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1.  Evaluation of 16S rRNA Gene Primer Pairs for Monitoring Microbial Community Structures Showed High Reproducibility within and Low Comparability between Datasets Generated with Multiple Archaeal and Bacterial Primer Pairs 
The application of next-generation sequencing technology in microbial community analysis increased our knowledge and understanding of the complexity and diversity of a variety of ecosystems. In contrast to Bacteria, the archaeal domain was often not particularly addressed in the analysis of microbial communities. Consequently, established primers specifically amplifying the archaeal 16S ribosomal gene region are scarce compared to the variety of primers targeting bacterial sequences. In this study, we aimed to validate archaeal primers suitable for high throughput next generation sequencing. Three archaeal 16S primer pairs as well as two bacterial and one general microbial 16S primer pairs were comprehensively tested by in-silico evaluation and performing an experimental analysis of a complex microbial community of a biogas reactor. The results obtained clearly demonstrate that comparability of community profiles established using different primer pairs is difficult. 16S rRNA gene data derived from a shotgun metagenome of the same reactor sample added an additional perspective on the community structure. Furthermore, in-silico evaluation of primers, especially those for amplification of archaeal 16S rRNA gene regions, does not necessarily reflect the results obtained in experimental approaches. In the latter, archaeal primer pair ArchV34 showed the highest similarity to the archaeal community structure compared to observed by the metagenomic approach and thus appears to be the appropriate for analyzing archaeal communities in biogas reactors. However, a disadvantage of this primer pair was its low specificity for the archaeal domain in the experimental application leading to high amounts of bacterial sequences within the dataset. Overall our results indicate a rather limited comparability between community structures investigated and determined using different primer pairs as well as between metagenome and 16S rRNA gene amplicon based community structure analysis. This finding, previously shown for Bacteria, was as well observed for the archaeal domain.
PMCID: PMC4994424  PMID: 27602022
amplicon sequencing; next-generation sequencing; archaea; metagenome; 16S microbial community; microbial communities
2.  Dynamic changes of the luminal and mucosa-associated gut microbiota during and after antibiotic therapy with paromomycin 
Gut Microbes  2015;6(4):243-254.
Gut microbiota play a key role in the host's health system. Broad antibiotic therapy is known to disrupt the microbial balance affecting pathogenic as well as host-associated microbes. The aim of the present study was to investigate the influence of antibiotic paromomycin on the luminal and mucosa-associated microbiota at the DNA (abundance) and RNA (potential activity) level as well as to identify possible differences. The influence of antibiotic treatment on intestinal microbiota was investigated in 5 healthy individuals (age range: 20–22 years). All participants received the antibiotic paromomycin for 3 d. Fecal samples as well as sigmoidal biopsies were collected before and immediately after cessation of antibiotic treatment as well as after a recovery phase of 42 d. Compartment- and treatment status-specific indicator operational taxonomic units (OTUs) as well as abundance- and activity-specific patterns were identified by 16S rRNA and 16S rRNA gene amplicon libraries and high-throughput pyrosequencing. Microbial composition of lumen and mucosa were significantly different at the DNA compared to the RNA level. Antibiotic treatment resulted in changes of the microbiota, affecting the luminal and mucosal bacteria in a similar way. Several OTUs were identified as compartment- and/or treatment status-specific. Abundance and activity patterns of some indicator OTUs differed considerably. The study shows fundamental changes in composition of gut microbiota under antibiotic therapy at both the potential activity and the abundance level at different treatment status. It may help to understand the complex processes of gut microbiota changes involved in resilience mechanisms and on development of antibiotic-associated clinical diseases.
PMCID: PMC4615565  PMID: 26178862
16S rRNA gene; antibiotics; lumen; microbiota; mucosa
3.  Highly Effective Inhibition of Biofilm Formation by the First Metagenome-Derived AI-2 Quenching Enzyme 
Bacterial cell–cell communication (quorum sensing, QS) represents a fundamental process crucial for biofilm formation, pathogenicity, and virulence allowing coordinated, concerted actions of bacteria depending on their cell density. With the widespread appearance of antibiotic-resistance of biofilms, there is an increasing need for novel strategies to control harmful biofilms. One attractive and most likely effective approach is to target bacterial communication systems for novel drug design in biotechnological and medical applications. In this study, metagenomic large-insert libraries were constructed and screened for QS interfering activities (quorum quenching, QQ) using recently established reporter strains. Overall, 142 out of 46,400 metagenomic clones were identified to interfere with acyl-homoserine lactones (AHLs), 13 with autoinducer-2 (AI-2). Five cosmid clones with highest simultaneous interfering activities were further analyzed and the respective open reading frames conferring QQ activities identified. Those showed homologies to bacterial oxidoreductases, proteases, amidases and aminotransferases. Evaluating the ability of the respective purified QQ-proteins to prevent biofilm formation of several model systems demonstrated highest inhibitory effects of QQ-2 using the crystal violet biofilm assay. This was confirmed by heterologous expression of the respective QQ proteins in Klebsiella oxytoca M5a1 and monitoring biofilm formation in a continuous flow cell system. Moreover, QQ-2 chemically immobilized to the glass surface of the flow cell effectively inhibited biofilm formation of K. oxytoca as well as clinical K. pneumoniae isolates derived from patients with urinary tract infections. Indications were obtained by molecular and biochemical characterizations that QQ-2 represents an oxidoreductase most likely reducing the signaling molecules AHL and AI-2 to QS-inactive hydroxy-derivatives. Overall, we propose that the identified novel QQ-2 protein efficiently inhibits AI-2 modulated biofilm formation by modifying the signal molecule; and thus appears particularly attractive for medical and biotechnological applications.
