBank (NCBI Database) should tell you whether your sequence is Blastocystis or something else. Like banana. Or asparagus. DNA sequence chimeras are sequences where one piece of DNA is combined with a piece of DNA from another strain/species/genus/etc., which can happen during PCR-based amplification of DNA. Suppose you have a sequence that is 75% Blastocystis and 25% banana. If you BLAST such a sequence, you might get Blastocystis as the top hit, but with a modest amount of sequence identity - maybe 85%. If you're not cautious, you might jump to the conclusion that this might be a new subtype, since 85% similarity is a lot less than the 95-97% similarity that is used pragmatically to delimit the boundary between subtypes. But if you look carefully at the alignment of the query sequence and the reference sequence, you'll probably note that a large part of the sequence aligns very well to the most similar reference sequence, while a minor part of it has great dissimilarity. This should be a warning sign, and you should try and BLAST only the bit of the sequence not aligning up well... and when you do this, you might end up with... banana! In which case you would have to discard this part of the sequence. Please also see one of my recent posts for more on this. If you do not check for chimeras, you might end up including chimeric DNA sequences in your phylogenetic analyses that will distort and confuse the interpretation and - in the worst case - lead to erroneous calling of new subtypes.

What is less easy is to set a 'one-fits-all' threshold for sequence similarity... how similar can Blastocystis DNA sequences be to be considered the same subtype? When do you have evidence of a 'new' subtype? It's difficult to know, as long as the data available in public databases is so limited as it is. Moreover, researchers do not always use the same genetic markers. It's still common practice to amplify and sequence only about 1/3 of the SSU rRNA gene and use that as a taxonomic identifier. But if it's not the same 1/3 then it gets tricky to compare data. Moreover, we actually need near-complete SSU rDNA sequences (at least 1600 bp or so) to be able to infer robust phylogenetic relationships between reference sequences and sequences potentially reflecting new subtypes. Obviously, this is because variation can exist across the entire SSU rRNA gene.

One subtype that has proven particularly challenging is ST14, a subtype which is common in larger herbivourous mammals, is very difficult to delimit. It may easily be confused with other subtypes, if sufficiently long sequences are not used for investigation. To this end, we try to keep a pragmatic approach to Blastocystis subtype terminology, and it may turn out that it would be more practical and relevant to refer to ST24 and ST25 as ST14 (see figure below). For now, we suggest keeping them as separate subtypes. Near-complete Blastocystis SSU rDNA sequences from a lot of larger herbivorous mammals will help us resolve the taxonomy in the top part of the tree shown in the figure above.

In terms of acquiring near-complete SSU rDNA sequences, I would personally recommend MinION sequencing of PCR products obtained by the universal eukaryotic primers RD5 + RD3. And if DNA from cultures isused (yes, it IS possible to culture Blastocystis not only from human hosts, but also from a variety of animals), then then MinION sequencing and analysis of the data output should be a straight-forward and relative cost-effective task.

Figure. As of January 2020, 'real' Blastocystis subtypes are most likely subtypes 1–17, 21, 23–26. This simplified phylogeny gives and indication of the relatedness of the subtypes and the relative host specificity. Humans can host subtypes 1–9 and also 12; when subtypes other than 1–4 are encountered in human samples, this may reflect cases of zoonotic transmission.


Graham Clark and I just published an article in Trends in Parasitology on this, and we concluded that some of the newly proposed subtypes are in fact invalid. Invalid subtypes (subtypes 18, 19, 20, 22) typically reflected DNA sequence chimeras.

In the figure above, you can see the subtypes identified to date that we consider valid.

We also provided updated guidelines on Blastocystis subtyping. One very important thing to include here is reference sequence data. It would be very useful if our wonderful Blasto colleagues could all try and use the same reference sequences when they develop multiple sequence alignments for phylogenetic analyses. We have already done all the work for you, so all there is to it, is to download the sequences from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine's server available here and align them with your own DNA sequences. It would make life easier for all of us!

๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž๐ŸŒž

Corrected proofs of the article can be downloaded here.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Is this a new Blastocystis subtype? Maybe not! Here's Why!

