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1.  Microbial Succession in the Gut: Directional Trends of Taxonomic and Functional Change in a Birth Cohort of Spanish Infants 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(6):e1004406.
In spite of its major impact on life-long health, the process of microbial succession in the gut of infants remains poorly understood. Here, we analyze the patterns of taxonomic and functional change in the gut microbiota during the first year of life for a birth cohort of 13 infants. We detect that individual instances of gut colonization vary in the temporal dynamics of microbiota richness, diversity, and composition at both functional and taxonomic levels. Nevertheless, trends discernible in a majority of infants indicate that gut colonization occurs in two distinct phases of succession, separated by the introduction of solid foods to the diet. This change in resource availability causes a sharp decrease in the taxonomic richness of the microbiota due to the loss of rare taxa (p = 2.06e-9), although the number of core genera shared by all infants increases substantially. Moreover, although the gut microbial succession is not strictly deterministic, we detect an overarching directionality of change through time towards the taxonomic and functional composition of the maternal microbiota. Succession is however not complete by the one year mark, as significant differences remain between one-year-olds and their mothers in terms of taxonomic (p = 0.009) and functional (p = 0.004) microbiota composition, and in taxonomic richness (p = 2.76e-37) and diversity (p = 0.016). Our results also indicate that the taxonomic composition of the microbiota shapes its functional capacities. Therefore, the observed inter-individual variability in taxonomic composition during succession is not fully compensated by functional equivalence among bacterial genera and may have important physiological consequences. Finally, network analyses suggest that positive interactions among core genera during community assembly contribute to ensure their permanence within the gut, and highlight an expansion of complexity in the interactions network as the core of taxa shared by all infants grows following the introduction of solid foods.
Author Summary
Although knowledge of the complex community of microbes that inhabits the human gut is constantly increasing, the successional process through which it develops during infancy remains poorly understood. Particularly, although gut microbiota composition is known to vary through time among infants, the effect of this variability on the functional capacities of the community has not been previously explored. We simultaneously analyze the taxonomic and functional development of the gut microbiota in a birth cohort of healthy infants during the first year of life, showing that individual instances of gut colonization vary in their temporal dynamics and that clear parallelisms exist between functional and taxonomic change. Therefore, taxonomic composition shapes the functional capacities of the microbiota, and, consequently, successional variability may affect host physiology, metabolism and immunity. Nevertheless, we detect some overarching trends in microbiota development, such as the existence of two distinct phases of succession, separated by the introduction of solid foods, and a strong directionality of change towards the taxonomic and functional composition of the maternal microbiota. Understanding the commonalities and differences among individual patterns of gut colonization in healthy infants will enable a better definition of the deviations in this process that result in microbiota imbalances and disease.
PMCID: PMC4046925  PMID: 24901968
2.  Characterization of the Gut-Associated Microbiome in Inflammatory Pouch Complications Following Ileal Pouch-Anal Anastomosis 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e66934.
Inflammatory complications following ileal pouch-anal anastomosis (IPAA) for ulcerative colitis (UC) are common and thought to arise through mechanisms similar to de novo onset inflammatory bowel disease. The aim of this study was to determine whether specific organisms in the tissue-associated microbiota are associated with inflammatory pouch complications.
Patients having previously undergone IPAA were recruited from Mount Sinai Hospital. Clinical and demographic information were collected and a pouchoscopy with biopsy of both the pouch and afferent limb was performed. Patients were classified based on post-surgical phenotype into four outcome groups: familial adenomatous polyposis controls (FAP), no pouchitis, pouchitis, and Crohn’s disease-like (CDL). Pyrosequencing of the 16S rRNA V1-V3 hypervariable region, and quantitative PCR for bacteria of interest, were used to identify organisms present in the afferent limb and pouch. Associations with outcomes were evaluated using exact and non-parametric tests of significance.
Analysis at the phylum level indicated that Bacteroidetes were detected significantly less frequently (P<0.0001) in the inflammatory outcome groups (pouchitis and CDL) compared to both FAP and no pouchitis. Conversely, Proteobacteria were detected more frequently in the inflammatory groups (P=0.01). At the genus level, organisms associated with outcome were detected less frequently among the inflammatory groups compared to those without inflammation. Several of these organisms, including Bacteroides (P<0.0001), Parabacteroides (P≤2.2x10-3), Blautia (P≤3.0x10-3) and Sutterella (P≤2.5x10-3), were associated with outcome in both the pouch and afferent limb. These associations remained significant even following adjustment for antibiotic use, smoking, country of birth and gender. Individuals with quiescent disease receiving antibiotic therapy displayed similar reductions in these organisms as those with active pouch inflammation.
Specific genera are associated with inflammation of the ileal pouch, with a reduction of typically ubiquitous organisms characterizing the inflammatory phenotypes.
PMCID: PMC3782502  PMID: 24086242
4.  Genomic Analysis of the Kiwifruit Pathogen Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae Provides Insight into the Origins of an Emergent Plant Disease 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(7):e1003503.
