This Week In Biofilms And Microbiomes: Monday May 9, 2016

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

Like Comment

Your skin’s microbial inhabitants might stick around, even if you wash, reports a new study published in Cell last week. In a recent metagenomic study, authors Heidi Kong of the National Cancer Institute and Julie Segre of the National Human Genome Research Institute found that despite the skin’s exposure to the external environment, its bacterial, fungal, and viral communities are largely stable over time and these skin microbes not only show a strong preference for inhabiting specific skin sites, but also serve as microbial fingerprints that are highly unique to individuals. The researchers took skin samples from 12 healthy individuals at three successive time points, spanning from 1 month to 2 years, and performed metagenomic shotgun sequencing across 17 skin sites. "Surprisingly, we observed that the skin microbial communities were highly stable over time, even though these individuals were exposed to other individuals, clothing, environments, etc," Kong said. In addition, some sites like the oily areas (such as the back and external auditory canal) were more similar over time, whereas some sites like the feet were more varied over time. Strain and single-nucleotide variant-level analysis showed that individuals maintain, rather than reacquire, prevalent microbes from the environment. The study concludes that site, individuality, and phylogeny are all determinants of stability and in the absence of major perturbations, dominant characteristics of skin microbial communities would remain stable indefinitely. Further investigation is needed to understand how extrinsic perturbations (antimicrobial treatment, probiotics, long-term environmental relocations, diet) and intrinsic perturbations (like immunosuppression, illness, or the occurrence of disease) can alter the skin microbiota. The paper was widely publicized by various media outlets like Eurekalert, GenomeWeb and Smithsonian.

The University of Pittsburgh Center for Vaccine Research (CVR) has developed a potential drug therapy that is proving effective against tough bacterial biofilms and a deadly respiratory virus simultaneously. The study, published in the journal mSphere, is built on a recent discovery from Pitt's School of Medicine showing that the virus encourages biofilm growth and point to a new way to treat drug-resistant bacteria. The potential drug therapy relies on an engineered cationic antimicrobial peptide, or "eCAP," which is a synthetic and more efficient version of naturally occurring antimicrobial peptides that form a first line of defense against infections in humans. Developed by co-author Ronald C. Montelaro, Ph.D., professor and co-director of Pitt's CVR, the eCAP works by "punching into" bacteria and viruses, thereby destroying them. Senior author Jennifer M. Bomberger and her team tested the eCAP, WLBU2, in the laboratory by growing biofilms of drug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria on the cells that line the airway and then treating them for one hour with the eCAP. The eCAP was 50 times more effective at fighting the biofilm than traditional treatment, but did not harm the airway cells. Additionally, the scientists noted simultaneous reduction of infectivity of the viral pathogen respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). "Antibiotic-resistant chronic infections are an urgent public health threat, and the development of new therapies has been painfully slow. So to see something work on a virus and the incredibly resistant biofilms that bacteria form is very exciting”, said Dr. Bomberger, Ph.D., assistant professor in Pitt's Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. Read the press release by EurekAlert.

Finally, Seres Therapeutics, Inc., a leading microbiome therapeutics platform company, was in news for the announcement of two new academic research collaborations to further develop the company’s microbiome therapeutics platform as a treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Under the agreements, the company will work with teams at the Research Institute of St. Joseph’s Hamilton, Canada, and the Medical University of Graz, Austria. Seres’ drug pipeline includes SER-287, the first microbiome therapeutic candidate to reach clinical-stage development in a chronic disease. Under the partnership terms, Seres will acquire donor and patient samples from completed and ongoing fecal microbiota transplantation clinical studies, and perform a series of analyses on these samples to better characterize the microbiome changes associated with clinical responses. 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