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Journal: Nature microbiology


There are outstanding evolutionary questions on the recent emergence of human coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 including the role of reservoir species, the role of recombination and its time of divergence from animal viruses. We find that the sarbecoviruses-the viral subgenus containing SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2-undergo frequent recombination and exhibit spatially structured genetic diversity on a regional scale in China. SARS-CoV-2 itself is not a recombinant of any sarbecoviruses detected to date, and its receptor-binding motif, important for specificity to human ACE2 receptors, appears to be an ancestral trait shared with bat viruses and not one acquired recently via recombination. To employ phylogenetic dating methods, recombinant regions of a 68-genome sarbecovirus alignment were removed with three independent methods. Bayesian evolutionary rate and divergence date estimates were shown to be consistent for these three approaches and for two different prior specifications of evolutionary rates based on HCoV-OC43 and MERS-CoV. Divergence dates between SARS-CoV-2 and the bat sarbecovirus reservoir were estimated as 1948 (95% highest posterior density (HPD): 1879-1999), 1969 (95% HPD: 1930-2000) and 1982 (95% HPD: 1948-2009), indicating that the lineage giving rise to SARS-CoV-2 has been circulating unnoticed in bats for decades.


Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral infection that has spread throughout the tropical world over the past 60 years and now affects over half the world’s population. The geographical range of dengue is expected to further expand due to ongoing global phenomena including climate change and urbanization. We applied statistical mapping techniques to the most extensive database of case locations to date to predict global environmental suitability for the virus as of 2015. We then made use of climate, population and socioeconomic projections for the years 2020, 2050 and 2080 to project future changes in virus suitability and human population at risk. This study is the first to consider the spread of Aedes mosquito vectors to project dengue suitability. Our projections provide a key missing piece of evidence for the changing global threat of vector-borne disease and will help decision-makers worldwide to better prepare for and respond to future changes in dengue risk.


Antibody-based drugs and vaccines against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) are being expedited through preclinical and clinical development. Data from the study of SARS-CoV and other respiratory viruses suggest that anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies could exacerbate COVID-19 through antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE). Previous respiratory syncytial virus and dengue virus vaccine studies revealed human clinical safety risks related to ADE, resulting in failed vaccine trials. Here, we describe key ADE mechanisms and discuss mitigation strategies for SARS-CoV-2 vaccines and therapies in development. We also outline recently published data to evaluate the risks and opportunities for antibody-based protection against SARS-CoV-2.


The relationship between gut microbial metabolism and mental health is one of the most intriguing and controversial topics in microbiome research. Bidirectional microbiota-gut-brain communication has mostly been explored in animal models, with human research lagging behind. Large-scale metagenomics studies could facilitate the translational process, but their interpretation is hampered by a lack of dedicated reference databases and tools to study the microbial neuroactive potential. Surveying a large microbiome population cohort (Flemish Gut Flora Project, n = 1,054) with validation in independent data sets (ntotal = 1,070), we studied how microbiome features correlate with host quality of life and depression. Butyrate-producing Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus bacteria were consistently associated with higher quality of life indicators. Together with Dialister, Coprococcus spp. were also depleted in depression, even after correcting for the confounding effects of antidepressants. Using a module-based analytical framework, we assembled a catalogue of neuroactive potential of sequenced gut prokaryotes. Gut-brain module analysis of faecal metagenomes identified the microbial synthesis potential of the dopamine metabolite 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid as correlating positively with mental quality of life and indicated a potential role of microbial γ-aminobutyric acid production in depression. Our results provide population-scale evidence for microbiome links to mental health, while emphasizing confounder importance.


The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is having a catastrophic impact on human health1. Widespread community transmission has triggered stringent distancing measures with severe socio-economic consequences. Gaining control of the pandemic will depend on the interruption of transmission chains until vaccine-induced or naturally acquired protective herd immunity arises. However, approved antiviral treatments such as remdesivir and reconvalescent serum cannot be delivered orally2,3, making them poorly suitable for transmission control. We previously reported the development of an orally efficacious ribonucleoside analogue inhibitor of influenza viruses, MK-4482/EIDD-2801 (refs. 4,5), that was repurposed for use against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and is currently in phase II/III clinical trials (NCT04405570 and NCT04405739). Here, we explored the efficacy of therapeutically administered MK-4482/EIDD-2801 to mitigate SARS-CoV-2 infection and block transmission in the ferret model, given that ferrets and related members of the weasel genus transmit the virus efficiently with minimal clinical signs6-9, which resembles the spread in the human young-adult population. We demonstrate high SARS-CoV-2 burden in nasal tissues and secretions, which coincided with efficient transmission through direct contact. Therapeutic treatment of infected animals with MK-4482/EIDD-2801 twice a day significantly reduced the SARS-CoV-2 load in the upper respiratory tract and completely suppressed spread to untreated contact animals. This study identified oral MK-4482/EIDD-2801 as a promising antiviral countermeasure to break SARS-CoV-2 community transmission chains.


