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1.  Zinc proteome interaction network as a model to identify nutrient-affected pathways in human pathologies 
Genes & Nutrition  2014;9(6):436.
Zinc is an essential micronutrient playing fundamental roles in cellular metabolism. It acts mostly through binding a wide range of proteins, thus affecting a broad spectrum of biological processes, which include cell division, growth and differentiation. Full annotation of zinc-binding proteins showed them to represent about 10 % of the human proteome, with over 300 enzymes containing zinc ions within their catalytic domains. Also, hundreds of key regulatory proteins, including transcription factors, require zinc for their activity. In this study, the whole set of zinc-binding proteins together with their direct interactors was listed and defined as the zinc proteome (ZNP). We interrogated pathway analysis tools to identify the cellular processes that are predicted to be affected by zinc availability. Network and functional enrichment analyses highlighted biological processes potentially affected by deregulated zinc homeostasis. This computational approach was also tested on a real case study: The possible involvement of ZNP network proteins in Crohn’s disease pathogenesis was assessed on genes transcriptionally regulated in the intestine of patients affected by this condition. The analysis produced a network of pathways likely to be influenced by zinc and associated with Crohn’s disease. These results highlight a central role for zinc in the tissue remodeling process which occurs upon gut inflammation, pointing at novel disease pathways whose effect could be worsened by zinc dyshomeostasis and impaired zinc fluxes in specific damaged areas. Overall, our computational approach could provide novel insights into pathological conditions and could therefore be used to drive mechanistic research in under-investigated fields of research. An interactive version of the determined ZNP network is available at URL http://93.63.165.11/ZNnetwork/.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s12263-014-0436-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1007/s12263-014-0436-0
PMCID: PMC4235833  PMID: 25367142
Zinc; Pathway analysis; Crohn’s disease
2.  Functional Screening of Antibiotic Resistance Genes from a Representative Metagenomic Library of Food Fermenting Microbiota 
BioMed Research International  2014;2014:290967.
Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) represent the predominant microbiota in fermented foods. Foodborne LAB have received increasing attention as potential reservoir of antibiotic resistance (AR) determinants, which may be horizontally transferred to opportunistic pathogens. We have previously reported isolation of AR LAB from the raw ingredients of a fermented cheese, while AR genes could be detected in the final, marketed product only by PCR amplification, thus pointing at the need for more sensitive microbial isolation techniques. We turned therefore to construction of a metagenomic library containing microbial DNA extracted directly from the food matrix. To maximize yield and purity and to ensure that genomic complexity of the library was representative of the original bacterial population, we defined a suitable protocol for total DNA extraction from cheese which can also be applied to other lipid-rich foods. Functional library screening on different antibiotics allowed recovery of ampicillin and kanamycin resistant clones originating from Streptococcus salivarius subsp. thermophilus and Lactobacillus helveticus genomes. We report molecular characterization of the cloned inserts, which were fully sequenced and shown to confer AR phenotype to recipient bacteria. We also show that metagenomics can be applied to food microbiota to identify underrepresented species carrying specific genes of interest.
doi:10.1155/2014/290967
PMCID: PMC4163480  PMID: 25243126
3.  Update on antibiotic resistance in foodborne Lactobacillus and Lactococcus species 
Lactobacilli represent a major Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) component within the complex microbiota of fermented foods obtained from meat, dairy, and vegetable sources. Lactococci, on the other hand, are typical of milk and fermented dairy products, which in turn represent the vast majority of fermented foods. As is the case for all species originating from the environment, foodborne lactobacilli and lactococci consist of natural, uncharacterized strains, whose biodiversity depends on geographical origin, seasonality, animal feeding/plant growth conditions. Although a few species of opportunistic pathogens have been described, lactobacilli and lactococci are mostly non-pathogenic, Gram-positive bacteria displaying probiotic features. Since antibiotic resistant (AR) strains do not constitute an immediate threat to human health, scientific interest for detailed studies on AR genes in these species has been greatly hindered. However, increasing evidence points at a crucial role for foodborne LAB as reservoir of potentially transmissible AR genes, underlining the need for further, more detailed studies aimed at identifying possible strategies to avoid AR spread to pathogens through fermented food consumption. The availability of a growing number of sequenced bacterial genomes has been very helpful in identifying the presence/distribution of mobile elements associated with AR genes, but open questions and knowledge gaps still need to be filled, highlighting the need for systematic and datasharing approaches to implement both surveillance and mechanistic studies on transferability of AR genes. In the present review we report an update of the recent literature on AR in lactobacilli and lactococci following the 2006 EU-wide ban of the use of antibiotics as feed additives in animal farming, and we discuss the limits of the present knowledge in evaluating possible risks for human health.
