This Week In Biofilms And Microbiomes: Monday April 18, 2016

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

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Parasitic worm infestations may be able to restore balance to the erratic gut microbiomes of people with Crohn's Disease, suggests a new study published in Science last week. Researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center recruited laboratory mice to unravel the persistent mystery of the human gut: Areas of the world where parasitic worm infections are commonplace tend to have much lower rates of autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s and other inflammatory bowel diseases. They gave specially bred mice lacking Nod2, a gene implicated in some Crohn’s cases, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that sent their small intestines into disarray and caused a chronic Crohn’s-like inflammation. More specifically, the mucus layer of the small intestine thinned, which seemingly decreased levels of a bacterial family called Clostridiales and increased levels of another common microbe, Bacteroides vulgatus. Once these mice were infected with the mouse whipworm, though, mucus production picked back up, the levels of B. vulgatus declined as the levels of Clostridiales rose, and inflammation dropped off. The investigators argue that the worms had induced a specific immune response known as type 2 immunity, which jumpstarted mucus production and subsequently restored bacterial balance. The study is the first one to provide a link between parasites and bacteria and the origin of inflammatory bowel diseases, supporting the hygiene hypothesis, according to which the absence of exposure to worms in too-clean modern living spaces has left some with oversensitive, gut-based immune systems vulnerable to inflammatory diseases. “We and others believe that no single bacteria ‘causes’ Crohn’s disease, but the imbalance in the [gut bacteria] population is what contributes to the disease. That’s why the field is now interested in ways to restore the balance, either by giving people protective bacteria or inducing a protective immune response,” said the study’s co-author Ken Cadwell from New York University School of Medicine. The paper was widely publicized by several media outlets, including Medical Xpress, Fox News and Newswise.

Is a low fiber diet a key driver of microbiome depletion? Yes, reports a commentary published in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. Researchers at the University of Alberta have found that most Westerners only eat half the recommended amount of fiber which nutritionist describe as the "fiber gap." The modern diets high in meat, dairy and salt are stripping the gut of good bacteria that protect us from obesity, colon cancer, allergies, asthma, autism and cardiovascular disease. Earlier this year, Stanford University's Justin Sonnenburg found that mice fed a typical Western diet (high in fat and carbohydrates and low in fiber) transferred a lower diversity of beneficial microbial species to future generations. The re-introduction of the microbes' preferred fiber at that stage did not result in a return of some (good) species, indicating that extinctions had occurred in only a few generations. “The most pressing issue at the moment is that neither consumption of fiber in society nor the doses used in clinical research are high enough," said Jens Walter, co-author and Associate Professor from the University of Alberta. The authors propose a concerted effort by scientists, food producers, policy makers, and regulatory groups to address the fiber gap. They emphasize that clinical assessments of different fiber types and fiber-enriched foods on microbiome outcomes are needed. Read the press coverage by Daily Mail and The Express Tribune.

Finally, making a hot news in the European Biotech sector, Paris based Enterome Bioscience SA has announced its exclusive worldwide license agreement with Boston based Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. to research, develop and commercialize novel small molecule FimH antagonists for use in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). This new programme targets adherent-invasive Escherichia coli (AIEC), which Enterome has identified as a key bacterial species in triggering inflammation. E. coli is a common bacteria of the gut, but this particular strain has been found in over 50% of patients with a type of Crohn’s disease. The novel small molecules act as as antogonists to FimH, a cell surface adhesion proteins – that enable this pathogenic E. coli to adhere to gut epithelial cells, invading the gut wall. Research has shown that blocking FimH reduces inflammation. The leading compound in the programme is EB8018, which has first-in-class potential. Enterome expects to start clinical trials still in 2016, targeting patients with moderate-to-severe IBD. Should the approaching trials be successful, this French Biotech may have a very profitable drug in its ranks. Read the press release here.

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