This week in Biofilms and Microbiomes: Monday August 22, 2016

A round-up of what we read last week in the media's coverage of biofilms and microbiomes research.

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The gut microbiome may have a major role in the onset of heart disease, suggests a recent paper published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research. The study, led by researchers from the Cornell University, has examined the role of gut microbiota in converting nutrients into a dietary compound, trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), that research has suggested plays a role in heart disease. The research team conducted a crossover feeding trial in 40 healthy young men with meals containing fish, eggs, beef, and a fruit control. Each of these meals was administered in random order in a single day separated by a one-week washout period. Before each meal, feces were collected to profile gut microbiota compositions, and blood and urine were collected to measure TMAO levels. Fish yielded higher circulating and urinary concentrations of TMAO than eggs, beef, or the fruit control. The concentrations of TMAO, which is naturally found in fish at high levels, were increased within 15 min of fish consumption, suggesting that dietary TMAO can be absorbed without processing by gut microbes. The researchers also found that healthy men with elevated TMAO levels after eating eggs and beef had high counts of firmicutes than Bacteroidetes and less gut microbiota diversity, thus indicating that TMAO production is a function of individual differences in the gut microbiome. "The findings demonstrate that a person's gut microbiome can influence circulating TMAO," said Marie Caudill, Cornell professor of nutritional sciences and the paper's senior author. "It also raises questions about the causative role of TMAO in the disease process, and it begs the question whether the gut microbiome is playing a role in the disease process rather than the TMAO itself."Future research may include testing the role of gut microbiomes in heart disease, and looking at ways to reduce circulating TMAO and seeing if there are benefits that reduce heart disease, Caudill said. The paper was picked up by 12 news outlets, including, The Medical News, and Huffington Post.

In a press release issued last week, La Jolla, California based biotechnology company, Xycrobe Therapeutics, Inc has announced a new research partnership with Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. to develop treatments for inflammatory skin diseases, such as acne, psoriasis, dermatitis and eczema. These conditions affect over 100 million people in the US alone, and are not effectively addressed by the therapies currently on the market. Xycrobe has developed a library of commensal strains from the skin microbiome engineered to grow and secrete biotherapeutics as needed to help treat an array of skin issues. The collaboration will provide both companies with information on how the Xycrobe technology may be best applied to future therapeutic and commercial applications. "The current paradigm for treating skin conditions, such as acne, completely disregards the importance of the commensal skin flora. Overuse of antibiotics have led to a higher prevalence of resistant strains of bacteria and along with that comes less efficacy for conventional treatments. So, we are attempting to change that paradigm," said Thomas Hitchcock, Ph.D., Founder and CEO of Xycrobe.

Covered by numerous media outlets, this news certainly caught the attention of the US national media. A mysterious black slime is spreading like a disease over the iconic monuments of Washington DC, including the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. This black biofilm first became noticeable in 2006 and since then has become increasingly more pronounced. A multi-disciplinary team of conservators, architects, and molecular biologists has been studying the growth on the Jefferson Memorial since 2014 as they prepare to test potential treatment options. Judy Jacob, a conservator at the park service in New York, has helped assemble a global team of scientists, microbiologists and architects who are trying to create a slime antidote. “This is an enormous challenge,” Jacob said. “We don’t even know yet if the biofilm -- aside from an aesthetic problem -- is causing damage to the marble or if it’s actually protecting the marble.” The park service has now posted signs letting people know about the battle and has received at least 100 cleaning tips from the public. The National Parks Service has recently started trying out 10 chemical biocides in small patches of the Jefferson Memorial, and they will be soon trying some non-traditional options, such as ozonated water and irradiation with lasers, according to a NPS press release. “We have absolutely no intention of allowing nature to take its course and cover a gloriously white marble rotunda with a blackened biofilm,” said Mike Litterst of the park service.

We’d love to hear what you’ve been reading this week. Please comment below.

Richa Dandona

Partnerships and Operations Manager, Nature Partner Journals, Nature Research