The origins of crop diseases are linked to domestication of plants. Most crops were domesticated centuries – even millennia – ago, thus limiting opportunity to understand the concomitant emergence of disease. Kiwifruit (Actinidia spp.) is an exception: domestication began in the 1930s with outbreaks of canker disease caused by P. syringae pv. actinidiae (Psa) first recorded in the 1980s. Based on SNP analyses of two circularized and 34 draft genomes, we show that Psa is comprised of distinct clades exhibiting negligible within-clade diversity, consistent with disease arising by independent samplings from a source population. Three clades correspond to their geographical source of isolation; a fourth, encompassing the Psa-V lineage responsible for the 2008 outbreak, is now globally distributed. Psa has an overall clonal population structure, however, genomes carry a marked signature of within-pathovar recombination. SNP analysis of Psa-V reveals hundreds of polymorphisms; however, most reside within PPHGI-1-like conjugative elements whose evolution is unlinked to the core genome. Removal of SNPs due to recombination yields an uninformative (star-like) phylogeny consistent with diversification of Psa-V from a single clone within the last ten years. Growth assays provide evidence of cultivar specificity, with rapid systemic movement of Psa-V in Actinidia chinensis. Genomic comparisons show a dynamic genome with evidence of positive selection on type III effectors and other candidate virulence genes. Each clade has highly varied complements of accessory genes encoding effectors and toxins with evidence of gain and loss via multiple genetic routes. Genes with orthologs in vascular pathogens were found exclusively within Psa-V. Our analyses capture a pathogen in the early stages of emergence from a predicted source population associated with wild Actinidia species. In addition to candidate genes as targets for resistance breeding programs, our findings highlight the importance of the source population as a reservoir of new disease.
Author Summary
Despite considerable scientific advances in plant protection during the last century, agricultural crops remain vulnerable to infection by pathogens. The intensive cultivation particularly of clonally propagated crop plants increases the potential for the emergence and rapid spread of new diseases. Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae was first reported as a canker-causing pathogen of kiwifruit in the mid-1980s. However, a new outbreak of the disease occurred in 2008 and this strain has spread rapidly throughout growing regions of the world. In order to determine the origin, population structure and defining features of this pathogen, a large-scale sequencing project was established. This clarified the phylogenetic relationships between the different Psa isolates and identified the outbreak-specific gene sets associated with the aggressive systemic infection strategy exhibited by the virulent strain. This information is invaluable in developing robust long-term solutions for this serious disease. Given that kiwifruit production on a commercial scale is a relatively recent event, this analysis provides a unique insight into the evolution of this pathogen with its host, from its first emergence to the latest global outbreak. This understanding should aid in the mitigation of devastating outbreaks in the future.
PMCID: PMC3723570  PMID: 23935484
5.  Phytopathogen type III effectors as probes of biological systems 
Microbial biotechnology  2013;6(3):230-240.
Bacterial phytopathogens utilize a myriad of virulence factors to modulate their plant hosts in order to promote successful pathogenesis. One potent virulence strategy is to inject these virulence proteins into plant cells via the type III secretion system. Characterizing the host targets and the molecular mechanisms of type III secreted proteins, known as effectors, has illuminated our understanding of eukaryotic cell biology. As a result, these effectors can serve as molecular probes to aid in our understanding of plant cellular processes, such as immune signalling, vesicle trafficking, cytoskeleton stability and transcriptional regulation. Furthermore, given that effectors directly and specifically interact with their targets within plant cells, these virulence proteins have enormous biotechnological potential for manipulating eukaryotic systems.
PMCID: PMC3815918  PMID: 23433088
6.  Infant gut microbiota and the hygiene hypothesis of allergic disease: impact of household pets and siblings on microbiota composition and diversity 
Multiple studies have demonstrated that early-life exposure to pets or siblings affords protection against allergic disease; these associations are commonly attributed to the “hygiene hypothesis”. Recently, low diversity of the infant gut microbiota has also been linked to allergic disease. In this study, we characterize the infant gut microbiota in relation to pets and siblings.
The study population comprised a small sub-sample of 24 healthy, full term infants from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) birth cohort. Mothers reported on household pets and siblings. Fecal samples were collected at 4 months of age, and microbiota composition was characterized by high-throughput signature gene sequencing.
Microbiota richness and diversity tended to be increased in infants living with pets, whereas these measures were decreased in infants with older siblings. Infants living with pets exhibited under-representation of Bifidobacteriaceae and over-representation of Peptostreptococcaceae; infants with older siblings exhibited under-representation of Peptostreptococcaceae.
This study provides new evidence that exposure to pets and siblings may influence the early development of the gut microbiota, with potential implications for allergic disease. These two traditionally protective “hygiene hypothesis” factors appear to differentially impact gut microbiota composition and diversity, calling into question the clinical significance of these measures. Further research is required to confirm and expand these findings.
PMCID: PMC3655107  PMID: 23607879
Infants; Gut microbiota; Gut microbiome; Hygiene hypothesis; Microflora hypothesis; Pets; Siblings; Atopy; Allergic disease; Environmental exposures
7.  Neutral Genomic Microevolution of a Recently Emerged Pathogen, Salmonella enterica Serovar Agona 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(4):e1003471.
Salmonella enterica serovar Agona has caused multiple food-borne outbreaks of gastroenteritis since it was first isolated in 1952. We analyzed the genomes of 73 isolates from global sources, comparing five distinct outbreaks with sporadic infections as well as food contamination and the environment. Agona consists of three lineages with minimal mutational diversity: only 846 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) have accumulated in the non-repetitive, core genome since Agona evolved in 1932 and subsequently underwent a major population expansion in the 1960s. Homologous recombination with other serovars of S. enterica imported 42 recombinational tracts (360 kb) in 5/143 nodes within the genealogy, which resulted in 3,164 additional SNPs. In contrast to this paucity of genetic diversity, Agona is highly diverse according to pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), which is used to assign isolates to outbreaks. PFGE diversity reflects a highly dynamic accessory genome associated with the gain or loss (indels) of 51 bacteriophages, 10 plasmids, and 6 integrative conjugational elements (ICE/IMEs), but did not correlate uniquely with outbreaks. Unlike the core genome, indels occurred repeatedly in independent nodes (homoplasies), resulting in inaccurate PFGE genealogies. The accessory genome contained only few cargo genes relevant to infection, other than antibiotic resistance. Thus, most of the genetic diversity within this recently emerged pathogen reflects changes in the accessory genome, or is due to recombination, but these changes seemed to reflect neutral processes rather than Darwinian selection. Each outbreak was caused by an independent clade, without universal, outbreak-associated genomic features, and none of the variable genes in the pan-genome seemed to be associated with an ability to cause outbreaks.