The genetic diversity of Blastocystis is becoming comparable to the universe! Seventeen subtypes (which are likely separate species or even genera) have been acknowledged so far, but quite a few more have been mentioned.

However, before assigning new Blastocystis subtype numbers to your SSU rDNA sequences, you'd need to do some QC work on your data. Sometimes we notice sequences deposited in the NCBI Database or included in articles that may look like new Blastocystis subtypes.... but they're most likely not!

I asked Prof Graham Clark from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has more than 20 years' experience in the Blasto business, to give a couple of examples, explaining where issues may arise. He says:


'One of the tasks I do when I have a few minutes to spare is to look at new Blastocystis sequences that have been deposited into GenBank. I am always hoping to stumble across some exciting new subtypes or new hosts that will expand our understanding of diversity in Blastocystis. Only rarely does this happen, however. I do, occasionally, come across sequences that are problematic and it is these that I want to focus on.

Chimaeras: This problem occurs during PCR amplification when one primer binds to a Blastocystis subtype DNA and the other primer binds to a different source of DNA. In the first case I came across the other source was a different Blastocystis subtype, meaning that the sequence at one end of the PCR product matched one subtype and the sequence at the other end matched a different subtype. This observation is mentioned in the paper describing barcoding of Blastocystis (Scicluna et al, 2006). Since then I have seen other chimaeric sequences: one recently was a mixture of Blastocystis plus a plant while another was Blastocystis plus a free-living protist.
Chimaeras are produced when there is incomplete replication of a DNA strand during a cycle. After denaturation in the next cycle, the single stranded partial product can bind to another single stranded product from a different source and synthesis results in a product combining sequences from two sources. The conservation of ribosomal RNA genes means there can be sufficient similarity to allow binding between sequences from distantly related organisms.
Chimaeras are generally only found when the sequences are from cloned ribosomal RNA gene sequences obtained by PCR, although they also occur in some forms of Next Generation  Sequencing. When mixed PCR products are sequenced directly the sequence obtained is the average of all the products in that reaction, and so chimaera sequences will usually be ‘diluted out’ by the major product of the reaction. Only when a single sequence from that mixture is isolated and studied will chimaeras be detected.
If the ‘alien’ region makes up a significant percentage of the sequence then the result of BLAST analysis will show a percentage divergence from known subtypes that indicates it may represent a new subtype. A quick way to evaluate this is to compare the BLAST results using the first and last thirds of the sequence. If it is a new subtype the results should be similar. In a recently detected chimaera, the first third was a 100% match to a known Blastocystis subtype while the last third was a 95% match to asparagus. This approach is an easy way to check whether there is something to get excited about.
A chimaera sequence can sometimes be detected because of its impact on phylogenetic trees. The sequence will be on its own branch, often at the base of a clade containing the subtype found at the Blastocystis-matching end.

Non-Blastocystis Blastocystis sequences: Like chimaeras these are often PCR artefacts, most commonly encountered when amplifying from stool DNA, especially if the stool is non-human. There is an expectation that Blastocystis-specific primers will only amplify Blastocystis DNA but, sadly, that is not always the case. I have personally seen this many times - if Blastocystis DNA is a minority of the eukaryotic DNA in the sample then the likelihood of artefacts increases greatly. These are generally identified easily if the sequence is compared using BLAST against the full nr/nt nucleotide collection in GenBank. However, there is a temptation to limit the search to the genus Blastocystis to speed up the identification process, because that is what you expect it to be. Again because of the conservation of ribosomal RNA genes, if ribosomal RNA genes are amplified there will be a match to Blastocystis, and the divergence will likely suggest, again, a new subtype.  Comparing against the full nucleotide collection will always show whether the sequence is of Blastocystis origin.

Both chimaeras and non-Blastocystis products are easily identified if the correct steps are taken. In conclusion, be suspicious of anything that is significantly divergent to known Blastocystis – it could be an indication of an artefact.'
Fig. 1. A 'Blastaragus' (a chimaera of a Blastocystis and an asparagus)

Fig. 2. An example of a chimaeric DNA sequence (the 'Blastaragus' from Fig. 1). Notice how the consensus sequence starts out as Blastocystis ST14, shifts to asparagus, and then shifts back again to Blastocystis ST14.



