Showing posts with label stramenopiles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label stramenopiles. Show all posts

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Blastocystis aux Enfers

We tremble at the thought of being devoured by a ferocious animal, - of ending our days in a narrow, suffocating slimy tube covered in acidic, nauseating glaze! Remarkably, for some eukaryotic beings, this is the only way forward if they want to carry on with their lives! Intestinal protists such as Blastocystis are in a state of hibernation when outside our bodies and the only thing that may rouse these Sleeping Beauties to action is the passage through low pH enzyme ponds. They thrive, grow and raise their progeny only in the swampy Tartarus of our large intestines; they bequeath to their offspring the affinity for this gloomy, filthy slew; this murky, densely populated, polluted channel, and when the pool of poo becomes all too arid, they know it’s time to buckle up, shut down, and prepare themselves for the great unknown which can potentially mean death to them if eventually they are not lucky enough to be gulped down by another suitable host.

And yet, despite their remarkable modesty and humble requirements these little buggers are being bullied by their inhospitable human hosts; we’d throw anything at them to force them out, organic and inorganic compounds meant to arrest or even kill them. But the whelps of Blastocystis appear extremely resilient, which may hold the key to part of their success; they stay afloat on the Styx of our bowels. In order to eschew Flagyl, perhaps they bribed Phlegyas?

I think it's sometimes useful to put things into a completely different perspective. In any event, from an evolutionary biology standpoint it is highly interesting that a genus which is genetically related to water molds such as those causing potato blight and sudden oak death, has so successfully adapted to a parasitic, anaerobic life style, capable of protractedly colonising a plethora of very diverse host species including members of primates, other mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and arthropods and thereby evading innate and adaptive immune defenses from such a diverse range of hosts. One could be inclined to say: Well done! But which is it? Parasitism? Commensalism? Mutalism? Symbiosis? And what will happen to Blastocystis in the future? Will this successful crusader eventually succumb to our avid but maybe imprudent war strategies? And if so, what will happen to us after removing such a common player from our intestinal ecosystems?

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.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What is Blastocystis?

Intestinal parasites of humans can be divided into mainly helminths ('worms' including cestodes, nematodes and trematodes), and single-celled eukaryotic organisms. Most single-celled intestinal parasites belong to one of four main groups:
  • Archamoebae or Amoeboids (e.g. Entamoba, Iodamoeba, Endolimax)
  • Ciliates (e.g. Balantidium)
  • Sporozoa (e.g. Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, Cystoisospora; even microsporidia)
  • Flagellates (e.g. Giardia, Chilomastix, Enteromonas, Pentatrichomonas, Retortamonas, Dientamoeba (unflagellated flagellate!))
Traditionally, these four groups have been referred to as protozoa.

However, the most common, single-celled intestinal parasitic eukaryote, Blastocystis, does not belong in any of these four categories. Taxonomically, Blastocystis belongs to the heterogeneous group of Stramenopiles, which includes slime nets, diatoms, water moulds and brown algae. Most stramenopiles are free-living organisms. Blastocystis is an atypical stramenopile not only as this group is named for the straw-like tubular hairs on the flagella and sometimes the cell body - Blastocystis has no flagella and lacks any tubular hairs - but also due to its parasitic nature.

Often, Blastocystis is referred to as a 'protozoon', although 'protist' is more appropriate. Protists can be defined basically as any eukaryote that is not a plant, an animal or a fungus.

One of the closest relatives of Blastocystis identified to date is Proteromonas lacertae, a parasite of reptiles.

Interestingly, Proteromonas does have flagella and hairs on the cell body. For comparison, the image below shows Blastocystis (culture) - appearing almost amoeboid, only with very limited morphological hallmarks (note examples of binary fission and the eccentrically located nuclei and mitochondrion-like organelles).

Blastocystis is one of two Stramenopiles known to infect humans, the other being Pythium insidiosum, which has been associated with keratitis and dermatological lesions mainly in SE Asia.

Other organisms with close relation to Blastocystis include Karotomorpha, Cepedea, Protoopalina and Opalina.

For further information, please visit

Silberman, J., Sogin, M., Leipe, D., & Clark, C. (1996). Human parasite finds taxonomic home Nature, 380 (6573), 398-398 DOI: 10.1038/380398a0  

HOEVERS, J., & SNOWDEN, K. (2005). Analysis of the ITS region and partial ssu and lsu rRNA genes of Blastocystis and Proteromonas lacertae Parasitology, 131 (2), 187-196 DOI: 10.1017/S0031182005007596  

Kostka, M., Cepicka, I., Hampl, V., & Flegr, J. (2007). Phylogenetic position of Karotomorpha and paraphyly of Proteromonadidae Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 43 (3), 1167-1170 DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2006.11.002