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Concept: Microbiology


Dispersal of microbes between humans and the built environment can occur through direct contact with surfaces or through airborne release; the latter mechanism remains poorly understood. Humans emit upwards of 10(6) biological particles per hour, and have long been known to transmit pathogens to other individuals and to indoor surfaces. However it has not previously been demonstrated that humans emit a detectible microbial cloud into surrounding indoor air, nor whether such clouds are sufficiently differentiated to allow the identification of individual occupants. We used high-throughput sequencing of 16S rRNA genes to characterize the airborne bacterial contribution of a single person sitting in a sanitized custom experimental climate chamber. We compared that to air sampled in an adjacent, identical, unoccupied chamber, as well as to supply and exhaust air sources. Additionally, we assessed microbial communities in settled particles surrounding each occupant, to investigate the potential long-term fate of airborne microbial emissions. Most occupants could be clearly detected by their airborne bacterial emissions, as well as their contribution to settled particles, within 1.5-4 h. Bacterial clouds from the occupants were statistically distinct, allowing the identification of some individual occupants. Our results confirm that an occupied space is microbially distinct from an unoccupied one, and demonstrate for the first time that individuals release their own personalized microbial cloud.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Organism, Microbiology, Ribosomal RNA, Biotechnology, 16S ribosomal RNA, Microorganism


Microbial communities are ubiquitous in both natural and artificial environments. However, microbial diversity is usually reduced under strong selection pressures, such as those present in habitats rich in recalcitrant or toxic compounds displaying antimicrobial properties. Caffeine is a natural alkaloid present in coffee, tea and soft drinks with well-known antibacterial properties. Here we present the first systematic analysis of coffee machine-associated bacteria. We sampled the coffee waste reservoir of ten different Nespresso machines and conducted a dynamic monitoring of the colonization process in a new machine. Our results reveal the existence of a varied bacterial community in all the machines sampled, and a rapid colonisation process of the coffee leach. The community developed from a pioneering pool of enterobacteria and other opportunistic taxa to a mature but still highly variable microbiome rich in coffee-adapted bacteria. The bacterial communities described here, for the first time, are potential drivers of biotechnologically relevant processes including decaffeination and bioremediation.

Concepts: Natural selection, Bacteria, Microbiology, Biotechnology, Coffee, Caffeine, Tea, Microorganism


Changes in the human gastrointestinal microbiome are associated with several diseases. To infer causality, experiments in representative models are essential, but widely used animal models exhibit limitations. Here we present a modular, microfluidics-based model (HuMiX, human-microbial crosstalk), which allows co-culture of human and microbial cells under conditions representative of the gastrointestinal human-microbe interface. We demonstrate the ability of HuMiX to recapitulate in vivo transcriptional, metabolic and immunological responses in human intestinal epithelial cells following their co-culture with the commensal Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) grown under anaerobic conditions. In addition, we show that the co-culture of human epithelial cells with the obligate anaerobe Bacteroides caccae and LGG results in a transcriptional response, which is distinct from that of a co-culture solely comprising LGG. HuMiX facilitates investigations of host-microbe molecular interactions and provides insights into a range of fundamental research questions linking the gastrointestinal microbiome to human health and disease.

Concepts: Medicine, Archaea, Epidemiology, Disease, Bacteria, Microbiology, Epithelium, Lactobacillus rhamnosus


Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a common chronic inflammatory skin disease that results in significant morbidity. A hallmark of AD is disruption of the critical barrier function of upper epidermal layers, causatively linked to environmental stimuli, genetics, and infection, and a critical current target for the development of new therapeutic and prophylactic interventions. Staphylococcus aureus is an AD-associated pathogen producing virulence factors that induce skin barrier disruption in vivo and contribute to AD pathogenesis. We show, using immortalized and primary keratinocytes, that S. aureus protease SspA/V8 is the dominant secreted factor (in laboratory and AD clinical strains of S. aureus) inducing barrier integrity impairment and tight junction damage. V8-induced integrity damage was inhibited by an IL-1β-mediated mechanism, independent of effects on claudin-1. Induction of keratinocyte expression of the antimicrobial/host defense peptide human β-defensin 2 (hBD2) was found to be the mechanism underpinning this protective effect. Endogenous hBD2 expression was required and sufficient for protection against V8 protease-mediated integrity damage, and exogenous application of hBD2 was protective. This modulatory property of hBD2, unrelated to antibacterial effects, gives new significance to the defective induction of hBD2 in the barrier-defective skin lesions of AD and indicates therapeutic potential.