I thank Graham, and I really hope that this information will be picked up by many of our colleageus. And please share! Research into Blastocystis is rapdily expanding, and we should all take on the responsibility of QCing our data.

Thanks for listening!

By the way... if you're interested in tutorials on Blastocystis subtyping from our recent workshop in Colombia, please look up Workshop Session 4 in the manual available at this link. 

Hope to be back before Christmas!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

This Month in Blastocystis Research (JAN 2016)

Three publications have caught my attention over the past month.

The first one is by my Turkish colleagues Kurt, Dogruman-Al, and Tanyรผksel. They just published the paper "Eradication of Blastocystis in humans: Really necessary for all?" This title implies that treatment of Blastocystis is recommendable in some cases. The authors appear to acknowledge the view that treatment should be given to symptomatic carriers when all other causes of gastrointestinal symptoms have been rule out, - the popular 'last-resort' approach.

What I think is really useful and admirable is that the authors leave so many questions open/unanswered, despite the fact that they have been "in business" for so many years, representing some of the most avid Blastocystis researchers. It becomes clear from reading the paper that even in 2016, we still do not know how to eradicate Blastocystis from the intestine in those cases where we'd really like to try and do so. Importantly, the authors give examples of data supporting the fact that treatment failure may be due to failure of the drug to reach the parasite as well as treatment resistance. They also highlight the possibility that eradication of Blastocystis by antibiotic/anti-protozoal agents may be due to microbiota perturbation rather than a direct action on Blastocystis. I also very much appreciate the fact that the authors are embracing the necessity of studying Blastocystis in a parasite-microbiota-host context in order to be able to draw useful conclusions on its role in human health and disease.

Das and colleagues just published data on Blastocystis and subtypes of Blastocystis in IBS patients and controls in New Delhi, India. Using multiple traditional and DNA-based methods, they found that in their study material, the prevalence of Blastocystis was higher among patients with IBS than among healthy controls. It is not exactly clear how the controls were picked and what type of study population they represented. What I found really useful is the fact that they not only carried out subtyping of Blastocystis, but also identified subtype alleles. The subtypes and alleles found in the study were very similar to those found recently by Pandey et al. (2015) in Maharashtra, India.  Interestingly, it appears that only two subtypes are found in humans in India, namely ST1 and ST3. However, only two studies from India are available on subtypes in humans, to my knowledge, and so we need much more data to draw conclusions.

The last paper that I'm going to address is one by Zanzani and colleagues. When I read the abstract I almost dislocated my lower jaw from stupefaction: Studying the gastrointestinal parasitic fauna of captive non-human primates (Macaca fascicularis), they found a variety of protozoa and helminths, which is not surprising at all. Neither is it surprising that most macaques were positive for Blastocystis. Now, what really made my jaw drop was the fact their data on the subtypes found in the macaques challenged the host specificity of Blastocystis identified so far: They reported finding ST1, ST2, ST3, ST5, and ST7. And so, I had a closer look at the methods used to obtain data on subtypes. I take the liberty of questioning the data, since the authors report using a set of primers for amplification of Blastocystis DNA targeting the SSU rRNA gene, while using the STS primers developed by Yoshikawa et al. as sequencing primers! I guess that it is possible that the description of the methods was flawed (should have been picked up by the reviewer though), in which case I hope that an erratum will be developed and published.

References:

Das R, Khalil S, Mirdha BR, Makharia GK, Dattagupta S, & Chaudhry R (2016). Molecular Characterization and Subtyping of Blastocystis Species in Irritable Bowel Syndrome Patients from North India. PloS One, 11 (1) PMID: 26784888  

Kurt ร–, DoฤŸruman Al F, & Tanyรผksel M (2016). Eradication of Blastocystis in humans: Really necessary for all? Parasitology International PMID: 26780545

