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Concept: Bacillus anthracis


BACKGROUND: The intentional release of Bacillus anthracis in the United States in 2001 has heightened concern about the use of pathogenic microorganisms in bioterrorism attacks. Many of the deadliest bacteria, including the Class A Select Agents Bacillus anthracis, Francisella tularensis, and Yersinia pestis, are highly infectious via the pulmonary route when released in aerosolized form. Hence, rapid, sensitive, and reliable methods for detection of these biothreats and characterization of their potential impact on the exposed population are of critical importance to initiate and support rapid military, public health, and clinical responses. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We have developed microfluidic multiplexed PCR and sequencing assays based on the simultaneous interrogation of three pathogens per assay and ten loci per pathogen. Microfluidic separation of amplified fluorescently labeled fragments generated characteristic electrophoretic signatures for identification of each agent. The three sets of primers allowed significant strain typing and discrimination from non-pathogenic closely-related species and environmental background strains based on amplicon sizes alone. Furthermore, sequencing of the 10 amplicons per pathogen, termed “Rapid Focused Sequencing,” allowed an even greater degree of strain discrimination and, in some cases, can be used to determine virulence. Both amplification and sequencing assays were performed in microfluidic biochips developed for fast thermal cycling and requiring 7 µL per reaction. The 30-plex sequencing assay resulted in genotypic resolution of 84 representative strains belonging to each of the three biothreat species. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: The microfluidic multiplexed assays allowed identification and strain differentiation of the biothreat agents Bacillus anthracis, Francisella tularensis, and Yersinia pestis and clear discrimination from closely-related species and several environmental background strains. The assays may be extended to detect a large number of pathogens, are applicable to the evaluation of both environmental and clinical samples, and have the potential to be applied in military, public health, and clinical diagnostic settings.

Concepts: Vaccination, Bacillus anthracis, Francisella tularensis, Yersinia pestis, Bacillus, Pathogen, Microbiology, Bacteria


In September 2011, a total of 511 human cases of anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) infection and 5 deaths were reported in a game management area in the district of Chama, Zambia, near where 85 hippopotamuses (Hippopotamus amphibious) had recently died of suspected anthrax. The human infections generally responded to antibiotics. To clarify transmission, we conducted a cross-sectional, interviewer-administered household survey in villages where human anthrax cases and hippopotamuses deaths were reported. Among 284 respondents, 84% ate hippopotamus meat before the outbreak. Eating, carrying, and preparing meat were associated with anthrax infection. Despite the risk, 23% of respondents reported they would eat meat from hippopotamuses found dead again because of food shortage (73%), lack of meat (12%), hunger (7%), and protein shortage (5%). Chronic food insecurity can lead to consumption of unsafe foods, leaving communities susceptible to zoonotic infection. Interagency cooperation is necessary to prevent outbreaks by addressing the root cause of exposure, such as food insecurity.

Concepts: Death, Famine, Bacillus, Bacillus anthracis, Disease, Bacteria, Food, Anthrax


Here we present vB_BanS-Tsamsa, a novel temperate phage isolated from Bacillus anthracis, the agent responsible for anthrax infections in wildlife, livestock and humans. Tsamsa phage is a giant siphovirus (order Caudovirales), featuring a long, flexible and non-contractile tail of 440 nm (not including baseplate structure) and an isometric head of 82 nm in diameter. We induced Tsamsa phage in samples from two different carcass sites in Etosha National Park, Namibia. The Tsamsa phage genome is the largest sequenced Bacillus siphovirus, containing 168,876 bp and 272 ORFs. The genome features an integrase/recombinase enzyme, indicative of a temperate lifestyle. Among bacterial strains tested, the phage infected only certain members of the Bacillus cereus sensu lato group (B. anthracis, B. cereus and B. thuringiensis) and exhibited moderate specificity for B. anthracis. Tsamsa lysed seven out of 25 B. cereus strains, two out of five B. thuringiensis strains and six out of seven B. anthracis strains tested. It did not lyse B. anthracis PAK-1, an atypical strain that is also resistant to both gamma phage and cherry phage. The Tsamsa endolysin features a broader lytic spectrum than the phage host range, indicating possible use of the enzyme in Bacillus biocontrol.

Concepts: Bacilli, Antibiotic, Bacteriophage, Bacillus anthracis, Bacillaceae, Bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis, Bacillus


Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax disease, is lethal owing to the actions of two exotoxins: anthrax lethal toxin (LT) and oedema toxin (ET). The key tissue targets responsible for the lethal effects of these toxins are unknown. Here we generated cell-type-specific anthrax toxin receptor capillary morphogenesis protein-2 (CMG2)-null mice and cell-type-specific CMG2-expressing mice and challenged them with the toxins. Our results show that lethality induced by LT and ET occurs through damage to distinct cell types; whereas targeting cardiomyocytes and vascular smooth muscle cells is required for LT-induced mortality, ET-induced lethality occurs mainly through its action in hepatocytes. Notably, and in contradiction to what has been previously postulated, targeting of endothelial cells by either toxin does not seem to contribute significantly to lethality. Our findings demonstrate that B. anthracis has evolved to use LT and ET to induce host lethality by coordinately damaging two distinct vital systems.

Concepts: Cardiac muscle, Robert Koch, Anthrax, Protein, Bacillus, Bacillus anthracis, Smooth muscle, Anthrax toxin


During the First World War, anthrax cases in the United States and England increased greatly and seemed to be associated with use of new shaving brushes. Further investigation revealed that the source material and origin of shaving brushes had changed during the war. Cheap brushes of imported horsehair were being made to look like the preferred badger-hair brushes. Unfortunately, some of these brushes were not effectively disinfected and brought with them a nasty stowaway: Bacillus anthracis. A review of outbreak summaries, surveillance data, and case reports indicated that these cases originated from the use of ineffectively disinfected animal-hair shaving brushes. This historical information is relevant to current public health practice because renewed interest in vintage and animal-hair shaving brushes has been seen in popular culture. This information should help healthcare providers and public health officials answer questions on this topic.

