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Journal: Nature microbiology


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.


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.


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


The MinION sequencing platform offers near real-time analysis of DNA sequence; this makes the tool attractive for deployment in fieldwork or clinical settings. We used the MinION platform coupled to the NanoOK RT software package to perform shotgun metagenomic sequencing and profile mock communities and faecal samples from healthy and ill preterm infants. Using Nanopore data, we reliably classified a 20-species mock community and captured the diversity of the immature gut microbiota over time and in response to interventions such as probiotic supplementation, antibiotic treatment or episodes of suspected sepsis. We also performed rapid real-time runs to assess gut-associated microbial communities in critically ill and healthy infants, facilitated by NanoOK RT software package, which analysed sequences as they were generated. Our pipeline reliably identified pathogenic bacteria (that is, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Enterobacter cloacae) and their corresponding antimicrobial resistance gene profiles within as little as 1 h of sequencing. Results were confirmed using pathogen isolation, whole-genome sequencing and antibiotic susceptibility testing, as well as mock communities and clinical samples with known antimicrobial resistance genes. Our results demonstrate that MinION (including cost-effective Flongle flow cells) with NanoOK RT can process metagenomic samples to a rich dataset in < 5 h, which creates a platform for future studies aimed at developing these tools and approaches in clinical settings with a focus on providing tailored patient antimicrobial treatment options.


Natural transformation is a broadly conserved mechanism of horizontal gene transfer in bacterial species that can shape evolution and foster the spread of antibiotic resistance determinants, promote antigenic variation and lead to the acquisition of novel virulence factors. Surface appendages called competence pili promote DNA uptake during the first step of natural transformation 1 ; however, their mechanism of action has remained unclear owing to an absence of methods to visualize these structures in live cells. Here, using the model naturally transformable species Vibrio cholerae and a pilus-labelling method, we define the mechanism for type IV competence pilus-mediated DNA uptake during natural transformation. First, we show that type IV competence pili bind to extracellular double-stranded DNA via their tip and demonstrate that this binding is critical for DNA uptake. Next, we show that type IV competence pili are dynamic structures and that pilus retraction brings tip-bound DNA to the cell surface. Finally, we show that pilus retraction is spatiotemporally coupled to DNA internalization and that sterically obstructing pilus retraction prevents DNA uptake. Together, these results indicate that type IV competence pili directly bind to DNA via their tip and mediate DNA internalization through retraction during this conserved mechanism of horizontal gene transfer.


Despite the wide availability of antibiotics, infectious diseases remain a leading cause of death worldwide 1 . In the absence of new therapies, mortality rates due to untreatable infections are predicted to rise more than tenfold by 2050. Natural products (NPs) made by cultured bacteria have been a major source of clinically useful antibiotics. In spite of decades of productivity, the use of bacteria in the search for new antibiotics was largely abandoned due to high rediscovery rates2,3. As only a fraction of bacterial diversity is regularly cultivated in the laboratory and just a fraction of the chemistries encoded by cultured bacteria are detected in fermentation experiments, most bacterial NPs remain hidden in the global microbiome. In an effort to access these hidden NPs, we have developed a culture-independent NP discovery platform that involves sequencing, bioinformatic analysis and heterologous expression of biosynthetic gene clusters captured on DNA extracted from environmental samples. Here, we describe the application of this platform to the discovery of the malacidins, a distinctive class of antibiotics that are commonly encoded in soil microbiomes but have never been reported in culture-based NP discovery efforts. The malacidins are active against multidrug-resistant pathogens, sterilize methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus skin infections in an animal wound model and did not select for resistance under our laboratory conditions.

Concepts: DNA, Infectious disease, Bacteria, Microbiology, Pneumonia, Staphylococcus aureus, Infection, Antibiotic resistance


Surveillance of drug-resistant bacteria is essential for healthcare providers to deliver effective empirical antibiotic therapy. However, traditional molecular epidemiology does not typically occur on a timescale that could affect patient treatment and outcomes. Here, we present a method called ‘genomic neighbour typing’ for inferring the phenotype of a bacterial sample by identifying its closest relatives in a database of genomes with metadata. We show that this technique can infer antibiotic susceptibility and resistance for both Streptococcus pneumoniae and Neisseria gonorrhoeae. We implemented this with rapid k-mer matching, which, when used on Oxford Nanopore MinION data, can run in real time. This resulted in the determination of resistance within 10 min (91% sensitivity and 100% specificity for S. pneumoniae and 81% sensitivity and 100% specificity for N. gonorrhoeae from isolates with a representative database) of starting sequencing, and within 4 h of sample collection (75% sensitivity and 100% specificity for S. pneumoniae) for clinical metagenomic sputum samples. This flexible approach has wide application for pathogen surveillance and may be used to greatly accelerate appropriate empirical antibiotic treatment.


Virus taxonomy emerged as a discipline in the middle of the twentieth century. Traditionally, classification by virus taxonomists has been focussed on the grouping of relatively closely related viruses. However, during the past few years, the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) has recognized that the taxonomy it develops can be usefully extended to include the basal evolutionary relationships among distantly related viruses. Consequently, the ICTV has changed its Code to allow a 15-rank classification hierarchy that closely aligns with the Linnaean taxonomic system and may accommodate the entire spectrum of genetic divergence in the virosphere. The current taxonomies of three human pathogens, Ebola virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus and herpes simplex virus 1 are used to illustrate the impact of the expanded rank structure. This new rank hierarchy of virus taxonomy will stimulate further research on virus origins and evolution, and vice versa, and could promote crosstalk with the taxonomies of cellular organisms.


Public health interventions to control the current epidemic of carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae rely on a comprehensive understanding of its emergence and spread over a wide range of geographical scales. We analysed the genome sequences and epidemiological data of >1,700 K. pneumoniae samples isolated from patients in 244 hospitals in 32 countries during the European Survey of Carbapenemase-Producing Enterobacteriaceae. We demonstrate that carbapenemase acquisition is the main cause of carbapenem resistance and that it occurred across diverse phylogenetic backgrounds. However, 477 of 682 (69.9%) carbapenemase-positive isolates are concentrated in four clonal lineages, sequence types 11, 15, 101, 258/512 and their derivatives. Combined analysis of the genetic and geographic distances between isolates with different β-lactam resistance determinants suggests that the propensity of K. pneumoniae to spread in hospital environments correlates with the degree of resistance and that carbapenemase-positive isolates have the highest transmissibility. Indeed, we found that over half of the hospitals that contributed carbapenemase-positive isolates probably experienced within-hospital transmission, and interhospital spread is far more frequent within, rather than between, countries. Finally, we propose a value of 21 for the number of single nucleotide polymorphisms that optimizes the discrimination of hospital clusters and detail the international spread of the successful epidemic lineage, ST258/512.