doi:10.3389/fmicb.2013.00301
PMCID: PMC3792357  PMID: 24115946
AR genes; growth promoters; lactic acid bacteria; fermented food; dairy fermentation; microbiota; horizontal gene transfer
4.  Molecular characterization of a novel mosaic tet(S/M) gene encoding tetracycline resistance in foodborne strains of Streptococcus bovis 
Microbiology  2012;158(Pt 9):2353-2362.
The presence of antibiotic-resistance (AR) genes in foodborne bacteria of enteric origin represents a relevant threat to human health in the case of opportunistic pathogens, which can reach the human gut through the food chain. Streptococcus bovis is a human opportunistic pathogen often associated with infections in immune-compromised or cancer patients, and it can also be detected in the environment, including fermented foods. We have focused on the molecular characterization of a tetracycline (Tet)-resistance gene present in 39 foodborne isolates of S. bovis phenotypically resistant to this drug. The gene was identified as a novel tet(S/M) fusion, encoding a mosaic protein composed of the N-terminal 33 amino acids of Tet(S), in-frame with the Tet(M) coding sequence. Heterologous expression of the mosaic gene was found to confer Tet resistance upon Escherichia coli recipients. Moreover, the tet(S/M) gene was found to be transcriptionally inducible by Tet under the endogenous tet(S) promoter in both S. bovis and E. coli. Nucleotide sequencing of the surrounding genomic region of 16.2 kb revealed large blocks of homology with the genomes of Streptococcus infantarius and Lactococcus lactis. A subregion of about 4 kb containing mosaic tet(S/M) was flanked by two copies of the IS1216 mobile element. PCR amplification with primers directed outwards from the tet(S/M) gene identified the presence of a 4.3 kb circular form corresponding to the intervening chromosomal region between the two IS1216 elements, but lacking a replication origin. The circular element shared extensive overall homology with a region of the multidrug-resistance plasmid pK214 from Lc. lactis, containing tet(S), as well as the IS1216 transposase-containing element and intervening non-coding sequences. Linear reconstruction of the insertion events likely to have occurred within this genomic region, inferred from sequence homology, provides further evidence of the chromosomal rearrangements that drive genomic evolution in complex bacterial communities such as the gut and food microbiota.
doi:10.1099/mic.0.058206-0
PMCID: PMC3542815  PMID: 22723288
5.  Apical Localization of Zinc Transporter ZnT4 in Human Airway Epithelial Cells and Its Loss in a Murine Model of Allergic Airway Inflammation 
Nutrients  2011;3(11):910-928.
The apical cytoplasm of airway epithelium (AE) contains abundant labile zinc (Zn) ions that are involved in the protection of AE from oxidants and inhaled noxious substances. A major question is how dietary Zn traffics to this compartment. In rat airways, in vivo selenite autometallographic (Se-AMG)-electron microscopy revealed labile Zn-selenium nanocrystals in structures resembling secretory vesicles in the apical cytoplasm. This observation was consistent with the starry-sky Zinquin fluorescence staining of labile Zn ions confined to the same region. The vesicular Zn transporter ZnT4 was likewise prominent in both the apical and basal parts of the epithelium both in rodent and human AE, although the apical pools were more obvious. Expression of ZnT4 mRNA was unaffected by changes in the extracellular Zn concentration. However, levels increased 3-fold during growth of cells in air liquid interface cultures and decreased sharply in the presence of retinoic acid. When comparing nasal versus bronchial human AE cells, there were significant positive correlations between levels of ZnT4 from the same subject, suggesting that nasal brushings may allow monitoring of airway Zn transporter expression. Finally, there were marked losses of both basally-located ZnT4 protein and labile Zn in the bronchial epithelium of mice with allergic airway inflammation. This study is the first to describe co-localization of zinc vesicles with the specific zinc transporter ZnT4 in airway epithelium and loss of ZnT4 protein in inflamed airways. Direct evidence that ZnT4 regulates Zn levels in the epithelium still needs to be provided. We speculate that ZnT4 is an important regulator of zinc ion accumulation in secretory apical vesicles and that the loss of labile Zn and ZnT4 in airway inflammation contributes to AE vulnerability in diseases such as asthma.