PMCID: PMC4942472  PMID: 27468282
quorum quenching; metagenomic; biofilm inhibition; AI-2; oxidoreductase
4.  Antimicrobial and anti-Quorum Sensing activities of selected medicinal plants of Ethiopia: Implication for development of potent antimicrobial agents 
BMC Microbiology  2016;16:139.
Traditional medicinal plants have been used as an alternative medicine in many parts of the world, including Ethiopia. There are many documented scientific reports on antimicrobial activities of the same. To our knowledge, however, there is no report on the anti-Quorum Sensing (Quorum Quenching, QQ) potential of traditional Ethiopian medicinal plants. As many of the opportunistic pathogenic bacteria depend on Quorum Sensing (QS) systems to coordinate their virulence expression, interference with QS could be a novel approach to control bacterial infections. Thus, the aim of this study was to evaluate selected medicinal plants from Ethiopia for their antimicrobial activities against bacterial and fungal pathogens; and to assess the interference of these plant extracts with QS of bacteria.
Antimicrobial activities of plant extracts (oil, resins and crude extracts) were evaluated following standard agar diffusion technique. The minimum inhibitory concentrations (MIC) of potent extracts were determined using 96 well micro-titer plates and optical densities were measured using an ELISA Microplate reader. Interference with Quorum Sensing activities of extracts was determined using the recently established E. coli based reporter strain AI1-QQ.1 and signaling molecule N-(ß-ketocaproyl)-L-homoserine lactone (3-oxo-C6-HSL).
Petroleum ether extract of seed of Nigella sativa exhibited the highest activity against both the laboratory isolated Bacillus cereus [inhibition zone (IZ), 44 ± 0.31 mm] and B. cereus ATCC 10987 (IZ, 40 ± 2.33 mm). Similarly, oil extract from mature ripe fruit husk of Aframomum corrorima and mature unripe fruit of A. corrorima revealed promising activities against Candida albicans ATCC 90028 (IZ, 35 ± 1.52 mm) and Staphylococcus aureus DSM 346 (IZ, 25 ± 1.32 mm), respectively. Antimicrobial activities of oil extract from husk of A. corrorima and petroleum ether extract of seed of N. sativa were significantly higher than that of the control antibiotic [Gentamycin sulfate, (IZ, 25–30 mm)]. The lowest MIC value (12.5 mg/mL) was recorded for oil from husk of A. corrorima against Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Of the total eighteen extracts evaluated, two of the extracts [Methanol extract of root of Albiza schimperiana (ASRM) and petroleum ether extract of seed of Justica schimperiana (JSSP)] interfered with cell-cell communication most likely by interacting with the signaling molecules.
Traditional medicinal plants from Ethiopia are potential source of alternative medicine for the local community and scientific research in search for alternative drugs to halt challenges associated with the emerging antimicrobial resistance. Furthermore, the Quorum Quenching activities observed in two of the plant extracts calls for more comprehensive evaluation of medicinal plants for the control of many bacterial processes and phenotypic behaviors such as pathogenicity, swarming, and biofilm formation. Being the first assessment of its kind on the potential application of Ethiopian traditional medicinal plants for interference in microbial cell-cell communication (anti-Quorum Sensing activities), the detailed chemistry of the active compounds and possible mechanism(s) of actions of the bio-molecules responsible for the observed interference were not addressed in the current study. Thus, further evaluation for the nature of those active compounds (bio-molecules) and detailed mechanism(s) of their interaction with microbial processes are recommended.
PMCID: PMC4939588  PMID: 27400878
Alternative medicine; Drug resistance; Ethiopia; Medicinal plants; MIC; Quorum Sensing; Quorum Quenching
5.  Deep metagenome and metatranscriptome analyses of microbial communities affiliated with an industrial biogas fermenter, a cow rumen, and elephant feces reveal major differences in carbohydrate hydrolysis strategies 
The diverse microbial communities in agricultural biogas fermenters are assumed to be well adapted for the anaerobic transformation of plant biomass to methane. Compared to natural systems, biogas reactors are limited in their hydrolytic potential. The reasons for this are not understood.
In this paper, we show that a typical industrial biogas reactor fed with maize silage, cow manure, and chicken manure has relatively lower hydrolysis rates compared to feces samples from herbivores. We provide evidence that on average, 2.5 genes encoding cellulolytic GHs/Mbp were identified in the biogas fermenter compared to 3.8 in the elephant feces and 3.2 in the cow rumen data sets. The ratio of genes coding for cellulolytic GH enzymes affiliated with the Firmicutes versus the Bacteroidetes was 2.8:1 in the biogas fermenter compared to 1:1 in the elephant feces and 1.4:1 in the cow rumen sample. Furthermore, RNA-Seq data indicated that highly transcribed cellulases in the biogas fermenter were four times more often affiliated with the Firmicutes compared to the Bacteroidetes, while an equal distribution of these enzymes was observed in the elephant feces sample.