Concepts: Inflammation, Bacteria, Microbiology, Staphylococcus aureus, Skin, Protease, Virulence factor, Atopic dermatitis


Could some vaccines drive the evolution of more virulent pathogens? Conventional wisdom is that natural selection will remove highly lethal pathogens if host death greatly reduces transmission. Vaccines that keep hosts alive but still allow transmission could thus allow very virulent strains to circulate in a population. Here we show experimentally that immunization of chickens against Marek’s disease virus enhances the fitness of more virulent strains, making it possible for hyperpathogenic strains to transmit. Immunity elicited by direct vaccination or by maternal vaccination prolongs host survival but does not prevent infection, viral replication or transmission, thus extending the infectious periods of strains otherwise too lethal to persist. Our data show that anti-disease vaccines that do not prevent transmission can create conditions that promote the emergence of pathogen strains that cause more severe disease in unvaccinated hosts.

Concepts: Immune system, Infectious disease, Natural selection, Microbiology, Malaria, Vaccination, Smallpox, Marek's disease


Human noroviruses (NoV) are the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis worldwide. Epidemiological studies of outbreaks have suggested that vomiting facilitates transmission of human NoV, but there have been no laboratory-based studies characterizing the degree of NoV release during a vomiting event. The purpose of this work was to demonstrate that virus aerosolization occurs in a simulated vomiting event, and to estimate the amount of virus that is released in those aerosols. A simulated vomiting device was constructed at one-quarter scale of the human body following similitude principles. Simulated vomitus matrices at low (6.24 mPa*s) and high (177.5 mPa*s) viscosities were inoculated with low (108 PFU/mL) and high (1010 PFU/mL) concentrations of bacteriophage MS2 and placed in the artificial “stomach” of the device, which was then subjected to scaled physiologically relevant pressures associated with vomiting. Bio aerosols were captured using an SKC Biosampler. In low viscosity artificial vomitus, there were notable differences between recovered aerosolized MS2 as a function of pressure (i.e., greater aerosolization with increased pressure), although this was not always statistically significant. This relationship disappeared when using high viscosity simulated vomitus. The amount of MS2 aerosolized as a percent of total virus “vomited” ranged from 7.2 x 10-5 to 2.67 x 10-2 (which corresponded to a range of 36 to 13,350 PFU total). To our knowledge, this is the first study to document and measure aerosolization of a NoV surrogate in a similitude-based physical model. This has implications for better understanding the transmission dynamics of human NoV and for risk modeling purposes, both of which can help in designing effective infection control measures.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Microbiology, Virus, Bacteriophage, Vomiting, Gastroenteritis, Norovirus, Nausea


Background Ebola virus has been detected in the semen of men after their recovery from Ebola virus disease (EVD), but little information is available about its prevalence or the duration of its persistence. We report the initial findings of a pilot study involving survivors of EVD in Sierra Leone. Methods We enrolled a convenience sample of 100 male survivors of EVD in Sierra Leone, at different times after their recovery from EVD, and recorded self-reported information about sociodemographic characteristics, the EVD episode, and health status. Semen specimens obtained at baseline were tested by means of a quantitative reverse-transcriptase-polymerase-chain-reaction (RT-PCR) assay with the use of the target-gene sequences of NP and VP40. Results A total of 93 participants provided an initial semen specimen for analysis, of whom 46 (49%) had positive results on quantitative RT-PCR. Ebola virus RNA was detected in the semen of all 9 men who had a specimen obtained 2 to 3 months after the onset of EVD, in the semen of 26 of 40 (65%) who had a specimen obtained 4 to 6 months after onset, and in the semen of 11 of 43 (26%) who had a specimen obtained 7 to 9 months after onset; the results for 1 participant who had a specimen obtained at 10 months were indeterminate. The median cycle-threshold values (for which higher values indicate lower RNA levels) were 32.0 with the NP gene target and 31.1 with the VP40 gene target for specimens obtained at 2 to 3 months, 34.5 and 32.3, respectively, for specimens obtained at 4 to 6 months, and 37.0 and 35.6, respectively, for specimens obtained at 7 to 9 months. Conclusions These data showed the persistence of Ebola virus RNA in semen and declining persistence with increasing months since the onset of EVD. We do not yet have data on the extent to which positivity on RT-PCR is associated with virus infectivity. Although cases of suspected sexual transmission of Ebola have been reported, they are rare; hence the risk of sexual transmission of the Ebola virus is being investigated. (Funded by the World Health Organization and others.).