Characterizing the interactions that SARS-CoV-2 viral RNAs make with host cell proteins during infection can improve our understanding of viral RNA functions and the host innate immune response. Using RNA antisense purification and mass spectrometry, we identified up to 104 human proteins that directly and specifically bind to SARS-CoV-2 RNAs in infected human cells. We integrated the SARS-CoV-2 RNA interactome with changes in proteome abundance induced by viral infection and linked interactome proteins to cellular pathways relevant to SARS-CoV-2 infections. We demonstrated by genetic perturbation that cellular nucleic acid-binding protein (CNBP) and La-related protein 1 (LARP1), two of the most strongly enriched viral RNA binders, restrict SARS-CoV-2 replication in infected cells and provide a global map of their direct RNA contact sites. Pharmacological inhibition of three other RNA interactome members, PPIA, ATP1A1, and the ARP2/3 complex, reduced viral replication in two human cell lines. The identification of host dependency factors and defence strategies as presented in this work will improve the design of targeted therapeutics against SARS-CoV-2.


The assembly of single-amplified genomes (SAGs) and metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) has led to a surge in genome-based discoveries of members affiliated with Archaea and Bacteria, bringing with it a need to develop guidelines for nomenclature of uncultivated microorganisms. The International Code of Nomenclature of Prokaryotes (ICNP) only recognizes cultures as ‘type material’, thereby preventing the naming of uncultivated organisms. In this Consensus Statement, we propose two potential paths to solve this nomenclatural conundrum. One option is the adoption of previously proposed modifications to the ICNP to recognize DNA sequences as acceptable type material; the other option creates a nomenclatural code for uncultivated Archaea and Bacteria that could eventually be merged with the ICNP in the future. Regardless of the path taken, we believe that action is needed now within the scientific community to develop consistent rules for nomenclature of uncultivated taxa in order to provide clarity and stability, and to effectively communicate microbial diversity.


Access to efficient enzymes that can convert A and B type red blood cells to ‘universal’ donor O would greatly increase the supply of blood for transfusions. Here we report the functional metagenomic screening of the human gut microbiome for enzymes that can remove the cognate A and B type sugar antigens. Among the genes encoded in our library of 19,500 expressed fosmids bearing gut bacterial DNA, we identify an enzyme pair from the obligate anaerobe Flavonifractor plautii that work in concert to efficiently convert the A antigen to the H antigen of O type blood, via a galactosamine intermediate. The X-ray structure of the N-acetylgalactosamine deacetylase reveals the active site and mechanism of the founding member of an esterase family. The galactosaminidase expands activities within the CAZy family GH36. Their ability to completely convert A to O of the same rhesus type at very low enzyme concentrations in whole blood will simplify their incorporation into blood transfusion practice, broadening blood supply.


With the recent emergence of reports on resistant Gram-negative ‘superbugs’, infections caused by multidrug-resistant (MDR) Gram-negative bacteria have been named as one of the most urgent global health threats due to the lack of effective and biocompatible drugs. Here, we show that a class of antimicrobial agents, termed ‘structurally nanoengineered antimicrobial peptide polymers’ (SNAPPs) exhibit sub-μM activity against all Gram-negative bacteria tested, including ESKAPE and colistin-resistant and MDR (CMDR) pathogens, while demonstrating low toxicity. SNAPPs are highly effective in combating CMDR Acinetobacter baumannii infections in vivo, the first example of a synthetic antimicrobial polymer with CMDR Gram-negative pathogen efficacy. Furthermore, we did not observe any resistance acquisition by A. baumannii (including the CMDR strain) to SNAPPs. Comprehensive analyses using a range of microscopy and (bio)assay techniques revealed that the antimicrobial activity of SNAPPs proceeds via a multimodal mechanism of bacterial cell death by outer membrane destabilization, unregulated ion movement across the cytoplasmic membrane and induction of the apoptotic-like death pathway, possibly accounting for why we did not observe resistance to SNAPPs in CMDR bacteria. Overall, SNAPPs show great promise as low-cost and effective antimicrobial agents and may represent a weapon in combating the growing threat of MDR Gram-negative bacteria.

Concepts: Immune system, Protein, Cell, Bacteria, Microbiology, Antibiotic resistance, Gram-negative bacteria, Acinetobacter baumannii


Bacteria respond to changes in their environment with specific transcriptional programmes, but even within genetically identical populations these programmes are not homogenously expressed1. Such transcriptional heterogeneity between individual bacteria allows genetically clonal communities to develop a complex array of phenotypes1, examples of which include persisters that resist antibiotic treatment and metabolically specialized cells that emerge under nutrient-limiting conditions2. Fluorescent reporter constructs have played a pivotal role in deciphering heterogeneous gene expression within bacterial populations3 but have been limited to recording the activity of single genes in a few genetically tractable model species, whereas the vast majority of bacteria remain difficult to engineer and/or even to cultivate. Single-cell transcriptomics is revolutionizing the analysis of phenotypic cell-to-cell variation in eukaryotes, but technical hurdles have prevented its robust application to prokaryotes. Here, using an improved poly(A)-independent single-cell RNA-sequencing protocol, we report the faithful capture of growth-dependent gene expression patterns in individual Salmonella and Pseudomonas bacteria across all RNA classes and genomic regions. These transcriptomes provide important reference points for single-cell RNA-sequencing of other bacterial species, mixed microbial communities and host-pathogen interactions.