Our data indicate that a relatively lower abundance of bacteria affiliated with the phylum of Bacteroidetes and, to some extent, Fibrobacteres is associated with a decreased richness of predicted lignocellulolytic enzymes in biogas fermenters. This difference can be attributed to a partial lack of genes coding for cellulolytic GH enzymes derived from bacteria which are affiliated with the Fibrobacteres and, especially, the Bacteroidetes. The partial deficiency of these genes implies a potentially important limitation in the biogas fermenter with regard to the initial hydrolysis of biomass. Based on these findings, we speculate that increasing the members of Bacteroidetes and Fibrobacteres in biogas fermenters will most likely result in an increased hydrolytic performance.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13068-016-0534-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4897800  PMID: 27279900
Anaerobic digestion; Biogas; Biofuels; Biorefinery; Lignocellulosic biomass; Metagenomics; Cellulases; Microbial communities; PULs
6.  Restructuring of Epibacterial Communities on Fucus vesiculosus forma mytili in Response to Elevated pCO2 and Increased Temperature Levels 
Marine multicellular organisms in composition with their associated microbiota—representing metaorganisms—are confronted with constantly changing environmental conditions. In 2110, the seawater temperature is predicted to be increased by ~5°C, and the atmospheric carbon dioxide partial pressure (pCO2) is expected to reach approximately 1000 ppm. In order to assess the response of marine metaorganisms to global changes, e.g., by effects on host-microbe interactions, we evaluated the response of epibacterial communities associated with Fucus vesiculosus forma mytili (F. mytili) to future climate conditions. During an 11-week lasting mesocosm experiment on the island of Sylt (Germany) in spring 2014, North Sea F. mytili individuals were exposed to elevated pCO2 (1000 ppm) and increased temperature levels (Δ+5°C). Both abiotic factors were tested for single and combined effects on the epibacterial community composition over time, with three replicates per treatment. The respective community structures of bacterial consortia associated to the surface of F. mytili were analyzed by Illumina MiSeq 16S rDNA amplicon sequencing after 0, 4, 8, and 11 weeks of treatment (in total 96 samples). The results demonstrated that the epibacterial community structure was strongly affected by temperature, but only weakly by elevated pCO2. No interaction effect of both factors was observed in the combined treatment. We identified several indicator operational taxonomic units (iOTUs) that were strongly influenced by the respective experimental factors. An OTU association network analysis revealed that relationships between OTUs were mainly governed by habitat. Overall, this study contributes to a better understanding of how epibacterial communities associated with F. mytili may adapt to future changes in seawater acidity and temperature, ultimately with potential consequences for host-microbe interactions.
PMCID: PMC4814934  PMID: 27065988
ocean acidification; pCO2; global warming; metaorganism; epibacteria; Fucus vesiculosus forma mytili; 16S rDNA; mesocosm
7.  Composition of Bacterial Communities Associated with Aurelia aurita Changes with Compartment, Life Stage, and Population 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2015;81(17):6038-6052.
The scyphozoan Aurelia aurita is recognized as a key player in marine ecosystems and a driver of ecosystem change. It is thus intensely studied to address ecological questions, although its associations with microorganisms remain so far undescribed. In the present study, the microbiota associated with A. aurita was visualized with fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) analysis, and community structure was analyzed with respect to different life stages, compartments, and populations of A. aurita by 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing. We demonstrate that the composition of the A. aurita microbiota is generally highly distinct from the composition of communities present in ambient water. Comparison of microbial communities from different developmental stages reveals evidence for life stage-specific community patterns. Significant restructuring of the microbiota during strobilation from benthic polyp to planktonic life stages is present, arguing for a restructuring during the course of metamorphosis. Furthermore, the microbiota present in different compartments of the adult medusa (exumbrella mucus and gastric cavity) display significant differences, indicating body part-specific colonization. A novel Mycoplasma strain was identified in both compartment-specific microbiota and is most likely present inside the epithelium as indicated by FISH analysis of polyps, indicating potential endosymbiosis. Finally, comparison of polyps of different populations kept under the same controlled laboratory conditions in the same ambient water showed population-specific community patterns, most likely due the genetic background of the host. In conclusion, the presented data indicate that the associated microbiota of A. aurita may play important functional roles, e.g., during the life cycle.
PMCID: PMC4551246  PMID: 26116680
8.  Facets of diazotrophy in the oxygen minimum zone waters off Peru 
The ISME Journal  2014;8(11):2180-2192.
Nitrogen fixation, the biological reduction of dinitrogen gas (N2) to ammonium (NH4+), is quantitatively the most important external source of new nitrogen (N) to the open ocean. Classically, the ecological niche of oceanic N2 fixers (diazotrophs) is ascribed to tropical oligotrophic surface waters, often depleted in fixed N, with a diazotrophic community dominated by cyanobacteria. Although this applies for large areas of the ocean, biogeochemical models and phylogenetic studies suggest that the oceanic diazotrophic niche may be much broader than previously considered, resulting in major implications for the global N-budget. Here, we report on the composition, distribution and abundance of nifH, the functional gene marker for N2 fixation. Our results show the presence of eight clades of diazotrophs in the oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) off Peru. Although proteobacterial clades dominated overall, two clusters affiliated to spirochaeta and archaea were identified. N2 fixation was detected within OMZ waters and was stimulated by the addition of organic carbon sources supporting the view that non-phototrophic diazotrophs were actively fixing dinitrogen. The observed co-occurrence of key functional genes for N2 fixation, nitrification, anammox and denitrification suggests that a close spatial coupling of N-input and N-loss processes exists in the OMZ off Peru. The wide distribution of diazotrophs throughout the water column adds to the emerging view that the habitat of marine diazotrophs can be extended to low oxygen/high nitrate areas. Furthermore, our statistical analysis suggests that NO2− and PO43− are the major factors affecting diazotrophic distribution throughout the OMZ. In view of the predicted increase in ocean deoxygenation resulting from global warming, our findings indicate that the importance of OMZs as niches for N2 fixation may increase in the future.