Pandey PK, Verma P, Marathe N, Shetty S, Bavdekar A, Patole MS, Stensvold CR, & Shouche YS (2015). Prevalence and subtype analysis of Blastocystis in healthy Indian individuals. Infection, Genetics and Evolution: Journal of Molecular Epidemiology and Evolutionary Genetics in Infectious Diseases, 31, 296-9 PMID: 25701123  

Zanzani SA, Gazzonis AL, Epis S, & Manfredi MT (2016). Study of the gastrointestinal parasitic fauna of captive non-human primates (Macaca fascicularis). Parasitology Research, 115 (1), 307-12 PMID: 26374536  

Yoshikawa H, Wu Z, Kimata I, Iseki M, Ali IK, Hossain MB, Zaman V, Haque R, & Takahashi Y (2004). Polymerase chain reaction-based genotype classification among human Blastocystis hominis populations isolated from different countries. Parasitology Research, 92 (1), 22-9 PMID: 14598169

Monday, October 5, 2015

This Month in Blastocystis Research (SEP 2015)

The month of September saw the publication of the first data on Blastocystis subtypes going out from Qatar. Abu-Madi and colleagues--who have already been quite prolific in terms of surveying intestinal parasitic infections in Qatar--studied the positive rate of Blastocystis in 608 apparently healthy subjects arriving in Qatar for the first time, identifying a prevalence of 71% as identified by PCR. Strikingly, the positive rate by microscopy of the corresponding samples was only 7%. Three subtypes were idenfied, with ST3 being the most common subtype, followed in prevalence by ST1 and ST2. The study is important for at least two reasons: It confirms the drawback of basing Blastocystis epidemiological research on data generated using microscopy alone, and it confirms the virtual absence of ST4 outside of Europe.

Increased sensitivity of PCR relative to microscopy was also confirmed in a study carried out in Malaysia (I presume) by Ragavan and colleagues. This group surveyed the Blastocystis positivity rate among IBS and non-IBS patients analyzing colonic aspirates, including a total of 109 individuals. Given the data available on Blastocystis prevalence, I was quite surprised to learn that this group failed to detect Blastocystis in any of the samples by microscopy and culture. Using PCR (the subtype-specific [STS] primers were used as diagnostic primers), the group identified Blastocystis in 6 IBS patients and 4 non-IBS patients. Also these figures appear quite low. However, there is very little information available on the non-IBS patients, and since all study individuals were subject to colonscopy, this group of individuals might be suffering chronic and potentially severe intestinal disease, including for instance colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, etc., which would explain the low prevalence of Blastocystis observed among these individuals. Indeed, evidence is accumulating that the more "gut healthy" you are, the larger the probability of being Blastocystis-positive. I noticed that the colonic aspirates were spun down using 3,000 rpm prior to culture and microscopy; this process might have had an impact on cell viability and morphology; still, DNA should be detectable following this process. Meanwhile, we recently showed (Scanlan et al., 2015) that the sensitivity of the STS primers is relatively low, which is why the use of real-time PCR is recommendable for PCR-based screening. To see an example of how the STS primers perform relative to barcoding primers, go here (Suppl Table 2).
Moreover, care should be taken when reading this paper, since I'm fairly convinced that the subtype terminology used in the study is different from the consensus terminology (Stensvold et al., 2007). It says that the subtypes detected included ST2, ST3, ST4, and ST5; if this reflects the terminology that went along with the original description of the STS primers, these subtypes correspond to ST7, ST3, ST6, and ST2, which to me would be a more likely subtype distribution, taking this particular region into consideration, and given the fact that ST5 appears to be extremely rare in humans. 

It's always interesting to expand on the natural host spectrum of Blastocystis. The parasite has been found in a perplexing array of hosts, but some host specificity has been observed. When it comes to animals held by humans as livestock or pets, we know that pigs and cattle are commonly, if not consistently, colonised by Blastocystis with some quite specific subtypes. With regard to pets, dogs and cats have been found positive, but there seems to be increasing evidence that these animals are not natural hosts (see also Wang et al., 2013). Osman and colleagues, recently published a survey on Cryptosporidium and Blastocystis in dogs using sensitive molecular methods, demonstrating a prevalence of Blastocystis of only about 3%. Moreover, the subtypes 2 and 10 were found, and ST10 is found mostly in cattle, and never before in dogs, as far as I know, which could suggest accidental colonisation - and possibly not a very long-lasting one. Similarly, when humans are found to be colonised with subtypes rarely found in humans, such as ST6, ST7, and ST8, it would be interesting to know for how long these subtypes are capable of "staying put" in the human intestine.

