This week in Biofilms and Microbiomes: Monday October 31, 2016

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

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Good news is on the horizon for cystic fibrosis patients. Synedgen Inc., a pioneering biotechnology company using the science of glycomics to discover and develop polysaccharide-based drugs, has reported promising results of preclinical studies evaluating the effectiveness of two of its potential drugs, SYGN113 to treat bacterial biofilms in the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis (CF), and of SYGN303 to treat the gastrointestinal consequences of the disease. Cystic fibrosis is a life-shortening genetic disorder that results in the accumulation of thick, sticky mucus in the lungs that clogs airways, leading to infection and chronic inflammation. The mucus also causes blockage and inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, a complication known as distal intestinal obstructive syndrome (DIOS). The drugs, developed by Synedgen, are modified polysaccharide molecules. SYGN113 enhances mucus clearance and biofilm decomposition by rendering bacteria more susceptible to antibiotics, while SYGN303 mimics the barrier function of the polysaccharide layer on the surface of the intestine, reducing the inflammatory response to damage and promoting healing of the gastrointestinal surface. The studies were completed in collaboration with the laboratory of Steven M. Rowe, M.D. at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the data was presented at the North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference (NACFC) in Orlando last week. The poster, “PAAG Removes Biofilms and Potentiates Antibacterial Activity Against Burkholderia cepacia Complex Clinical Isolates,” showed that combining SYGN113 with the antibiotic compounds tobramycin and meropenem led to increased biofilm degradation and antibacterial activity in Burkholderia cepacia bacteria that was isolated from CF patients. “The anti-biofilm properties exhibited by our glycopolymer-based molecules in these preclinical studies expose biofilm-protected bacteria to antibiotics,” Shenda Baker, PhD, president and chief operating officer of Synedgen, said in a new release. Another poster, “CFTR-/- Rat with Distal Intestinal Obstructive Syndrome (DIOS),” showed that administration of SYGN303 for 21 days to rats carrying a mutation in the CFTR gene (the gene affected in CF) prevented the development of DIOS, and improved the animals’ survival and growth. These data support our novel approach to treat this serious complication of CF, Baker said in a separate press release.

Researchers from the University of Princeton have for the first time uncovered the mechanics of biofilm formation. By using a special microscopy method pioneered by a former postdoctoral research associate, Knut Drescher, the scientists were able to track the growth of a single bacterial cell of Vibrio Cholerae, as it grew into a mature biofilm of 10,000 cells with an ordered architecture. Connections between biofilm architectural, material, and mechanical features have never been systematically studied at the individual cell level due to inadequate optical resolution. To solve this problem, the team took a multidisciplinary approach. First, they genetically modified the bacterial strain so the cells produced proteins that glow brightly when illuminated by specific colors of light. Then a confocal microscope was used to see into the core of a living, growing biofilm. Another boost for the research team came from computer algorithms originally developed for fields like materials science. The algorithms differentiated closely clustered sources of light, in this case the many bunched-up V. cholerae cells in a thickening biofilm. Together, these technologies revealed that Vibrio cholerae biofilms undergo a 2D-to-3D transition as a consequence of directional cell division and anisotropic pressure caused by cell-to-surface adhesion. Further delve into the genetics behind this cellular behavior, unveiled that deletion of a single gene responsible for cell-to-cell adhesion changes the biofilm growth mode from directional cell growth to expansion caused by the extracellular matrix. "This paper opens up a world to us that was never before accessible: the inside of biofilms," said Bonnie Bassler, a senior author of the paper and the Squibb Professor in Molecular Biology at Princeton. The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was picked up by 10 news outlets, including Infection Control Today and amongst others.

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