PMCID: PMC4992080  PMID: 24813564
heterotrophic N2 fixation; nifH diversity; oxygen minimum zone off Peru
9.  Novel Reporter for Identification of Interference with Acyl Homoserine Lactone and Autoinducer-2 Quorum Sensing 
Two reporter strains were established to identify novel biomolecules interfering with bacterial communication (quorum sensing [QS]). The basic design of these Escherichia coli-based systems comprises a gene encoding a lethal protein fused to promoters induced in the presence of QS signal molecules. Consequently, these E. coli strains are unable to grow in the presence of the respective QS signal molecules unless a nontoxic QS-interfering compound is present. The first reporter strain designed to detect autoinducer-2 (AI-2)-interfering activities (AI2-QQ.1) contained the E. coli ccdB lethal gene under the control of the E. coli lsrA promoter. The second reporter strain (AI1-QQ.1) contained the Vibrio fischeri luxI promoter fused to the ccdB gene to detect interference with acyl-homoserine lactones. Bacteria isolated from the surfaces of several marine eukarya were screened for quorum-quenching (QQ) activities using the established reporter systems AI1-QQ.1 and AI2-QQ.1. Out of 34 isolates, two interfered with acylated homoserine lactone (AHL) signaling, five interfered with AI-2 QS signaling, and 10 were demonstrated to interfere with both signal molecules. Open reading frames (ORFs) conferring QQ activity were identified for three selected isolates (Photobacterium sp., Pseudoalteromonas sp., and Vibrio parahaemolyticus). Evaluation of the respective heterologously expressed and purified QQ proteins confirmed their ability to interfere with the AHL and AI-2 signaling processes.
PMCID: PMC4309711  PMID: 25527543
10.  Aerobic Microbial Respiration In Oceanic Oxygen Minimum Zones 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(7):e0133526.
Oxygen minimum zones are major sites of fixed nitrogen loss in the ocean. Recent studies have highlighted the importance of anaerobic ammonium oxidation, anammox, in pelagic nitrogen removal. Sources of ammonium for the anammox reaction, however, remain controversial, as heterotrophic denitrification and alternative anaerobic pathways of organic matter remineralization cannot account for the ammonium requirements of reported anammox rates. Here, we explore the significance of microaerobic respiration as a source of ammonium during organic matter degradation in the oxygen-deficient waters off Namibia and Peru. Experiments with additions of double-labelled oxygen revealed high aerobic activity in the upper OMZs, likely controlled by surface organic matter export. Consistently observed oxygen consumption in samples retrieved throughout the lower OMZs hints at efficient exploitation of vertically and laterally advected, oxygenated waters in this zone by aerobic microorganisms. In accordance, metagenomic and metatranscriptomic analyses identified genes encoding for aerobic terminal oxidases and demonstrated their expression by diverse microbial communities, even in virtually anoxic waters. Our results suggest that microaerobic respiration is a major mode of organic matter remineralization and source of ammonium (~45-100%) in the upper oxygen minimum zones, and reconcile hitherto observed mismatches between ammonium producing and consuming processes therein.
PMCID: PMC4507870  PMID: 26192623
11.  Small regulatory RNAs in Archaea 
RNA Biology  2014;11(5):484-493.
Small regulatory RNAs (sRNAs) are universally distributed in all three domains of life, Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukaryotes. In bacteria, sRNAs typically function by binding near the translation start site of their target mRNAs and thereby inhibit or activate translation. In eukaryotes, miRNAs and siRNAs typically bind to the 3′-untranslated region (3′-UTR) of their target mRNAs and influence translation efficiency and/or mRNA stability. In archaea, sRNAs have been identified in all species investigated using bioinformatic approaches, RNomics, and RNA-Seq. Their size can vary significantly between less than 50 to more than 500 nucleotides. Differential expression of sRNA genes has been studied using northern blot analysis, microarrays, and RNA-Seq. In addition, biological functions have been unraveled by genetic approaches, i.e., by characterization of designed mutants. As in bacteria, it was revealed that archaeal sRNAs are involved in many biological processes, including metabolic regulation, adaptation to extreme conditions, stress responses, and even in regulation of morphology and cellular behavior. Recently, the first target mRNAs were identified in archaea, including one sRNA that binds to the 5′-region of two mRNAs in Methanosarcina mazei Gö1 and a few sRNAs that bind to 3′-UTRs in Sulfolobus solfataricus, three Pyrobaculum species, and Haloferax volcanii, indicating that archaeal sRNAs appear to be able to target both the 5′-UTR or the 3′-UTRs of their respective target mRNAs. In addition, archaea contain tRNA-derived fragments (tRFs), and one tRF has been identified as a major ribosome-binding sRNA in H. volcanii, which downregulates translation in response to stress. Besides regulatory sRNAs, archaea contain further classes of sRNAs, e.g., CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs) and snoRNAs.