Concepts: World War I, United States, Public health, Popular culture, Bacillus anthracis, Culture, World War II, Bacillus


Long-term stability is a desired characteristic of vaccines, especially anthrax vaccines, which must be stockpiled for large-scale use in an emergency situation; however, spontaneous deamidation of purified vaccine antigens has the potential to adversely affect vaccine immunogenicity over time. In order to explore whether spontaneous deamidation of recombinant protective antigen (rPA)-the major component of new-generation anthrax vaccines-affects vaccine immunogenicity, we created a “genetically deamidated” form of rPA using site-directed mutagenesis to replace six deamidation-prone asparagine residues, at positions 408, 466, 537, 601, 713, and 719, with either aspartate, glutamine, or alanine residues. We found that the structure of the six-Asp mutant rPA was not significantly altered relative to that of the wild-type protein as assessed by circular dichroism (CD) spectroscopy and biological activity. In contrast, immunogenicity of aluminum-adjuvanted six-Asp mutant rPA, as measured by induction of toxin-neutralizing antibodies, was significantly lower than that of the corresponding wild-type rPA vaccine formulation. The six-Gln and six-Ala mutants also exhibited lower immunogenicity than the wild type. While the wild-type rPA vaccine formulation exhibited a high level of immunogenicity initially, its immunogenicity declined significantly upon storage at 25°C for 4 weeks. In contrast, the immunogenicity of the six-Asp mutant rPA vaccine formulation was low initially but did not change significantly upon storage. Taken together, results from this study suggest that spontaneous deamidation of asparagine residues predicted to occur during storage of rPA vaccines would adversely affect vaccine immunogenicity and therefore the storage life of vaccines.

Concepts: Bacillus anthracis, Louis Pasteur, Vaccine, Protein, Bacillus, Gene, Antigen, Immune system


To isolate Bacillus anthracis from cattle carcass burial sites from high-risk districts in Zimbabwe.

Concepts: Sequenced genomes, Bacillaceae, Bacillus thuringiensis, Bacilli, Bacillus anthracis, Bacillus


In 1998, it was claimed that an 80-year-old glass tube intentionally filled with Bacillus anthracis and embedded in a sugar lump as a WWI biological weapon still contained viable spores. Today, genome sequencing of three colonies isolated in 1998 and subjected to phylogenetic analysis surprisingly identified a well-known B. anthracis reference strain isolated in the United States in 1981, pointing to accidental laboratory contamination.IMPORTANCE Next-generation sequencing and subsequent phylogenetic analyses are useful and reliable tools for the classification of recent and historical samples. The reliability of sequences obtained and bioinformatic algorithms has increased in recent years, and research has uncovered the identity of a presumed bioweapon agent as a contaminant.

Concepts: World War II, United States, Bacillus anthracis, Bacillus, Molecular biology, DNA, Anthrax, Biological warfare


Biodiesel manufacturing units discharge effluents rich in glycerol. The need is to convert crude glycerol (CG) into useful products such as hydrogen (H2). Under batch culture, Bacillusthuringiensis EGU45 adapted on pure glycerol (PG, 2% v/v) resulted in an H2 yield of 0.646mol/mol glycerol consumed on minimal media (250mL) supplemented with 1% ammonium nitrate at 37°C over 4days. Here, H2 constituted 67% of the total biogas. Under continuous culture, at 2days of hydraulic retention time, B. thuringiensis immobilized on ligno-cellulosic materials (banana leaves - BL, 10% v/v) resulted in a H2 yield of 0.386mol/mol PG consumed. On CG, the maximal H2 yield of 0.393mol/mol feed consumed was recorded. In brief, B. thuringiensis could transform CG, on limited resources - minimal medium with sodium nitrate, by immobilizing them on cheap and easily available biowaste, which makes it a suitable candidate for H2 production on a large scale.

Concepts: Bacillus anthracis, Haber process, Nitrogen, Ion, Bacillus, Bacillus thuringiensis, Glycerol, Ammonia


In the present study, we report the development of a real-time PCR assay for the identification of Bacillus anthracis, based on the amplification of a unique chromosomal marker, the E4 sequence, with dual hybridization probes. The assay was evaluated using a panel of ten B. anthracis strains, two B. anthracis isolates from human clinical samples, 12 B. anthracis environmental swabs and 40 non- B. anthracis strains. All 12 B. anthracis strains and clinical isolates were correctly detected, and the method did not show cross-reactions with other micro-organisms. Likewise, the E4 sequence was not found in those strains of B. thuringiensis and B. cereus closely related (homology > 90%) to B. anthracis by computer analysis. On the other hand, this molecular assay showed a high analytical sensitivity, 3.5 genome equivalents per reaction at 95% probability. Furthermore, the real-time PCR assay allowed sequence-specific detection of the amplicon (melting peak with a Tm of 63.5 °C ± 0.5 °C) without post-amplification procedures, which offers an additional advantage over other qPCR assays for B. anthracis detection. Finally, the performance of the method was successfully evaluated in 12 environmental samples. In summary, we have developed a rapid and specific method for the molecular identification of Bacillus anthracis in environmental samples.

Concepts: Molecular biology, Antibiotic, Bacilli, Bacillaceae, Polymerase chain reaction, Bacillus anthracis, Bacillus, Bacillus thuringiensis