Thursday, July 31, 2008

Exciting and noteworthy in PLoS ONE: My picks

There are 62 brand new articles published at PLoS ONE this week which certainly reflects quite diverse food for thought. You can always join in discussion on interesting articles by creating an account on the journal site and posting your comments for others to read. Also, you may like to rate the articles. Ratings are the quickest and easiest way for users to indicate their support for the authors and to highlight which articles are of potential impact for the readers and the community. I suggest why not to begin with these exciting ones?

Dinosaurian Soft Tissues Interpreted as Bacterial Biofilms:

A scanning electron microscope survey was initiated to determine if the previously reported findings of "dinosaurian soft tissues" could be identified in situ within the bones. The results obtained allowed a reinterpretation of the formation and preservation of several types of these "tissues" and their content. Mineralized and non-mineralized coatings were found extensively in the porous trabecular bone of a variety of dinosaur and mammal species across time. They represent bacterial biofilms common throughout nature. Biofilms form endocasts and once dissolved out of the bone, mimic real blood vessels and osteocytes. Bridged trails observed in biofilms indicate that a previously viscous film was populated with swimming bacteria. Carbon dating of the film points to its relatively modern origin. A comparison of infrared spectra of modern biofilms with modern collagen and fossil bone coatings suggests that modern biofilms share a closer molecular make-up than modern collagen to the coatings from fossil bones. Blood cell size iron-oxygen spheres found in the vessels were identified as an oxidized form of formerly pyritic framboids. Our observations appeal to a more conservative explanation for the structures found preserved in fossil bone.

Remodeling of the Streptococcus agalactiae Transcriptome in Response to Growth Temperature

To act as a commensal bacterium and a pathogen in humans and animals, Streptococcus agalactiae (group B streptococcus, GBS) must be able to monitor and adapt to different environmental conditions. Temperature variation is a one of the most commonly encountered variables. To understand the extent to which GBS modify gene expression in response to temperatures encountered in the various hosts, we conducted a whole genome transcriptome analysis of organisms grown at 30°C and 40°C. We identified extensive transcriptome remodeling at various stages of growth, especially in the stationary phase (significant transcript changes occurred for 25% of the genes). A large proportion of genes involved in metabolism was up-regulated at 30°C in stationary phase. Conversely, genes up-regulated at 40°C relative to 30°C include those encoding virulence factors such as hemolysins and extracellular secreted proteins with LPXTG motifs. Over-expression of hemolysins was linked to larger zones of hemolysis and enhanced hemolytic activity at 40°C. A key theme identified by our study was that genes involved in purine metabolism and iron acquisition were significantly up-regulated at 40°C. Growth of GBS in vitro at different temperatures resulted in extensive remodeling of the transcriptome, including genes encoding proven and putative virulence genes. The data provide extensive new leads for molecular pathogenesis research.

Streptococcus iniae M-Like Protein Contributes to Virulence in Fish and Is a Target for Live Attenuated Vaccine Development

Streptococcus iniae is a significant pathogen in finfish aquaculture, though knowledge of virulence determinants is lacking. Through pyrosequencing of the S. iniae genome we have identified two gene homologues to classical surface-anchored streptococcal virulence factors: M-like protein (simA) and C5a peptidase (scpI). S. iniae possesses a Mga-like locus containing simA and a divergently transcribed putative mga-like regulatory gene, mgx. In contrast to the Mga locus of group A Streptococcus (GAS, S. pyogenes), scpI is located distally in the chromosome. Comparative sequence analysis of the Mgx locus revealed only one significant variant, a strain with an insertion frameshift mutation in simA and a deletion mutation in a region downstream of mgx, generating an ORF which may encode a second putative mga-like gene, mgx2. Allelic exchange mutagenesis of simA and scpI was employed to investigate the potential role of these genes in S. iniae virulence. Our hybrid striped bass (HSB) and zebrafish models of infection revealed that M-like protein contributes significantly to S. iniae pathogenesis whereas C5a peptidase-like protein does not. Further, in vitro cell-based analyses indicate that SiMA, like other M family proteins, contributes to cellular adherence and invasion and provides resistance to phagocytic killing. Attenuation in our virulence models was also observed in the S. iniae isolate possessing a natural simA mutation. Vaccination of HSB with the ΔsimA mutant provided 100% protection against subsequent challenge with a lethal dose of wild-type (WT) S. iniae after 1,400 degree days, and shows promise as a target for live attenuated vaccine development. Analysis of M-like protein and C5a peptidase through allelic replacement revealed that M-like protein plays a significant role in S. iniae virulence, and the Mga-like locus, which may regulate expression of this gene, has an unusual arrangement. The M-like protein mutant created in this research holds promise as live-attenuated vaccine.

Effect of Attenuation of Treg during BCG Immunization on Anti-Mycobacterial Th1 Responses and Protection against Mycobacterium tuberculosis

The functional equilibrium between natural regulatory T cells (Treg) and effector T cells can affect the issue of numerous infections. In unvaccinated mice, the influence of Treg in the control of primary infection with mycobacteria remains controversial. Here, we evaluated the role of Treg during prophylactic vaccination with Mycobacterium bovis BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin) on the induction of T cell responses and on the protective effect against subsequent M. tuberculosis challenge in mice. We demonstrated that, subsequent to BCG injection, Treg were recruited to the draining lymph nodes and negatively control anti-mycobacterial CD4+ — but not CD8+ — T-cell responses. Treatment of BCG-immunized mice with an anti-CD25 mAb (PC61) induced an increase IFN-γ response against both subdominant and immunodominant regions of the protective immunogen TB10.4. In Treg-attenuated, BCG-immunized mice, which were then infected with M. tuberculosis, the lung mycobacterial load was significantly, albeit moderately, reduced compared to the control mice. Our results provide the first demonstration that attenuation of Treg subset concomitant to BCG vaccination has a positive, yet limited, impact on the protective capacity of this vaccine against infection with M. tuberculosis. Thus, for rational design of improved BCG, it should be considered that, although the action of Treg does not represent the major cause of the limited efficiency of BCG, the impact of this cell population on the subsequent control of M. tuberculosis growth is significant and measurable.

Comparative Analysis of Human Gut Microbiota by Barcoded Pyrosequencing

Humans host complex microbial communities believed to contribute to health maintenance and, when in imbalance, to the development of diseases. Determining the microbial composition in patients and healthy controls may thus provide novel therapeutic targets. For this purpose, high-throughput, cost-effective methods for microbiota characterization are needed. We have employed 454-pyrosequencing of a hyper-variable region of the 16S rRNA gene in combination with sample-specific barcode sequences which enables parallel in-depth analysis of hundreds of samples with limited sample processing. In silico modeling demonstrated that the method correctly describes microbial communities down to phylotypes below the genus level. Here we applied the technique to analyze microbial communities in throat, stomach and fecal samples. Our results demonstrate the applicability of barcoded pyrosequencing as a high-throughput method for comparative microbial ecology.