References

Abu-Madi M, Aly M, Behnke JM, Clark CG, & Balkhy H (2015). The distribution of Blastocystis subtypes in isolates from Qatar. Parasites & Vectors, 8 PMID: 26384209

Osman M, Bories J, El Safadi D, Poirel MT, Gantois N, Benamrouz-Vanneste S, Delhaes L, Hugonnard M, Certad G, Zenner L, & Viscogliosi E (2015). Prevalence and genetic diversity of the intestinal parasites Blastocystis sp. and Cryptosporidium spp. in household dogs in France and evaluation of zoonotic transmission risk. Veterinary Parasitology PMID: 26395822   

Ragavan, N., Kumar, S., Chye, T., Mahadeva, S., & Shiaw-Hooi, H. (2015). Blastocystis sp. in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) - Detection in Stool Aspirates during Colonoscopy PLOS ONE, 10 (9) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0121173  

Scanlan PD, Stensvold CR, & Cotter PD (2015). Development and Application of a Blastocystis Subtype-Specific PCR Assay Reveals that Mixed-Subtype Infections Are Common in a Healthy Human Population. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 81 (12), 4071-6 PMID: 25841010   

Stensvold CR, Suresh GK, Tan KS, Thompson RC, Traub RJ, Viscogliosi E, Yoshikawa H, & Clark CG (2007). Terminology for Blastocystis subtypes--a consensus. Trends in Parasitology, 23 (3), 93-6 PMID: 17241816

Wang W, Cuttell L, Bielefeldt-Ohmann H, Inpankaew T, Owen H, & Traub RJ (2013). Diversity of Blastocystis subtypes in dogs in different geographical settings. Parasites & vectors, 6 PMID: 23883734

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Molecular Epidemiology: Developing a Language

Initiatives towards standardising diagnostic methods and convening on taxonomy and reference data is extremely important in a world where multiple research teams independently carry out research using molecular markers to identify and differentiate species and genotypes of infectious organisms; such activity is crucial to identify patterns of transmission, differences in virulence, and opportunities for control and intervention. Without such standards, efforts to survey and surveil such organisms would be more or less futile, and so they are the backbone of molecular epidemiology.

Having seen that a variety of morphologically similar but genetically diverse Blastocystis organisms found in humans could in fact colonise a range of different hosts, we realised back in 2006 that all these variants could not all be 'Blastocystis hominis', which was then the species name used for Blastocystis found in humans, and together with colleagues we took to revisiting Blastocystis terminology: We recognised that we did not know enough about host specificity and genetic diversity to be able to come up with relevant species names, and so we invented (or maybe not invented, but at least 'formalised') the subtype system, a sort of a barcode system, where genetically similar (typically 98-100%) organisms are assigned to the same subtype, hence ST1, ST2, ST3, etc., which we today now know so well.

Slapeta now suggests a barcoding system for Cryptosporidium. This single-celled parasite takes a major toll on the health of infants and toddlers in developing countries (in some places surpassed only by norovirus), and may also cause debilitating disease in immunocompromised. The nomenclature for Cryptosporidium is very complicated for those of us who are not experts; for instance, I only recently realised that C. parvum may now only refer to the Mouse I genotype and not the 'common' or 'traditional' C. parvum (which now appears to be C. pestis), which is common in both humans and cattle. However, there is a debate going on as to which taxonomy should be followed, and whether this novel leap in 'Cryptosporidium taxonomy revision' can be endorsed by Slapeta's fellow Crypto experts, remains to be seen. Contentiousness aside, barcoding Cryptosporidium does seem relevant due to the fact that the host specificity of Cryptosporidium is relatively loose; for instance humans and cattle are known to share at least 9 species of Cryptosporidium... 