Author Summary
Pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) is the gold standard for recognizing outbreaks of food-borne disease. Comparative genomics has been used to elucidate transmission chains and evolutionary patterns within bacterial pathogens. However, their global genetic diversity has not yet been compared across multiple food-borne outbreaks. It was uncertain whether such outbreaks are caused by closely related organisms or are due to genetic properties that were recently acquired by horizontal genetic transfer. We investigated Salmonella enterica serovar Agona, a common cause of food-borne gastroenteritis, by sequencing genomes from bacterial strains from five outbreaks, as well as sporadic disease and the environment. Each outbreak was caused by a genetically distinct variant, but closely related bacteria were also found in the environment or in animal sources. The erroneous identity of bacteria according to PFGE reflected repeated, neutral acquisitions of bacteriophages, and genetic acquisitions or losses were not uniform across outbreak strains. Our results indicate that genomic differences used by epidemiologists to reach important decisions for public health can be stochastic and unrelated to disease or fitness. Our results also define the population structure and minimal age of Agona, and suggest that many serovars of Salmonella may be of recent origin.
PMCID: PMC3630104  PMID: 23637636
8.  Disruption of the Murine Glp2r Impairs Paneth Cell Function and Increases Susceptibility to Small Bowel Enteritis 
Endocrinology  2012;153(3):1141-1151.
Exogenous glucagon-like peptide-2 receptor (GLP-2R) activation elicits proliferative and cytoprotective responses in the gastrointestinal mucosa and ameliorates experimental small and large bowel gut injury. Nevertheless, the essential physiological role(s) of the endogenous GLP-2R remain poorly understood. We studied the importance of the GLP-2R for gut growth, epithelial cell lineage allocation, the response to mucosal injury, and host-bacterial interactions in Glp2r−/− and littermate control Glp2r+/+ mice. Glp2r−/− mice exhibit normal somatic growth and preserved small and large bowel responses to IGF-I and keratinocyte growth factor. However, Glp2r−/− mice failed to up-regulate intestinal epithelial c-fos expression in response to acute GLP-2 administration and do not exhibit changes in small bowel conductance or small or large bowel growth after administration of GLP-2R agonists. The crypt and villus compartment and the numbers and localization of Paneth, enteroendocrine, and goblet cells were comparable in Glp2r+/+ vs. Glp2r−/− mice. Although the severity and extent of colonic mucosal injury in response to 3% oral dextran sulfate was similar across Glp2r genotypes, Glp2r−/− mice exhibited significantly increased morbidity and mortality and increased bacterial translocation after induction of enteritis with indomethacin and enhanced mucosal injury in response to irinotecan. Moreover, bacterial colonization of the small bowel was significantly increased, expression of Paneth cell antimicrobial gene products was reduced, and mucosal bactericidal activity was impaired in Glp2r−/− mice. Although the Glp2r is dispensable for gut development and the response to colonic injury, Glp2r−/− mice exhibit enhanced sensitivity to small bowel injury, and abnormal host-bacterial interactions in the small bowel.
PMCID: PMC3606134  PMID: 22253424 CAMSID: cams2742
9.  Gut microbiota of healthy Canadian infants: profiles by mode of delivery and infant diet at 4 months 
The gut microbiota is essential to human health throughout life, yet the acquisition and development of this microbial community during infancy remains poorly understood. Meanwhile, there is increasing concern over rising rates of cesarean delivery and insufficient exclusive breastfeeding of infants in developed countries. In this article, we characterize the gut microbiota of healthy Canadian infants and describe the influence of cesarean delivery and formula feeding.
We included a subset of 24 term infants from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) birth cohort. Mode of delivery was obtained from medical records, and mothers were asked to report on infant diet and medication use. Fecal samples were collected at 4 months of age, and we characterized the microbiota composition using high-throughput DNA sequencing.
We observed high variability in the profiles of fecal microbiota among the infants. The profiles were generally dominated by Actinobacteria (mainly the genus Bifidobacterium) and Firmicutes (with diverse representation from numerous genera). Compared with breastfed infants, formula-fed infants had increased richness of species, with overrepresentation of Clostridium difficile. Escherichia–Shigella and Bacteroides species were underrepresented in infants born by cesarean delivery. Infants born by elective cesarean delivery had particularly low bacterial richness and diversity.
These findings advance our understanding of the gut microbiota in healthy infants. They also provide new evidence for the effects of delivery mode and infant diet as determinants of this essential microbial community in early life.
PMCID: PMC3602254  PMID: 23401405
10.  Phylogenetic Diversity Theory Sheds Light on the Structure of Microbial Communities 
PLoS Computational Biology  2012;8(12):e1002832.
Microbial communities are typically large, diverse, and complex, and identifying and understanding the processes driving their structure has implications ranging from ecosystem stability to human health and well-being. Phylogenetic data gives us a new insight into these processes, providing a more informative perspective on functional and trait diversity than taxonomic richness alone. But the sheer scale of high resolution phylogenetic data also presents a new challenge to ecological theory. We bring a sampling theory perspective to microbial communities, considering a local community of co-occuring organisms as a sample from a larger regional pool, and apply our framework to make analytical predictions for local phylogenetic diversity arising from a given metacommunity and community assembly process. We characterize community assembly in terms of quantitative descriptions of clustered, random and overdispersed sampling, which have been associated with hypotheses of environmental filtering and competition. Using our approach, we analyze large microbial communities from the human microbiome, uncovering significant variation in diversity across habitats relative to the null hypothesis of random sampling.