doi:10.3390/nu3110910
PMCID: PMC3257720  PMID: 22254085
zinc; zinc transporter; ZnT4; airway epithelium; airway inflammation; asthma; Zinquin; Se-Autometallography (Se-AMG)
6.  Introduction to the special issue “Probiotic bacteria and human gut microbiota” 
Genes & Nutrition  2011;6(3):203-204.
doi:10.1007/s12263-011-0241-y
PMCID: PMC3145059  PMID: 21779936
7.  Antibiotic resistance determinants in the interplay between food and gut microbiota 
Genes & Nutrition  2011;6(3):275-284.
A complex and heterogeneous microflora performs sugar and lactic acid fermentations in food products. Depending on the fermentable food matrix (dairy, meat, vegetable etc.) as well as on the species composition of the microbiota, specific combinations of molecules are produced that confer unique flavor, texture, and taste to each product. Bacterial populations within such “fermented food microbiota” are often of environmental origin, they persist alive in foods ready for consumption, eventually reaching the gastro-intestinal tract where they can interact with the resident gut microbiota of the host. Although this interaction is mostly of transient nature, it can greatly contribute to human health, as several species within the food microbiota also display probiotic properties. Such an interplay between food and gut microbiota underlines the importance of the microbiological quality of fermented foods, as the crowded environment of the gut is also an ideal site for genetic exchanges among bacteria. Selection and spreading of antibiotic resistance genes in foodborne bacteria has gained increasing interest in the past decade, especially in light of the potential transferability of antibiotic resistance determinants to opportunistic pathogens, natural inhabitants of the human gut but capable of acquiring virulence in immunocompromised individuals. This review aims at describing major findings and future prospects in the field, especially after the use of antibiotics as growth promoters was totally banned in Europe, with special emphasis on the application of genomic technologies to improve quality and safety of fermented foods.
doi:10.1007/s12263-011-0226-x
PMCID: PMC3145056  PMID: 21526400
Lactic acid bacteria; Fermented food; Horizontal transfer; Metagenomics
8.  Antibiotic resistance determinants in the interplay between food and gut microbiota 
Genes & Nutrition  2011;6(3):275-284.
A complex and heterogeneous microflora performs sugar and lactic acid fermentations in food products. Depending on the fermentable food matrix (dairy, meat, vegetable etc.) as well as on the species composition of the microbiota, specific combinations of molecules are produced that confer unique flavor, texture, and taste to each product. Bacterial populations within such “fermented food microbiota” are often of environmental origin, they persist alive in foods ready for consumption, eventually reaching the gastro-intestinal tract where they can interact with the resident gut microbiota of the host. Although this interaction is mostly of transient nature, it can greatly contribute to human health, as several species within the food microbiota also display probiotic properties. Such an interplay between food and gut microbiota underlines the importance of the microbiological quality of fermented foods, as the crowded environment of the gut is also an ideal site for genetic exchanges among bacteria. Selection and spreading of antibiotic resistance genes in foodborne bacteria has gained increasing interest in the past decade, especially in light of the potential transferability of antibiotic resistance determinants to opportunistic pathogens, natural inhabitants of the human gut but capable of acquiring virulence in immunocompromised individuals. This review aims at describing major findings and future prospects in the field, especially after the use of antibiotics as growth promoters was totally banned in Europe, with special emphasis on the application of genomic technologies to improve quality and safety of fermented foods.
doi:10.1007/s12263-011-0226-x
PMCID: PMC3145056  PMID: 21526400
Lactic acid bacteria; Fermented food; Horizontal transfer; Metagenomics
9.  Connecting the Human Variome Project to nutrigenomics 
Genes & Nutrition  2010;5(4):275-283.