In his paper, Jan Slapeta lists all the known species of Cryptosporidium (in the 'revised' terminology), and even includes GenBank reference strains for common molecular markers such as actin, HSP70 and COWP1 used for genotyping. Interestingly, he does not include the GP60 marker, a molecular marker for which the terminology is also discordant.

Slapeta moreover includes a file with reference SSU rDNA sequences that enable a standardisation of genetic analyses. This year, we did in fact a similar thing for Blastocystis: Along with our 2013 Protist paper surveying Blastocystis subtypes in animals (including the identification of a couple of new subtypes!), we uploaded a reference alignment consisting of some complete SSU rRNA gene sequences present in GenBank; one or more for each of the now known 17 subtypes; more will be added as more subtypes are discovered. The file can be downloaded when accessing the online version of the paper, and we hope that everyone interested in analysing sequences that represent potentially novel subtypes will use this reference alignment (which has been edited to eliminate regions of ambiguous base alignment); it should be quite helpful. Again, I also bring your attention to the pubmlst Blastocystis database, where fast files obtained by Blastocystis barcoding can be queried in batches for quick analysis of large amounts of sequence data. There's a Youtube video here on Blastocystis barcoding and how to use the pubmlst database.

Consensus on methods, terminology and diagnostic algorithms is essential to developing a common language and understanding of how infectious organisms impact our lives; without it,  confusion wreaks havoc with our efforts.

Literature:

Alfellani MA, Taner-Mulla D, Jacob AS, Imeede CA, Yoshikawa H, Stensvold CR, & Clark CG (2013). Genetic diversity of Blastocystis in livestock and zoo animals. Protist, 164 (4), 497-509 PMID: 23770574

Kotloff KL, Nataro JP, Blackwelder WC, Nasrin D, Farag TH, Panchalingam S, Wu Y, Sow SO, Sur D, Breiman RF, Faruque AS, Zaidi AK, Saha D, Alonso PL, Tamboura B, Sanogo D, Onwuchekwa U, Manna B, Ramamurthy T, Kanungo S, Ochieng JB, Omore R, Oundo JO, Hossain A, Das SK, Ahmed S, Qureshi S, Quadri F, Adegbola RA, Antonio M, Hossain MJ, Akinsola A, Mandomando I, Nhampossa T, Acรกcio S, Biswas K, O'Reilly CE, Mintz ED, Berkeley LY, Muhsen K, Sommerfelt H, Robins-Browne RM, & Levine MM (2013). Burden and aetiology of diarrhoeal disease in infants and young children in developing countries (the Global Enteric Multicenter Study, GEMS): a prospective, case-control study. Lancet, 382 (9888), 209-22 PMID: 23680352

ล lapeta J (2013). Cryptosporidiosis and Cryptosporidium species in animals and humans: a thirty colour rainbow? International Journal for Parasitology, 43 (12-13), 957-70 PMID: 23973380  

Stensvold CR, Suresh GK, Tan KS, Thompson RC, Traub RJ, Viscogliosi E, Yoshikawa H, & Clark CG (2007). Terminology for Blastocystis subtypes--a consensus. Trends in Parasitology, 23 (3), 93-6 PMID: 17241816

Striepen B (2013). Parasitic infections: Time to tackle cryptosporidiosis. Nature, 503 (7475), 189-91 PMID: 24236315

Xiao L, Ryan UM, Fayer R, Bowman DD, & Zhang L (2012). Cryptosporidium tyzzeri and Cryptosporidium pestis: which name is valid? Experimental Parasitology, 130 (3), 308-9 PMID: 22230707 

Friday, June 21, 2013

This Month In Blastocystis Research (JUN 2013)

Another paper in the string of publications coming out from the PhD study by Dr Alfellani (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) has just appeared in PubMed.

Dr Alfellani and his colleagues have done a great job in analysing a multitude of samples from humans, non-human primates and animals; I have previously blogged about their observations from studies of human and non-human primates. Moreover, they have surveyed available data in order to better discuss their own findings, and the work has contributed significantly to what today is known about the host specificity, genetic diversity, phylogeography and general molecular epidemiology of Blastocystis.