Author Summary
Microbial diversity analyses have revolutionized our knowledge of the microscopic world, from terrestrial and marine to human and urban environments. This growing field rests on the evolutionary relatedness of organisms, and at its frontier is the inference of ecological processes from phylogenetic diversity. However, the rapidly reducing cost of sequencing means that computational analysis of phylogenetic data is becoming increasingly intractable. We develop a new analytical method to address this issue, providing a computationally-efficient way to compare local phylogenetic diversity to a sample from a regional pool of organisms, under a given ecological process. Our approach has both pragmatic and far-reaching applications. Until now investigators have lacked even an analytical method to compare the diversity of unequally-sized communities without throwing data away, while on a deeper level our theory provides a new framework for connecting phylogenetic data to a wide range of ecological processes. As an application of our approach, we use our methods to distinguish between random, clustered and overdispersed sampling for human microbiome habitats. Finally, we identify a new, phylogenetic analogue of the widely used taxonomic measure of diversity, the Species Abundance Distribution, and we find that it has consistent behavior across microbiome habitats.
PMCID: PMC3527210  PMID: 23284280
11.  Forward chemical genetic screens in Arabidopsis identify genes that influence sensitivity to the phytotoxic compound sulfamethoxazole 
BMC Plant Biology  2012;12:226.
The sulfanilamide family comprises a clinically important group of antimicrobial compounds which also display bioactivity in plants. While there is evidence that sulfanilamides inhibit folate biosynthesis in both bacteria and plants, the complete network of plant responses to these compounds remains to be characterized. As such, we initiated two forward genetic screens in Arabidopsis in order to identify mutants that exhibit altered sensitivity to sulfanilamide compounds. These screens were based on the growth phenotype of seedlings germinated in the presence of the compound sulfamethoxazole (Smex).
We identified a mutant with reduced sensitivity to Smex, and subsequent mapping indicated that a gene encoding 5-oxoprolinase was responsible for this phenotype. A mutation causing enhanced sensitivity to Smex was mapped to a gene lacking any functional annotation.
The genes identified through our forward genetic screens represent novel mediators of Arabidopsis responses to sulfanilamides and suggest that these responses extend beyond the perturbation of folate biosynthesis.
PMCID: PMC3541222  PMID: 23176361
Chemical genomics; Sulfanilamides; Arabidopsis thaliana
12.  A Novel Human-Infection-Derived Bacterium Provides Insights into the Evolutionary Origins of Mutualistic Insect–Bacterial Symbioses 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(11):e1002990.
Despite extensive study, little is known about the origins of the mutualistic bacterial endosymbionts that inhabit approximately 10% of the world's insects. In this study, we characterized a novel opportunistic human pathogen, designated “strain HS,” and found that it is a close relative of the insect endosymbiont Sodalis glossinidius. Our results indicate that ancestral relatives of strain HS have served as progenitors for the independent descent of Sodalis-allied endosymbionts found in several insect hosts. Comparative analyses indicate that the gene inventories of the insect endosymbionts were independently derived from a common ancestral template through a combination of irreversible degenerative changes. Our results provide compelling support for the notion that mutualists evolve from pathogenic progenitors. They also elucidate the role of degenerative evolutionary processes in shaping the gene inventories of symbiotic bacteria at a very early stage in these mutualistic associations.
Author Summary
Many insects harbor symbiotic bacteria that perform diverse functions within their hosts. However, the origins of these associations have been difficult to define. In this study we isolate a novel bacterium from a human infection and show that this bacterium is a close relative of the Sodalis-allied clade of insect symbionts. Comparative genomic analyses reveal that this organism maintains many genes that have been inactivated and lost independently in derived insect symbionts as a result of rapid genome degeneration. Our work also shows that recently derived Sodalis-allied symbionts maintain a significant population of “cryptic” pseudogenes that are assumed to have no beneficial function in the symbiosis but have not yet accumulated mutations that disrupt their translation. Taken together, our results show that genome degeneration proceeds rapidly following the onset of symbiosis. They also highlight the potential for diverse insect taxa to acquire closely related insect symbionts as a consequence of vectoring bacterial pathogens to plants and animals.
PMCID: PMC3499248  PMID: 23166503
14.  Analysis of the Cystic Fibrosis Lung Microbiota via Serial Illumina Sequencing of Bacterial 16S rRNA Hypervariable Regions 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e45791.
The characterization of bacterial communities using DNA sequencing has revolutionized our ability to study microbes in nature and discover the ways in which microbial communities affect ecosystem functioning and human health. Here we describe Serial Illumina Sequencing (SI-Seq): a method for deep sequencing of the bacterial 16S rRNA gene using next-generation sequencing technology. SI-Seq serially sequences portions of the V5, V6 and V7 hypervariable regions from barcoded 16S rRNA amplicons using an Illumina short-read genome analyzer. SI-Seq obtains taxonomic resolution similar to 454 pyrosequencing for a fraction of the cost, and can produce hundreds of thousands of reads per sample even with very high multiplexing. We validated SI-Seq using single species and mock community controls, and via a comparison to cystic fibrosis lung microbiota sequenced using 454 FLX Titanium. Our control runs show that SI-Seq has a dynamic range of at least five orders of magnitude, can classify >96% of sequences to the genus level, and performs just as well as 454 and paired-end Illumina methods in estimation of standard microbial ecology diversity measurements. We illustrate the utility of SI-Seq in a pilot sample of central airway secretion samples from cystic fibrosis patients.
PMCID: PMC3462755  PMID: 23056217
15.  Genomics of Adaptation during Experimental Evolution of the Opportunistic Pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(9):e1002928.