Nutrigenomics is the science of analyzing and understanding gene–nutrient interactions, which because of the genetic heterogeneity, varying degrees of interaction among gene products, and the environmental diversity is a complex science. Although much knowledge of human diversity has been accumulated, estimates suggest that ~90% of genetic variation has not yet been characterized. Identification of the DNA sequence variants that contribute to nutrition-related disease risk is essential for developing a better understanding of the complex causes of disease in humans, including nutrition-related disease. The Human Variome Project (HVP; http://www.humanvariomeproject.org/) is an international effort to systematically identify genes, their mutations, and their variants associated with phenotypic variability and indications of human disease or phenotype. Since nutrigenomic research uses genetic information in the design and analysis of experiments, the HVP is an essential collaborator for ongoing studies of gene–nutrient interactions. With the advent of next generation sequencing methodologies and the understanding of the undiscovered variation in human genomes, the nutrigenomic community will be generating novel sequence data and results. The guidelines and practices of the HVP can guide and harmonize these efforts.
doi:10.1007/s12263-010-0186-6
PMCID: PMC2989367
Nutrigenomics; Human Variome Project; Harmonization
10.  The Micronutrient Genomics Project: a community-driven knowledge base for micronutrient research 
Genes & Nutrition  2010;5(4):285-296.
Micronutrients influence multiple metabolic pathways including oxidative and inflammatory processes. Optimum micronutrient supply is important for the maintenance of homeostasis in metabolism and, ultimately, for maintaining good health. With advances in systems biology and genomics technologies, it is becoming feasible to assess the activity of single and multiple micronutrients in their complete biological context. Existing research collects fragments of information, which are not stored systematically and are thus not optimally disseminated. The Micronutrient Genomics Project (MGP) was established as a community-driven project to facilitate the development of systematic capture, storage, management, analyses, and dissemination of data and knowledge generated by biological studies focused on micronutrient–genome interactions. Specifically, the MGP creates a public portal and open-source bioinformatics toolbox for all “omics” information and evaluation of micronutrient and health studies. The core of the project focuses on access to, and visualization of, genetic/genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomic information related to micronutrients. For each micronutrient, an expert group is or will be established combining the various relevant areas (including genetics, nutrition, biochemistry, and epidemiology). Each expert group will (1) collect all available knowledge, (2) collaborate with bioinformatics teams towards constructing the pathways and biological networks, and (3) publish their findings on a regular basis. The project is coordinated in a transparent manner, regular meetings are organized and dissemination is arranged through tools, a toolbox web portal, a communications website and dedicated publications.
doi:10.1007/s12263-010-0192-8
PMCID: PMC2989004  PMID: 21189865
Micronutrient; Bioinformatics; Database; Genomics
11.  The Micronutrient Genomics Project: a community-driven knowledge base for micronutrient research 
Genes & Nutrition  2010;5(4):285-296.
Micronutrients influence multiple metabolic pathways including oxidative and inflammatory processes. Optimum micronutrient supply is important for the maintenance of homeostasis in metabolism and, ultimately, for maintaining good health. With advances in systems biology and genomics technologies, it is becoming feasible to assess the activity of single and multiple micronutrients in their complete biological context. Existing research collects fragments of information, which are not stored systematically and are thus not optimally disseminated. The Micronutrient Genomics Project (MGP) was established as a community-driven project to facilitate the development of systematic capture, storage, management, analyses, and dissemination of data and knowledge generated by biological studies focused on micronutrient–genome interactions. Specifically, the MGP creates a public portal and open-source bioinformatics toolbox for all “omics” information and evaluation of micronutrient and health studies. The core of the project focuses on access to, and visualization of, genetic/genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomic information related to micronutrients. For each micronutrient, an expert group is or will be established combining the various relevant areas (including genetics, nutrition, biochemistry, and epidemiology). Each expert group will (1) collect all available knowledge, (2) collaborate with bioinformatics teams towards constructing the pathways and biological networks, and (3) publish their findings on a regular basis. The project is coordinated in a transparent manner, regular meetings are organized and dissemination is arranged through tools, a toolbox web portal, a communications website and dedicated publications.