PMCID: PMC4152357  PMID: 24755959
archaea; small regulatory RNAs; tRNA-derived fragments; translation; Methanosarcina mazei; Haloferax volcanii; Sulfolobus solfataricus; Nanoarchaeum equitans
12.  Biofilm formation of mucosa-associated methanoarchaeal strains 
Although in nature most microorganisms are known to occur predominantly in consortia or biofilms, data on archaeal biofilm formation are in general scarce. Here, the ability of three methanoarchaeal strains, Methanobrevibacter smithii and Methanosphaera stadtmanae, which form part of the human gut microbiota, and the Methanosarcina mazei strain Gö1 to grow on different surfaces and form biofilms was investigated. All three strains adhered to the substrate mica and grew predominantly as bilayers on its surface as demonstrated by confocal laser scanning microscopy analyses, though the formation of multi-layered biofilms of Methanosphaera stadtmanae and Methanobrevibacter smithii was observed as well. Stable biofilm formation was further confirmed by scanning electron microscopy analysis. Methanosarcina mazei and Methanobrevibacter smithii also formed multi-layered biofilms in uncoated plastic μ-dishesTM, which were very similar in morphology and reached a height of up to 40 μm. In contrast, biofilms formed by Methanosphaera stadtmanae reached only a height of 2 μm. Staining with the two lectins ConA and IB4 indicated that all three strains produced relatively low amounts of extracellular polysaccharides most likely containing glucose, mannose, and galactose. Taken together, this study provides the first evidence that methanoarchaea can develop and form biofilms on different substrates and thus, will contribute to our knowledge on the appearance and physiological role of Methanobrevibacter smithii and Methanosphaera stadtmanae in the human intestine.
PMCID: PMC4086402  PMID: 25071757
biofilms; methanoarchaea; human gut; microbiota
13.  The Intestinal Archaea Methanosphaera stadtmanae and Methanobrevibacter smithii Activate Human Dendritic Cells 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99411.
The methanoarchaea Methanosphaera stadtmanae and Methanobrevibacter smithii are known to be part of the indigenous human gut microbiota. Although the immunomodulatory effects of bacterial gut commensals have been studied extensively in the last decade, the impact of methanoarchaea in human's health and disease was rarely examined. Consequently, we studied and report here on the effects of M. stadtmanae and M. smithii on human immune cells. Whereas exposure to M. stadtmanae leads to substantial release of proinflammatory cytokines in monocyte-derived dendritic cells (moDCs), only weak activation was detected after incubation with M. smithii. Phagocytosis of M. stadtmanae by moDCs was demonstrated by confocal microscopy as well as transmission electronic microscopy (TEM) and shown to be crucial for cellular activation by using specific inhibitors. Both strains, albeit to different extents, initiate a maturation program in moDCs as revealed by up-regulation of the cell-surface receptors CD86 and CD197 suggesting additional activation of adaptive immune responses. Furthermore, M. stadtmanae and M. smithii were capable to alter the gene expression of antimicrobial peptides in moDCs to different extents.
Taken together, our findings strongly argue that the archaeal gut inhabitants M. stadtmanae and M. smithii are specifically recognized by the human innate immune system. Moreover, both strains are capable of inducing an inflammatory cytokine response to different extents arguing that they might have diverse immunomodulatory functions. In conclusion, we propose that the impact of intestinal methanoarchaea on pathological conditions involving the gut microbiota has been underestimated until now.
PMCID: PMC4051749  PMID: 24915454
14.  Two CRISPR-Cas systems inMethanosarcina mazeistrain Gö1 display common processing features despite belonging to different types I and III 
RNA Biology  2013;10(5):779-791.
The clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) system represents a highly adaptive and heritable defense system against foreign nucleic acids in bacteria and archaea. We analyzed the two CRISPR-Cas systems in Methanosarcina mazei strain Gö1. Although belonging to different subtypes (I-B and III-B), the leaders and repeats of both loci are nearly identical. Also, despite many point mutations in each array, a common hairpin motif was identified in the repeats by a bioinformatics analysis and in vitro structural probing. The expression and maturation of CRISPR-derived RNAs (crRNAs) were studied in vitro and in vivo. Both respective potential Cas6b-type endonucleases were purified and their activity tested in vitro. Each protein showed significant activity and could cleave both repeats at the same processing site. Cas6b of subtype III-B, however, was significantly more efficient in its cleavage activity compared with Cas6b of subtype I-B. Northern blot and differential RNAseq analyses were performed to investigate in vivo transcription and maturation of crRNAs, revealing generally very low expression of both systems, whereas significant induction at high NaCl concentrations was observed. crRNAs derived proximal to the leader were generally more abundant than distal ones and in vivo processing sites were clarified for both loci, confirming the previously well-established 8 nt 5′ repeat tags. The 3′-ends were more diverse, but generally ended in a prefix of the following repeat sequence (3′-tag). The analysis further revealed a 5′-hydroxy and 3′-phosphate termini architecture of small crRNAs specific for cleavage products of Cas6 endonucleases from type I-E and I-F and type III-B.