Adaptation is likely to be an important determinant of the success of many pathogens, for example when colonizing a new host species, when challenged by antibiotic treatment, or in governing the establishment and progress of long-term chronic infection. Yet, the genomic basis of adaptation is poorly understood in general, and for pathogens in particular. We investigated the genetics of adaptation to cystic fibrosis-like culture conditions in the presence and absence of fluoroquinolone antibiotics using the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Whole-genome sequencing of experimentally evolved isolates revealed parallel evolution at a handful of known antibiotic resistance genes. While the level of antibiotic resistance was largely determined by these known resistance genes, the costs of resistance were instead attributable to a number of mutations that were specific to individual experimental isolates. Notably, stereotypical quinolone resistance mutations in DNA gyrase often co-occurred with other mutations that, together, conferred high levels of resistance but no consistent cost of resistance. This result may explain why these mutations are so prevalent in clinical quinolone-resistant isolates. In addition, genes involved in cyclic-di-GMP signalling were repeatedly mutated in populations evolved in viscous culture media, suggesting a shared mechanism of adaptation to this CF–like growth environment. Experimental evolutionary approaches to understanding pathogen adaptation should provide an important complement to studies of the evolution of clinical isolates.
Author Summary
Pathogens face a hostile and often novel environment when infecting a new host, and adaptation to this environment can be critical to a pathogen's survival. The genetic basis of pathogen adaptation is in turn important for treatment, since the consistency with which therapies succeed may depend on the extent to which a pathogen adapts via the same routes in different patients. In this study, we investigate adaptation of the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa to laboratory conditions that resemble the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients and to quinolone antibiotics. We find that a handful of genes and genetic pathways are repeatedly involved in adaptation to each condition. Nonetheless, other, less common mutations can play important roles in determining fitness, complicating strategies aimed at reducing the prevalence of antibiotic resistance.
PMCID: PMC3441735  PMID: 23028345
16.  The Burkholderia bcpAIOB Genes Define Unique Classes of Two-Partner Secretion and Contact Dependent Growth Inhibition Systems 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(8):e1002877.
Microbes have evolved many strategies to adapt to changes in environmental conditions and population structures, including cooperation and competition. One apparently competitive mechanism is contact dependent growth inhibition (CDI). Identified in Escherichia coli, CDI is mediated by Two–Partner Secretion (TPS) pathway proteins, CdiA and CdiB. Upon cell contact, the toxic C-terminus of the TpsA family member CdiA, called the CdiA-CT, inhibits the growth of CDI− bacteria. CDI+ bacteria are protected from autoinhibition by an immunity protein, CdiI. Bioinformatic analyses indicate that CDI systems are widespread amongst α, β, and γ proteobacteria and that the CdiA-CTs and CdiI proteins are highly variable. CdiI proteins protect against CDI in an allele-specific manner. Here we identify predicted CDI system-encoding loci in species of Burkholderia, Ralstonia and Cupriavidus, named bcpAIOB, that are distinguished from previously-described CDI systems by gene order and the presence of a small ORF, bcpO, located 5′ to the gene encoding the TpsB family member. A requirement for bcpO in function of BcpA (the TpsA family member) was demonstrated, indicating that bcpAIOB define a novel class of TPS system. Using fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry, we show that these genes are expressed in a probabilistic manner during culture of Burkholderia thailandensis in liquid medium. The bcpAIOB genes and extracellular DNA were required for autoaggregation and adherence to an abiotic surface, suggesting that CDI is required for biofilm formation, an activity not previously attributed to CDI. By contrast to what has been observed in E. coli, the B. thailandensis bcpAIOB genes only mediated interbacterial competition on a solid surface. Competition occurred in a defined spatiotemporal manner and was abrogated by allele-specific immunity. Our data indicate that the bcpAIOB genes encode distinct classes of CDI and TPS systems that appear to function in sociomicrobiological community development.
Author Summary
Contact dependent growth inhibition (CDI) is a phenomenon discovered in Escherichia coli in which CDI+ bacteria inhibit the growth of CDI− bacteria upon cell-to-cell contact. CDI is mediated by large toxic “exoproteins” present on the bacterial cell surface. An ‘immunity’ protein protects CDI+ cells from killing themselves. While predicted CDI systems are widespread throughout bacterial genera, the role of these systems in nature has remained elusive. Here we identify a distinct class of CDI system in Burkholderia species. The genes encoding these systems are expressed in a stochastic manner such that only a few cells in the population produce the proteins at any given time when grown in broth. We also show that these systems are required for aggregation on an abiotic surface, suggesting an important role for CDI in biofilm formation. Finally, we show that CDI mediates competition under specific conditions in a precise spatiotemporal pattern when bacteria are grown on a solid surface. Our data suggest that in nature, CDI systems may be used by bacteria to establish complex sociomicrobial communities.
PMCID: PMC3415462  PMID: 22912595
17.  Extensive remodeling of the Pseudomonas syringae pv. avellanae type III secretome associated with two independent host shifts onto hazelnut 
BMC Microbiology  2012;12:141.
Hazelnut (Corylus avellana) decline disease in Greece and Italy is caused by the convergent evolution of two distantly related lineages of Pseudomonas syringae pv. avellanae (Pav). We sequenced the genomes of three Pav isolates to determine if their convergent virulence phenotype had a common genetic basis due to either genetic exchange between lineages or parallel evolution.
We found little evidence for horizontal transfer (recombination) of genes between Pav lineages, but two large genomic islands (GIs) have been recently acquired by one of the lineages. Evolutionary analyses of the genes encoding type III secreted effectors (T3SEs) that are translocated into host cells and are important for both suppressing and eliciting defense responses show that the two Pav lineages have dramatically different T3SE profiles, with only two shared putatively functional T3SEs. One Pav lineage has undergone unprecedented secretome remodeling, including the acquisition of eleven new T3SEs and the loss or pseudogenization of 15, including five of the six core T3SE families that are present in the other Pav lineage. Molecular dating indicates that divergence within both of the Pav lineages predates their observation in the field. This suggest that both Pav lineages have been cryptically infecting hazelnut trees or wild relatives for many years, and that the emergence of hazelnut decline in the 1970s may have been due to changes in agricultural practice.