doi:10.1007/s12263-010-0192-8
PMCID: PMC2989004  PMID: 21189865
Micronutrient; Bioinformatics; Database; Genomics
12.  Characterization of the Tn916 Conjugative Transposon in a Food-Borne Strain of Lactobacillus paracasei▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2009;75(12):3866-3871.
Food-borne antibiotic-resistant lactic acid bacteria have received growing attention in the past few years. We have recently identified tetracycline-resistant Lactobacillus paracasei in samples of milk and natural whey starter cultures employed in the manufacturing process of a typical Italian fermented dairy product, Mozzarella di Bufala Campana. In the present study, we have characterized at the molecular level the genetic context of tetracycline resistance determinants in these natural strains, which we have identified as tet(M). This gene was present in 21 independent isolates, whose fingerprinting profiles were distributed into eight different repetitive extragenic palindromic groups by cluster analysis. We provide evidence that the gene is associated with the broad-host, conjugative transposon Tn916, which had never before been described to occur in L. paracasei. PCR analysis of four independent isolates by use of specifically designed primer pairs detected the presence of a circular intermediate form of the transposon, carrying a coupling sequence (GGCAAA) located between the two termini of Tn916. This novel coupling sequence conferred low conjugation frequency in mating experiments with the recipient strain JH2-2 of Enterococcus faecalis.
doi:10.1128/AEM.00589-09
PMCID: PMC2698359  PMID: 19395574
14.  Editorial 
Genes & Nutrition  2006;1(2):71.
doi:10.1007/BF02829947
PMCID: PMC3454686  PMID: 18850199
15.  Editorial 
Genes & Nutrition  2006;1(1):1-3.
doi:10.1007/BF02829930
PMCID: PMC3454818  PMID: 18850215
16.  The Znt4 mutation inlethal milk mice affects intestinal zinc homeostasis through the expression of other Zn transporters 
Genes & Nutrition  2006;1(1):61-70.
The lethal milk mouse syndrome is caused by a point mutation in the zinc transporter gene ZnT4 resulting in defective zinc secretion in the milk of homozygous mutant dams. Pups of any genotype fed solely on lm milk die within the first two weeks of neonatal life, displaying zinc deficiency symptoms. Homozygous mutant pups survive when foster nursed by wild type dams and show signs of mild zinc deficiency in adulthood. To further investigate the role of ZnT4 in zinc secretion in the intestinal epithelium, we have studied the expression by real time quantitative PCR of mutant ZnT4 and of other zinc transporters of the Zip and ZnT families, in the jejunum of homozygous lm mice and of the isogenic wild type strain C57BL/ 6J. We report in this paper that expression of the mutant ZnT4 mRNA, carrying a premature translational termination codon (ZnT4/lm), is almost absent in tissues from lm mice, probably as a result of degradation by the Nonsense Mediated mRNA Decay (NMD) Pathway. In the jejunum of mutant mice, we also observed decreased expression of the uptake zinc transporter Zip4, paralleled by increased levels of both metallothionein genes MTI and MTII. Zinc supplementation of lm mice in the drinking water did not result in further decrease of Zip4 expression, but led to full induction of MT mRNAs. These results lead us to conclude that, although in the enterocytes of lm mice the absence of the zinc secretion activity mediated by ZnT4 results in increased intracellular zinc concentration, other zinc efflux activities are able to maintain the level of zinc ions below the threshold necessary for full induction of metallothioneins.
doi:10.1007/BF02829937
PMCID: PMC3454819  PMID: 18850221
Copper; Copper transporter; lm syndrome; Metallothionein; zinc deficiency; ZnT4; Zinc Transporter

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