PMCID: PMC3737336  PMID: 23619576
methanoarchaea; CRISPR-Cas system; immunity of prokaryotes; regulatory RNA; phages; Methanosarcina mazei
15.  Effects of β-Lactam Antibiotics and Fluoroquinolones on Human Gut Microbiota in Relation to Clostridium difficile Associated Diarrhea 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89417.
Clostridium difficile infections are an emerging health problem in the modern hospital environment. Severe alterations of the gut microbiome with loss of resistance to colonization against C. difficile are thought to be the major trigger, but there is no clear concept of how C. difficile infection evolves and which microbiological factors are involved. We sequenced 16S rRNA amplicons generated from DNA and RNA/cDNA of fecal samples from three groups of individuals by FLX technology: (i) healthy controls (no antibiotic therapy); (ii) individuals receiving antibiotic therapy (Ampicillin/Sulbactam, cephalosporins, and fluoroquinolones with subsequent development of C. difficile infection or (iii) individuals receiving antibiotic therapy without C. difficile infection. We compared the effects of the three different antibiotic classes on the intestinal microbiome and the effects of alterations of the gut microbiome on C. difficile infection at the DNA (total microbiota) and rRNA (potentially active) levels. A comparison of antibiotic classes showed significant differences at DNA level, but not at RNA level. Among individuals that developed or did not develop a C. difficile infection under antibiotics we found no significant differences. We identified single species that were up- or down regulated in individuals receiving antibiotics who developed the infection compared to non-infected individuals. We found no significant differences in the global composition of the transcriptionally active gut microbiome associated with C. difficile infections. We suggest that up- and down regulation of specific bacterial species may be involved in colonization resistance against C. difficile providing a potential therapeutic approach through specific manipulation of the intestinal microbiome.
PMCID: PMC3938479  PMID: 24586762
16.  Composition of Microbial Oral Biofilms during Maturation in Young Healthy Adults 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e87449.
In the present study we aimed to analyze the bacterial community structure of oral biofilms at different maturation stages in young healthy adults. Oral biofilms established on membrane filters were collected from 32 human subjects after 5 different maturation intervals (1, 3, 5, 9 and 14 days) and the respective phylogenetic diversity was analyzed by 16S rDNA amplicon sequencing. Our analyses revealed highly diverse entire colonization profiles, spread into 8 phyla/candidate divisions and in 15 different bacterial classes. A large inter-individual difference in the subjects’ microbiota was observed, comprising 35% of the total variance, but lacking conspicuous general temporal trends in both alpha and beta diversity. We further obtained strong evidence that subjects can be categorized into three clusters based on three differently occurring and mutually exclusive species clusters.
PMCID: PMC3913613  PMID: 24503584
17.  A Complex of Cas Proteins 5, 6, and 7 Is Required for the Biogenesis and Stability of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR)-derived RNAs (crRNAs) in Haloferax volcanii* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2014;289(10):7164-7177.
Background: The Cas6 protein is required for generating crRNAs in CRISPR-Cas I and III systems.
Results: The Cas6 protein is necessary for crRNA production but not sufficient for crRNA maintenance in Haloferax.
Conclusion: A Cascade-like complex is required in the type I-B system for a stable crRNA population.
Significance: The CRISPR-Cas system I-B has a similar Cascade complex like types I-A and I-E.
The clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/CRISPR-associated (CRISPR-Cas) system is a prokaryotic defense mechanism against foreign genetic elements. A plethora of CRISPR-Cas versions exist, with more than 40 different Cas protein families and several different molecular approaches to fight the invading DNA. One of the key players in the system is the CRISPR-derived RNA (crRNA), which directs the invader-degrading Cas protein complex to the invader. The CRISPR-Cas types I and III use the Cas6 protein to generate mature crRNAs. Here, we show that the Cas6 protein is necessary for crRNA production but that additional Cas proteins that form a CRISPR-associated complex for antiviral defense (Cascade)-like complex are needed for crRNA stability in the CRISPR-Cas type I-B system in Haloferax volcanii in vivo. Deletion of the cas6 gene results in the loss of mature crRNAs and interference. However, cells that have the complete cas gene cluster (cas1–8b) removed and are transformed with the cas6 gene are not able to produce and stably maintain mature crRNAs. crRNA production and stability is rescued only if cas5, -6, and -7 are present. Mutational analysis of the cas6 gene reveals three amino acids (His-41, Gly-256, and Gly-258) that are essential for pre-crRNA cleavage, whereas the mutation of two amino acids (Ser-115 and Ser-224) leads to an increase of crRNA amounts. This is the first systematic in vivo analysis of Cas6 protein variants. In addition, we show that the H. volcanii I-B system contains a Cascade-like complex with a Cas7, Cas5, and Cas6 core that protects the crRNA.
PMCID: PMC3945376  PMID: 24459147
Archaea; Microbiology; Molecular Biology; Molecular Genetics; Protein Complexes; CRISPR/Cas; Cas6; Haloferax volcanii; crRNA; Type I-B
18.  Giant Hydrogen Sulfide Plume in the Oxygen Minimum Zone off Peru Supports Chemolithoautotrophy 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e68661.