These data show that divergent lineages of P. syringae can converge on identical disease etiology on the same host plant using different virulence mechanisms and that dramatic shifts in the arsenal of T3SEs can accompany disease emergence.
PMCID: PMC3411506  PMID: 22800299
Effector; Host specificity; Molecular dating
18.  Comparative Genomics of Plant-Associated Pseudomonas spp.: Insights into Diversity and Inheritance of Traits Involved in Multitrophic Interactions 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(7):e1002784.
We provide here a comparative genome analysis of ten strains within the Pseudomonas fluorescens group including seven new genomic sequences. These strains exhibit a diverse spectrum of traits involved in biological control and other multitrophic interactions with plants, microbes, and insects. Multilocus sequence analysis placed the strains in three sub-clades, which was reinforced by high levels of synteny, size of core genomes, and relatedness of orthologous genes between strains within a sub-clade. The heterogeneity of the P. fluorescens group was reflected in the large size of its pan-genome, which makes up approximately 54% of the pan-genome of the genus as a whole, and a core genome representing only 45–52% of the genome of any individual strain. We discovered genes for traits that were not known previously in the strains, including genes for the biosynthesis of the siderophores achromobactin and pseudomonine and the antibiotic 2-hexyl-5-propyl-alkylresorcinol; novel bacteriocins; type II, III, and VI secretion systems; and insect toxins. Certain gene clusters, such as those for two type III secretion systems, are present only in specific sub-clades, suggesting vertical inheritance. Almost all of the genes associated with multitrophic interactions map to genomic regions present in only a subset of the strains or unique to a specific strain. To explore the evolutionary origin of these genes, we mapped their distributions relative to the locations of mobile genetic elements and repetitive extragenic palindromic (REP) elements in each genome. The mobile genetic elements and many strain-specific genes fall into regions devoid of REP elements (i.e., REP deserts) and regions displaying atypical tri-nucleotide composition, possibly indicating relatively recent acquisition of these loci. Collectively, the results of this study highlight the enormous heterogeneity of the P. fluorescens group and the importance of the variable genome in tailoring individual strains to their specific lifestyles and functional repertoire.
Author Summary
We sequenced the genomes of seven strains of the Pseudomonas fluorescens group that colonize plant surfaces and function as biological control agents, protecting plants from disease. In this study, we demonstrated the genomic diversity of the group by comparing these strains to each other and to three other strains that were sequenced previously. Only about half of the genes in each strain are present in all of the other strains, and each strain has hundreds of unique genes that are not present in the other genomes. We mapped the genes that contribute to biological control in each genome and found that most of the biological control genes are in the variable regions of the genome, which are not shared by all of the other strains. This finding is consistent with our knowledge of the distinctive biology of each strain. Finally, we looked for new genes that are likely to confer antimicrobial traits needed to suppress plant pathogens, but have not been identified previously. In each genome, we discovered many of these new genes, which provide avenues for future discovery of new traits with the potential to manage plant diseases in agriculture or natural ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC3390384  PMID: 22792073
19.  E622, a Miniature, Virulence-Associated Mobile Element 
Journal of Bacteriology  2012;194(2):509-517.
Miniature inverted terminal repeat elements (MITEs) are nonautonomous mobile elements that have a significant impact on bacterial evolution. Here we characterize E622, a 611-bp virulence-associated MITE from Pseudomonas syringae, which contains no coding region but has almost perfect 168-bp inverted repeats. Using an antibiotic coupling assay, we show that E622 is transposable and can mobilize an antibiotic resistance gene contained between its borders. Its predicted parent element, designated TnE622, has a typical transposon structure with a three-gene operon, consisting of resolvase, integrase, and exeA-like genes, which is bounded by the same terminal inverted repeats as E622. A broader genome level survey of the E622/TnE622 inverted repeats identified homologs in Pseudomonas, Salmonella, Shewanella, Erwinia, Pantoea, and the cyanobacteria Nostoc and Cyanothece, many of which appear to encompass known virulence genes, including genes encoding toxins, enzymes, and type III secreted effectors. Its association with niche-specific genetic determinants, along with its persistence and evolutionary diversification, indicates that this mobile element family has played a prominent role in the evolution of many agriculturally and clinically relevant pathogenic bacteria.
PMCID: PMC3256676  PMID: 22081398
20.  Diverse CRISPRs Evolving in Human Microbiomes 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(6):e1002441.
CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) loci, together with cas (CRISPR–associated) genes, form the CRISPR/Cas adaptive immune system, a primary defense strategy that eubacteria and archaea mobilize against foreign nucleic acids, including phages and conjugative plasmids. Short spacer sequences separated by the repeats are derived from foreign DNA and direct interference to future infections. The availability of hundreds of shotgun metagenomic datasets from the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) enables us to explore the distribution and diversity of known CRISPRs in human-associated microbial communities and to discover new CRISPRs. We propose a targeted assembly strategy to reconstruct CRISPR arrays, which whole-metagenome assemblies fail to identify. For each known CRISPR type (identified from reference genomes), we use its direct repeat consensus sequence to recruit reads from each HMP dataset and then assemble the recruited reads into CRISPR loci; the unique spacer sequences can then be extracted for analysis. We also identified novel CRISPRs or new CRISPR variants in contigs from whole-metagenome assemblies and used targeted assembly to more comprehensively identify these CRISPRs across samples. We observed that the distributions of CRISPRs (including 64 known and 86 novel ones) are largely body-site specific. We provide detailed analysis of several CRISPR loci, including novel CRISPRs. For example, known streptococcal CRISPRs were identified in most oral microbiomes, totaling ∼8,000 unique spacers: samples resampled from the same individual and oral site shared the most spacers; different oral sites from the same individual shared significantly fewer, while different individuals had almost no common spacers, indicating the impact of subtle niche differences on the evolution of CRISPR defenses. We further demonstrate potential applications of CRISPRs to the tracing of rare species and the virus exposure of individuals. This work indicates the importance of effective identification and characterization of CRISPR loci to the study of the dynamic ecology of microbiomes.