Concepts: DNA, Microbiology, Genome, RNA, Biological warfare, Ebola, Viral hemorrhagic fever, Sierra Leone


Mucosal surfaces are a main entry point for pathogens and the principal sites of defense against infection. Both bacteria and phage are associated with this mucus. Here we show that phage-to-bacteria ratios were increased, relative to the adjacent environment, on all mucosal surfaces sampled, ranging from cnidarians to humans. In vitro studies of tissue culture cells with and without surface mucus demonstrated that this increase in phage abundance is mucus dependent and protects the underlying epithelium from bacterial infection. Enrichment of phage in mucus occurs via binding interactions between mucin glycoproteins and Ig-like protein domains exposed on phage capsids. In particular, phage Ig-like domains bind variable glycan residues that coat the mucin glycoprotein component of mucus. Metagenomic analysis found these Ig-like proteins present in the phages sampled from many environments, particularly from locations adjacent to mucosal surfaces. Based on these observations, we present the bacteriophage adherence to mucus model that provides a ubiquitous, but non-host-derived, immunity applicable to mucosal surfaces. The model suggests that metazoan mucosal surfaces and phage coevolve to maintain phage adherence. This benefits the metazoan host by limiting mucosal bacteria, and benefits the phage through more frequent interactions with bacterial hosts. The relationships shown here suggest a symbiotic relationship between phage and metazoan hosts that provides a previously unrecognized antimicrobial defense that actively protects mucosal surfaces.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, DNA, Bacteria, Evolution, Microbiology, Virus, Bacteriophage


The decline of circulating testosterone levels in aging men is associated with adverse health effects. During studies of probiotic bacteria and obesity, we discovered that male mice routinely consuming purified lactic acid bacteria originally isolated from human milk had larger testicles and increased serum testosterone levels compared to their age-matched controls. Further investigation using microscopy-assisted histomorphometry of testicular tissue showed that mice consuming Lactobacillus reuteri in their drinking water had significantly increased seminiferous tubule cross-sectional profiles and increased spermatogenesis and Leydig cell numbers per testis when compared with matched diet counterparts This showed that criteria of gonadal aging were reduced after routinely consuming a purified microbe such as L. reuteri. We tested whether these features typical of sustained reproductive fitness may be due to anti-inflammatory properties of L. reuteri, and found that testicular mass and other indicators typical of old age were similarly restored to youthful levels using systemic administration of antibodies blocking pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-17A. This indicated that uncontrolled host inflammatory responses contributed to the testicular atrophy phenotype in aged mice. Reduced circulating testosterone levels have been implicated in many adverse effects; dietary L. reuteri or other probiotic supplementation may provide a viable natural approach to prevention of male hypogonadism, absent the controversy and side-effects of traditional therapies, and yield practical options for management of disorders typically associated with normal aging. These novel findings suggest a potential high impact for microbe therapy in public health by imparting hormonal and gonad features of reproductive fitness typical of much younger healthy individuals.

Concepts: Bacteria, Microbiology, Testicle, Reproductive system, Sertoli cell, Probiotic, Lactobacillus, Puberty


To use a MS2 bacteriophage model to compare three hand-drying methods, paper towels (PT), a warm air dryer (WAD) and a jet air dryer (JAD), for their potential to disperse viruses and contaminate the immediate environment during use.

Concepts: Microbiology, Virus, RNA, Bacteriophage, Bacteriophage MS2