In Eastern Boundary Upwelling Systems nutrient-rich waters are transported to the ocean surface, fuelling high photoautotrophic primary production. Subsequent heterotrophic decomposition of the produced biomass increases the oxygen-depletion at intermediate water depths, which can result in the formation of oxygen minimum zones (OMZ). OMZs can sporadically accumulate hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which is toxic to most multicellular organisms and has been implicated in massive fish kills. During a cruise to the OMZ off Peru in January 2009 we found a sulfidic plume in continental shelf waters, covering an area >5500 km2, which contained ∼2.2×104 tons of H2S. This was the first time that H2S was measured in the Peruvian OMZ and with ∼440 km3 the largest plume ever reported for oceanic waters. We assessed the phylogenetic and functional diversity of the inhabiting microbial community by high-throughput sequencing of DNA and RNA, while its metabolic activity was determined with rate measurements of carbon fixation and nitrogen transformation processes. The waters were dominated by several distinct γ-, δ- and ε-proteobacterial taxa associated with either sulfur oxidation or sulfate reduction. Our results suggest that these chemolithoautotrophic bacteria utilized several oxidants (oxygen, nitrate, nitrite, nitric oxide and nitrous oxide) to detoxify the sulfidic waters well below the oxic surface. The chemolithoautotrophic activity at our sampling site led to high rates of dark carbon fixation. Assuming that these chemolithoautotrophic rates were maintained throughout the sulfidic waters, they could be representing as much as ∼30% of the photoautotrophic carbon fixation.
Postulated changes such as eutrophication and global warming, which lead to an expansion and intensification of OMZs, might also increase the frequency of sulfidic waters. We suggest that the chemolithoautotrophically fixed carbon may be involved in a negative feedback loop that could fuel further sulfate reduction and potentially stabilize the sulfidic OMZ waters.
PMCID: PMC3749208  PMID: 23990875
19.  An archaeal sRNA targeting cis- and trans-encoded mRNAs via two distinct domains 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;40(21):10964-10979.
We report on the characterization and target analysis of the small (s)RNA162 in the methanoarchaeon Methanosarcina mazei. Using a combination of genetic approaches, transcriptome analysis and computational predictions, the bicistronic MM2441-MM2440 mRNA encoding the transcription factor MM2441 and a protein of unknown function was identified as a potential target of this sRNA, which due to processing accumulates as three stabile 5′ fragments in late exponential growth. Mobility shift assays using various mutants verified that the non-structured single-stranded linker region of sRNA162 (SLR) base-pairs with the MM2440-MM2441 mRNA internally, thereby masking the predicted ribosome binding site of MM2441. This most likely leads to translational repression of the second cistron resulting in dis-coordinated operon expression. Analysis of mutant RNAs in vivo confirmed that the SLR of sRNA162 is crucial for target interactions. Furthermore, our results indicate that sRNA162-controlled MM2441 is involved in regulating the metabolic switch between the carbon sources methanol and methylamine. Moreover, biochemical studies demonstrated that the 5′ end of sRNA162 targets the 5′-untranslated region of the cis-encoded MM2442 mRNA. Overall, this first study of archaeal sRNA/mRNA-target interactions unraveled that sRNA162 acts as an antisense (as)RNA on cis- and trans-encoded mRNAs via two distinct domains, indicating that cis-encoded asRNAs can have larger target regulons than previously anticipated.
PMCID: PMC3510493  PMID: 22965121
20.  Small RNAs for defence and regulation in archaea 
Extremophiles  2012;16(5):685-696.
Non-coding RNAs are key players in many cellular processes within organisms from all three domains of life. The range and diversity of small RNA functions beyond their involvement in translation and RNA processing was first recognized for eukaryotes and bacteria. Since then, small RNAs were also found to be abundant in archaea. Their functions include the regulation of gene expression and the establishment of immunity against invading mobile genetic elements. This review summarizes our current knowledge about small RNAs used for regulation and defence in archaea.
PMCID: PMC3432209  PMID: 22763819
sRNA; Lsm; Hfq; Archaea; CRISPR; crRNA
21.  Connection between Multimetal(loid) Methylation in Methanoarchaea and Central Intermediates of Methanogenesis▿† 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2011;77(24):8669-8675.
In spite of the significant impact of biomethylation on the mobility and toxicity of metals and metalloids in the environment, little is known about the biological formation of these methylated metal(loid) compounds. While element-specific methyltransferases have been isolated for arsenic, the striking versatility of methanoarchaea to methylate numerous metal(loid)s, including rare elements like bismuth, is still not understood. Here, we demonstrate that the same metal(loid)s (arsenic, selenium, antimony, tellurium, and bismuth) that are methylated by Methanosarcina mazei in vivo are also methylated by in vitro assays with purified recombinant MtaA, a methyltransferase catalyzing the methyl transfer from methylcobalamin [CH3Cob(III)] to 2-mercaptoethanesulfonic acid (CoM) in methylotrophic methanogenesis. Detailed studies revealed that cob(I)alamin [Cob(I)], formed by MtaA-catalyzed demethylation of CH3Cob(III), is the causative agent for the multimetal(loid) methylation observed. Moreover, Cob(I) is also capable of metal(loid) hydride generation. Global transcriptome profiling of M. mazei cultures exposed to bismuth did not reveal induced methyltransferase systems but upregulated regeneration of methanogenic cofactors in the presence of bismuth. Thus, we conclude that the multimetal(loid) methylation in vivo is attributed to side reactions of CH3Cob(III) with reduced cofactors formed in methanogenesis. The close connection between metal(loid) methylation and methanogenesis explains the general capability of methanoarchaea to methylate metal(loid)s.