Author Summary
Human bodies are complex ecological systems in which various microbial organisms and viruses interact with each other and with the human host. The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) has resulted in >700 datasets of shotgun metagenomic sequences, from which we can learn about the compositions and functions of human-associated microbial communities. CRISPR/Cas systems are a widespread class of adaptive immune systems in bacteria and archaea, providing acquired immunity against foreign nucleic acids: CRISPR/Cas defense pathways involve integration of viral- or plasmid-derived DNA segments into CRISPR arrays (forming spacers between repeated structural sequences), and expression of short crRNAs from these single repeat-spacer units, to generate interference to future invading foreign genomes. Powered by an effective computational approach (the targeted assembly approach for CRISPR), our analysis of CRISPR arrays in the HMP datasets provides the very first global view of bacterial immunity systems in human-associated microbial communities. The great diversity of CRISPR spacers we observed among different body sites, in different individuals, and in single individuals over time, indicates the impact of subtle niche differences on the evolution of CRISPR defenses and indicates the key role of bacteriophage (and plasmids) in shaping human microbial communities.
PMCID: PMC3374615  PMID: 22719260
21.  Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae (PSA) Isolates from Recent Bacterial Canker of Kiwifruit Outbreaks Belong to the Same Genetic Lineage 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e36518.
Intercontinental spread of emerging plant diseases is one of the most serious threats to world agriculture. One emerging disease is bacterial canker of kiwi fruit (Actinidia deliciosa and A. chinensis) caused by Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae (PSA). The disease first occurred in China and Japan in the 1980s and in Korea and Italy in the 1990s. A more severe form of the disease broke out in Italy in 2008 and in additional countries in 2010 and 2011 threatening the viability of the global kiwi fruit industry. To start investigating the source and routes of international transmission of PSA, genomes of strains from China (the country of origin of the genus Actinidia), Japan, Korea, Italy and Portugal have been sequenced. Strains from China, Italy, and Portugal have been found to belong to the same clonal lineage with only 6 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 3,453,192 bp and one genomic island distinguishing the Chinese strains from the European strains. Not more than two SNPs distinguish each of the Italian and Portuguese strains from each other. The Japanese and Korean strains belong to a separate genetic lineage as previously reported. Analysis of additional European isolates and of New Zealand isolates exploiting genome-derived markers showed that these strains belong to the same lineage as the Italian and Chinese strains. Interestingly, the analyzed New Zealand strains are identical to European strains at the tested SNP loci but test positive for the genomic island present in the sequenced Chinese strains and negative for the genomic island present in the European strains. Results are interpreted in regard to the possible direction of movement of the pathogen between countries and suggest a possible Chinese origin of the European and New Zealand outbreaks.
PMCID: PMC3348921  PMID: 22590555
22.  Computational Prediction and Molecular Characterization of an Oomycete Effector and the Cognate Arabidopsis Resistance Gene 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(2):e1002502.
Hyaloperonospora arabidopsidis (Hpa) is an obligate biotroph oomycete pathogen of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and contains a large set of effector proteins that are translocated to the host to exert virulence functions or trigger immune responses. These effectors are characterized by conserved amino-terminal translocation sequences and highly divergent carboxyl-terminal functional domains. The availability of the Hpa genome sequence allowed the computational prediction of effectors and the development of effector delivery systems enabled validation of the predicted effectors in Arabidopsis. In this study, we identified a novel effector ATR39-1 by computational methods, which was found to trigger a resistance response in the Arabidopsis ecotype Weiningen (Wei-0). The allelic variant of this effector, ATR39-2, is not recognized, and two amino acid residues were identified and shown to be critical for this loss of recognition. The resistance protein responsible for recognition of the ATR39-1 effector in Arabidopsis is RPP39 and was identified by map-based cloning. RPP39 is a member of the CC-NBS-LRR family of resistance proteins and requires the signaling gene NDR1 for full activity. Recognition of ATR39-1 in Wei-0 does not inhibit growth of Hpa strains expressing the effector, suggesting complex mechanisms of pathogen evasion of recognition, and is similar to what has been shown in several other cases of plant-oomycete interactions. Identification of this resistance gene/effector pair adds to our knowledge of plant resistance mechanisms and provides the basis for further functional analyses.
Author Summary
Oomycete plant pathogens are among the most devastating agricultural pests and employ arsenals of effector proteins to manipulate their plant hosts. Some of these effectors, however, are recognized in the plant and trigger an immune response. Hyaloperonospora arabidopsidis (Hpa) causes downy mildew on the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and this interaction has been developed as a model system for oomycete pathogenesis. Here, we employ computational predictions to identify a novel effector ATR39-1, which is highly conserved among different Hpa isolates. A two amino acid-insertion in the alternative allele ATR39-2 correlated with evasion of recognition. We identified the corresponding resistance gene RPP39 and found that the signaling gene NDR1 is required to establish full resistance. Recognition of ATR39-1 by RPP39 in the plant did not inhibit growth of the oomycete, suggesting that complex mechanisms exist to prevent effector recognition. Knowledge of such novel resistance interactions provides the backbone of our understanding of plant resistance mechanisms and will aid in the further dissection of plant immunity.
PMCID: PMC3280963  PMID: 22359513
23.  Ultrafast Evolution and Loss of CRISPRs Following a Host Shift in a Novel Wildlife Pathogen, Mycoplasma gallisepticum 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(2):e1002511.
