This Week In Biofilms And Microbiomes: Monday June 6, 2016

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

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Cigarette smoking may put you at increased risk of oral diseases, reports a new study published in Tobacco Induced Diseases. According to researchers from the University of Louisville School of Dentistry tobacco smoke, which is comprised of thousands of different chemical components, acts as an environmental stressor to which oral bacteria respond by altering the expression of multiple genes and proteins, including virulence factors which promote colonization and immune evasion. Recent evidence has demonstrated that tobacco smoke and components alter the bacterial surface and promote biofilm formation in several important human pathogens, including Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus mutans, Klebsiella pneumonia, Porphyromonas gingivalis and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. "Once a pathogen establishes itself within a biofilm, it can be difficult to eradicate as biofilms provide a physical barrier against the host immune response, can be impermeable to antibiotics and act as a reservoir for persistent infection," said the lead study author, David A. Scott, PhD. "Furthermore, biofilms allow for the transfer of genetic material among the bacterial community and this can lead to antibiotic resistance and the propagation of other virulence factors that promote infection." Attention to Scott's work comes as the World Health Organization observed World No Tobacco Day on May 31 to encourage a global 24-hour abstinence from all forms of tobacco consumption. The effort points to the annual 6 million worldwide deaths linked to the negative health effects of tobacco use. The paper was highlighted in a press release by Science Daily, Medical Xpress, Medical Daily and many other news outlets.

Eating walnuts may change gut bacteria in a way that suppresses colon cancer, reports a new study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research. In a collaborative study, researchers from UConn Health and The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine assessed the potential benefit of whole walnut consumption in a mouse model. In study 1, a modest reduction in tumor numbers was observed in mice fed a standard diet containing 9.4% walnuts (15% of total fat). In study 2, the effects of walnut supplementation were tested in the Total Western Diet (TWD). There was a significant reduction in tumor numbers in male mice fed TWD containing 7% walnuts (10.5% of total fat). Higher concentrations of walnuts lacked inhibitory effects, particularly in female mice, indicating there may be optimal levels of dietary walnut intake for cancer prevention. The effects of walnuts were tested in fecal samples using 16S rRNA gene sequencing and it was found that walnut consumption tended to push the gut microbiome toward an ecology that was potentially protective against cancer. “Our results show for the first time that walnut consumption may reduce colon tumor development,” said Daniel W. Rosenberg of UConn Health, principal investigator on the study. This research shows that walnuts may also act as a probiotic to make the colon healthy, which in turn offers protection against colon tumors.” The paper was picked up by several important media outlets including U Conn Today, and

This news further illustrates the growing popularity of microbiome research. A multitude of well-known investors are moving in, looking to stake a claim in companies seeking to apply science to the development of new medicines. In a press release published today, Cambridge, Mass.-based Vedanta Biosciences–a startup making specifically defined, live bacterial strains into drugs for inflammation, infections or cancer– has announced that it has pulled in $50 million in new equity financing. Rock Springs Capital, Invesco Asset Management, Health for Life Capital and PureTech joined the financing. Vedanta is different from other recent start-ups in the sense that it focuses on isolating specific bacterial strains that scientists believe can have a specific biological effect, and making those into “rationally defined” drugs. That’s different than a fecal transplant, in which physicians take feces loaded with incredibly diverse bacteria from one patient and transplant it into another patient whose gut microbiome has been hijacked by bad bugs like C. diff. Back in January 2015, the company struck a small partnership with Janssen Biotech, a unit of Johnson & Johnson, to see what it could do with specific bacterial strains that might treat inflammatory diseases of the gut like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. At the time, Vedanta said it had isolated 17 kinds of Clostridia bacteria that it thought could be given as a drug that could restore gut balance and reduce inflammation. The company’s most advanced drug candidate is being developed to fight an undisclosed infectious disease, and another is being developed against inflammatory bowel disease under its partnership with Johnson & Johnson. Both drugs are being prepped to enter clinical trials in the first half of 2017, said Bernat Olle, CEO of Vedanta Biosciences, in a statement.

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