PMCID: PMC3233109  PMID: 22003009
22.  Count-Rate Performance of the Discovery STE PET Scanner Using Partial Collimation 
We investigated the use of partial collimation on a clinical PET scanner by removing septa from conventional 2D collimators. The goal is to improve noise equivalent count-rates (NEC) compared to 2D and 3D scans for clinically relevant activity concentrations. We evaluated two cases: removing half of the septa (2.5D); and removing two-thirds of the septa (2.7D). System performance was first modeled using the SimSET simulation package, and then measured with the NEMA NU2-2001 count-rate cylinder (20 cm dia., 70 cm long), and 27 cm and 35 cm diameter cylinders of the same length. An image quality phantom was also imaged with the 2.7D collimator. SimSET predicted the relative NEC curves very well, as confirmed by measurements, with 2.5D and 2.7D NEC greater than 2D and 3D NEC in the range of ~5–20 mCi in the phantom. We successfully reconstructed images of the image quality phantom from measured 2.7D data using custom 2.7D normalization. Partial collimation shows promise for optimized clinical imaging in a fixed-collimator system.
PMCID: PMC3210021  PMID: 22072860
23.  Simulations of the Effect of Collimation on Count Rates of an LSO PET System 
We present a simulation study of the effect of different degrees of collimation on countrate performance of a hypothetical PET scanner with LSO crystals. The simulated scanner is loosely based on the geometry of the Siemens Biograph Hi-Rez scanner.
System behavior is studied with a photon tracking simulation package (SimSET).
We investigate the NEMA NU2-2001 count rate and scatter fraction behavior for systems with different amounts of collimation, which is achieved by adding septa to the fully-3D system as in clinical use. We study systems with 2, 5, 11, and 40 septa. The effect of collimation is studied for three patient thicknesses.
The resulting count rate curves for true, scattered, and random coincidences as well as noise equivalent count rates are compared for the different collimation cases. Improved countrate performance with partial collimation is seen. However, except for the largest diameter phantom, the NEC rate increase is seen at higher activities than those used clinically.
The NEC countrate versus activity curves for the LSO systems are also compared to those from a BGO system where partial collimation increases NEC countrate over a clinically relevant activity range.
PMCID: PMC3210022  PMID: 22072861
24.  Establishing a Markerless Genetic Exchange System for Methanosarcina mazei Strain Gö1 for Constructing Chromosomal Mutants of Small RNA Genes 
Archaea  2011;2011:439608.
A markerless genetic exchange system was successfully established in Methanosarcina mazei strain Gö1 using the hpt gene coding for hypoxanthine phosphoribosyltransferase. First, a chromosomal deletion mutant of the hpt gene was generated conferring resistance to the purine analog 8-aza-2,6-diaminopurine (8-ADP). The nonreplicating allelic exchange vector (pRS345) carrying the pac-resistance cassette for direct selection of chromosomal integration, and the hpt gene for counterselection was introduced into this strain. By a pop-in and ultimately pop-out event of the plasmid from the chromosome, allelic exchange is enabled. Using this system, we successfully generated a M. mazei deletion mutant of the gene encoding the regulatory non-coding RNA sRNA154. Characterizing M. mazeiΔsRNA154 under nitrogen limiting conditions demonstrated differential expression of at least three cytoplasmic proteins and reduced growth strongly arguing for a prominent role of sRNA154 in regulation of nitrogen fixation by posttranscriptional regulation.
PMCID: PMC3177094  PMID: 21941461
25.  Insights into Membrane Association of Klebsiella pneumoniae NifL under Nitrogen-Fixing Conditions from Mutational Analysis▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2010;193(3):695-705.
In Klebsiella pneumoniae nitrogen fixation is tightly controlled in response to ammonium and molecular oxygen by the NifL/NifA regulatory system. Under repressing conditions, NifL inhibits the nif-specific transcriptional activator NifA by direct protein-protein interaction, whereas under anaerobic and nitrogen-limited conditions sequestration of reduced NifL to the cytoplasmic membrane impairs inhibition of cytoplasmic NifA by NifL. We report here on a genetic screen to identify amino acids of NifL essential for sequestration to the cytoplasmic membrane under nitrogen-fixing conditions. Overall, 11,500 mutated nifL genes of three independently generated pools were screened for those conferring a Nif− phenotype. Based on the respective amino acid changes of nonfunctional derivatives obtained in the screen, and taking structural data into account as well, several point mutations were introduced into nifL by site-directed mutagenesis. The majority of amino acid changes resulting in a significant nif gene inhibition were located in the N-terminal domain (N46D, Q57L, Q64R, N67S, N69S, R80C, and W87G) and the Q-linker (K271E). Further analyses demonstrated that positions N69, R80, and W87 are essential for binding the FAD cofactor, whereas primarily Q64 and N46, but also Q57 and N67, appear to be crucial for direct membrane contact of NifL under oxygen and nitrogen limitation. Based on these findings, we propose that those four amino acids most likely located on the protein surface, as well as the presence of the FAD cofactor, are crucial for the correct overall protein conformation and respective surface charge, allowing NifL sequestration to the cytoplasmic membrane under derepressing conditions.
PMCID: PMC3021237  PMID: 21057007

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