Measureable rates of genome evolution are well documented in human pathogens but are less well understood in bacterial pathogens in the wild, particularly during and after host switches. Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG) is a pathogenic bacterium that has evolved predominantly in poultry and recently jumped to wild house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus), a common North American songbird. For the first time we characterize the genome and measure rates of genome evolution in House Finch isolates of MG, as well as in poultry outgroups. Using whole-genome sequences of 12 House Finch isolates across a 13-year serial sample and an additional four newly sequenced poultry strains, we estimate a nucleotide diversity in House Finch isolates of only ∼2% of ancestral poultry strains and a nucleotide substitution rate of 0.8−1.2×10−5 per site per year both in poultry and in House Finches, an exceptionally fast rate rivaling some of the highest estimates reported thus far for bacteria. We also found high diversity and complete turnover of CRISPR arrays in poultry MG strains prior to the switch to the House Finch host, but after the invasion of House Finches there is progressive loss of CRISPR repeat diversity, and recruitment of novel CRISPR repeats ceases. Recent (2007) House Finch MG strains retain only ∼50% of the CRISPR repertoire founding (1994–95) strains and have lost the CRISPR–associated genes required for CRISPR function. Our results suggest that genome evolution in bacterial pathogens of wild birds can be extremely rapid and in this case is accompanied by apparent functional loss of CRISPRs.
Author Summary
Documenting the evolutionary changes occurring in pathogens when they switch hosts is important for understanding mechanisms of adaptation and rates of evolution. We took advantage of a novel host–pathogen system involving a bacterial pathogen (Mycoplasma gallisepticum, or MG) and a songbird host, the House Finch, to study genome-wide changes during a host-shift. Around 1994, biologists noticed that House Finches were contracting conjunctivitis and MG from poultry was discovered to be the cause. The resulting epizootic was one of the best documented for a wildlife species, partly as a result of thousands of citizen science observers. We sequenced the genomes of 12 House Finch MG strains sampled throughout the epizootic, from 1994–2007, as well as four additional putatively ancestral poultry MG strains. Using this serial sample, we estimate a remarkably high rate of substitution, consistent with past implications that mycoplasmas are among the fastest evolving bacteria. We also find that an array of likely phage-derived sequences known as CRISPRs has degraded and ceased to recruit new repeats in the House Finch MG strains, as compared to the poultry strains in which it is diverse and rapidly evolving. This suggests that phage dynamics might be important in the dynamics of MG infection.
PMCID: PMC3276549  PMID: 22346765
24.  Pulmonary Bacterial Communities in Surgically Resected Noncystic Fibrosis Bronchiectasis Lungs Are Similar to Those in Cystic Fibrosis 
Pulmonary Medicine  2012;2012:746358.
Background. Recurrent bacterial infections play a key role in the pathogenesis of bronchiectasis, but conventional microbiologic methods may fail to identify pathogens in many cases. We characterized and compared the pulmonary bacterial communities of cystic fibrosis (CF) and non-CF bronchiectasis patients using a culture-independent molecular approach. Methods. Bacterial 16S rRNA gene libraries were constructed from lung tissue of 10 non-CF bronchiectasis and 21 CF patients, followed by DNA sequencing of isolates from each library. Community characteristics were analyzed and compared between the two groups. Results. A wide range of bacterial diversity was detected in both groups, with between 1 and 21 bacterial taxa found in each patient. Pseudomonas was the most common genus in both groups, comprising 49% of sequences detected and dominating numerically in 13 patients. Although Pseudomonas appeared to be dominant more often in CF patients than in non-CF patients, analysis of entire bacterial communities did not identify significant differences between these two groups. Conclusions. Our data indicate significant diversity in the pulmonary bacterial community of both CF and non-CF bronchiectasis patients and suggest that this community is similar in surgically resected lungs of CF and non-CF bronchiectasis patients.
PMCID: PMC3289866  PMID: 22448327
25.  A Bacterial Acetyltransferase Destroys Plant Microtubule Networks and Blocks Secretion 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(2):e1002523.
The eukaryotic cytoskeleton is essential for structural support and intracellular transport, and is therefore a common target of animal pathogens. However, no phytopathogenic effector has yet been demonstrated to specifically target the plant cytoskeleton. Here we show that the Pseudomonas syringae type III secreted effector HopZ1a interacts with tubulin and polymerized microtubules. We demonstrate that HopZ1a is an acetyltransferase activated by the eukaryotic co-factor phytic acid. Activated HopZ1a acetylates itself and tubulin. The conserved autoacetylation site of the YopJ / HopZ superfamily, K289, plays a critical role in both the avirulence and virulence function of HopZ1a. Furthermore, HopZ1a requires its acetyltransferase activity to cause a dramatic decrease in Arabidopsis thaliana microtubule networks, disrupt the plant secretory pathway and suppress cell wall-mediated defense. Together, this study supports the hypothesis that HopZ1a promotes virulence through cytoskeletal and secretory disruption.
Author Summary
Many bacterial pathogens disrupt key components of host physiology by injecting virulence proteins (or “effectors”) via a needle-like structure, called the type III secretion system, directly into eukaryotic cells. The YopJ / HopZ superfamily of type III secreted effector proteins is found in pathogens of both animals and plants providing an excellent opportunity to address how a family of type III secreted effectors can promote pathogenesis in hosts from two kingdoms. YopJ from the animal pathogen Yersinia pestis is an acetyltransferase that targets signaling components of innate immunity and prevents their activation. Here we show that HopZ1a, from the phytopathogen Pseudomonas syringae is an acetyltransferase that binds plant tubulin. Like YopJ, the eukaryotic cofactor phytic acid activates the acetyltransferase activity of HopZ1a. In addition, we demonstrate that activated HopZ1a can acetylate tubulin, a major constituent of the eukaryotic cytoskeleton. In plants, activated HopZ1a causes a dramatic destruction of microtubule networks, inhibits protein secretion, and ultimately suppresses cell wall-mediated defense. Our study emphasizes the functional diversification of this important type III effector family in plant and animal hosts using a conserved acetyltransferase activity.
PMCID: PMC3271077  PMID: 22319451

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