Alfellani's most recent paper is published in the journal Protist, and it deals with the 'Genetic Diversity of Blastocystis in Livestock and Zoo Animals'.

It is quite a large paper which includes a lot of new information and a comprehensive (and hopefully exhaustive) table summarising Blastocystis subtype data in all relevant hosts (humans, non-human primates, other mammals and birds).

I will highlight a couple of things from the paper:

1. Apart from reporting on virtually complete SSU rDNA sequences from a couple of subtypes for which entire SSU rDNA sequences have yet not been available, we also report on three novel subtypes. Until recently, we only knew about 14 subtypes (ST1-ST14), of which ST1-ST9 can be found in humans. Now, three additional subtypes have been identified; ST15 in artiodactyls (camel and sheep) and non-human primates (chimpanzee and gibbon), ST16 in kangaroos, and ST17 in gundis.

The Gundi (Ctenodactylus gundi) is a rodent living mainly in the deserts of Northern Africa. (Source)

2. Novel data arising from analysis of faecal samples from humans and animals in Sebha, Libya, strongly indicate that humans and animals in this area are infected by different subtypes: Humans appear to carry ST1, ST2, and ST3, while synanthropic animals (artiodactyls in this case) mostly have ST5 and ST10 infections, suggesting that livestock is not a major contributor to human Blastocystis infection.

To this end, there is growing evidence of quite a substantial degree of host specificity of Blastocystis.  Even when subtypes overlap between humans and animals, we have accumulating evidence that the strains found in humans and animals are different. This means that the hypothesis that animals constitute an important reservoir of human Blastocystis infections currently has very limited support. It is my clear impression that when a strain of ST6 or ST8 is detected in humans, this strain has most probably been transmitted from an animal source. But we very rarely see these subtypes in humans, at least in Europeans.

It will be extremely interesting to see how the universe of Blastocystis subtypes unfolds... by genetically characterising strains in humans and non-human hosts, we are building up a clearer picture of transmission patterns and evolutionary biology, including our adaptation to Blastocystis, and the parasite's adaptation to us and other hosts.

It is noteworthy that we are starting to see different subtypes in rodents. We have previously thought that generally, rodents were infected by ST4. But now we know that many rodents are not infected, and we also know that rodents may harbour subtypes other than ST4.

So,17 subtypes of Blastocystis are now known. We have probably only seen the top of the iceberg, since many host species have not yet been sampled from, and it is likely that we will see quite a few STs being identified in the nearest future. To this end it is necessary to have a consensus regarding the identification of novel subtypes. Along with the Protist paper we have uploaded a supplementary file (Appendix A, TXT format) with aligned reference sequences that can be used for phylogenetic analysis,  hoping that it will be useful to our colleagues. In a future blog post I will try to address the issues of identifying new subtypes more specifically.

ST15 is one of the more interesting subtypes since it appears to have quite a low host specificity - infecting both non-human primates and artiodactyls. Yet, we have come across it only now. ST15 and ST17 are remarkable in the way that they appear to be closer related to herptile and arthropod lineages, respectively, than to lineages from mammals.

Please note that virtually complete sequences of ST10, ST13, ST14, ST15, and ST17 analysed in the study have been released in GenBank just now.

Further reading:

Alfellani MA, Taner-Mulla D, Jacob AS, Imeede CA, Yoshikawa H, Stensvold CR, & Clark CG (2013). Genetic Diversity of Blastocystis in Livestock and Zoo Animals. Protist, 164 (4), 497-509 PMID: 23770574

Alfellani MA, Stensvold CR, Vidal-Lapiedra A, Onuoha ES, Fagbenro-Beyioku AF, & Clark CG (2013). Variable geographic distribution of Blastocystis subtypes and its potential implications. Acta Tropica, 126 (1), 11-8 PMID: 23290980

Alfellani MA, Jacob AS, Perea NO, Krecek RC, Taner-Mulla D, Verweij JJ, Levecke B, Tannich E, Clark CG, & Stensvold CR (2013). Diversity and distribution of Blastocystis sp. subtypes in non-human primates. Parasitology, 140 (8), 966-71 PMID: 23561720