April 21, 2020  |  

Deciphering bacterial epigenomes using modern sequencing technologies.

Prokaryotic DNA contains three types of methylation: N6-methyladenine, N4-methylcytosine and 5-methylcytosine. The lack of tools to analyse the frequency and distribution of methylated residues in bacterial genomes has prevented a full understanding of their functions. Now, advances in DNA sequencing technology, including single-molecule, real-time sequencing and nanopore-based sequencing, have provided new opportunities for systematic detection of all three forms of methylated DNA at a genome-wide scale and offer unprecedented opportunities for achieving a more complete understanding of bacterial epigenomes. Indeed, as the number of mapped bacterial methylomes approaches 2,000, increasing evidence supports roles for methylation in regulation of gene expression, virulence and pathogen-host interactions.

April 21, 2020  |  

Development of CRISPR-Cas systems for genome editing and beyond

The development of clustered regularly interspaced short-palindromic repeat (CRISPR)-Cas systems for genome editing has transformed the way life science research is conducted and holds enormous potential for the treatment of disease as well as for many aspects of biotech- nology. Here, I provide a personal perspective on the development of CRISPR-Cas9 for genome editing within the broader context of the field and discuss our work to discover novel Cas effectors and develop them into additional molecular tools. The initial demonstra- tion of Cas9-mediated genome editing launched the development of many other technologies, enabled new lines of biological inquiry, and motivated a deeper examination of natural CRISPR-Cas systems, including the discovery of new types of CRISPR-Cas systems. These new discoveries in turn spurred further technological developments. I review these exciting discoveries and technologies as well as provide an overview of the broad array of applications of these technologies in basic research and in the improvement of human health. It is clear that we are only just beginning to unravel the potential within microbial diversity, and it is quite likely that we will continue to discover other exciting phenomena, some of which it may be possible to repurpose as molecular technologies. The transformation of mysterious natural phenomena to powerful tools, however, takes a collective effort to discover, characterize, and engineer them, and it has been a privilege to join the numerous researchers who have contributed to this transformation of CRISPR-Cas systems.

April 21, 2020  |  

Urinary tract colonization is enhanced by a plasmid that regulates uropathogenic Acinetobacter baumannii chromosomal genes.

Multidrug resistant (MDR) Acinetobacter baumannii poses a growing threat to global health. Research on Acinetobacter pathogenesis has primarily focused on pneumonia and bloodstream infections, even though one in five A. baumannii strains are isolated from urinary sites. In this study, we highlight the role of A. baumannii as a uropathogen. We develop the first A. baumannii catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI) murine model using UPAB1, a recent MDR urinary isolate. UPAB1 carries the plasmid pAB5, a member of the family of large conjugative plasmids that represses the type VI secretion system (T6SS) in multiple Acinetobacter strains. pAB5 confers niche specificity, as its carriage improves UPAB1 survival in a CAUTI model and decreases virulence in a pneumonia model. Comparative proteomic and transcriptomic analyses show that pAB5 regulates the expression of multiple chromosomally-encoded virulence factors besides T6SS. Our results demonstrate that plasmids can impact bacterial infections by controlling the expression of chromosomal genes.

April 21, 2020  |  

Arcobacter cryaerophilus Isolated From New Zealand Mussels Harbor a Putative Virulence Plasmid.

A wide range of Arcobacter species have been described from shellfish in various countries but their presence has not been investigated in Australasia, in which shellfish are a popular delicacy. Since several arcobacters are considered to be emerging pathogens, we undertook a small study to evaluate their presence in several different shellfish, including greenshell mussels, oysters, and abalone (paua) in New Zealand. Arcobacter cryaerophilus, a species associated with human gastroenteritis, was the only species isolated, from greenshell mussels. Whole-genome sequencing revealed a range of genomic traits in these strains that were known or associated virulence factors. Furthermore, we describe the first putative virulence plasmid in Arcobacter, containing lytic, immunoavoidance, adhesion, antibiotic resistance, and gene transfer traits, among others. Complete genome sequence determination using a combination of long- and short-read genome sequencing strategies, was needed to identify the plasmid, clearly identifying its benefits. The potential for plasmids to disseminate virulence traits among Arcobacter and other species warrants further consideration by researchers interested in the risks to public health from these organisms.

April 21, 2020  |  

Comparative Genomic Analyses Reveal Core-Genome-Wide Genes Under Positive Selection and Major Regulatory Hubs in Outlier Strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Genomic information for outlier strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa is exiguous when compared with classical strains. We sequenced and constructed the complete genome of an environmental strain CR1 of P. aeruginosa and performed the comparative genomic analysis. It clustered with the outlier group, hence we scaled up the analyses to understand the differences in environmental and clinical outlier strains. We identified eight new regions of genomic plasticity and a plasmid pCR1 with a VirB/D4 complex followed by trimeric auto-transporter that can induce virulence phenotype in the genome of strain CR1. Virulence genotype analysis revealed that strain CR1 lacked hemolytic phospholipase C and D, three genes for LPS biosynthesis and had reduced antibiotic resistance genes when compared with clinical strains. Genes belonging to proteases, bacterial exporters and DNA stabilization were found to be under strong positive selection, thus facilitating pathogenicity and survival of the outliers. The outliers had the complete operon for the production of vibrioferrin, a siderophore present in plant growth promoting bacteria. The competence to acquire multidrug resistance and new virulence factors makes these strains a potential threat. However, we identified major regulatory hubs that can be used as drug targets against both the classical and outlier groups.

April 21, 2020  |  

Resource Concentration Modulates the Fate of Dissimilated Nitrogen in a Dual-Pathway Actinobacterium.

Respiratory ammonification and denitrification are two evolutionarily unrelated dissimilatory nitrogen (N) processes central to the global N cycle, the activity of which is thought to be controlled by carbon (C) to nitrate (NO3-) ratio. Here we find that Intrasporangium calvum C5, a novel dual-pathway denitrifier/respiratory ammonifier, disproportionately utilizes ammonification rather than denitrification when grown under low C concentrations, even at low C:NO3- ratios. This finding is in conflict with the paradigm that high C:NO3- ratios promote ammonification and low C:NO3- ratios promote denitrification. We find that the protein atomic composition for denitrification modules (NirK) are significantly cost minimized for C and N compared to ammonification modules (NrfA), indicating that limitation for C and N is a major evolutionary selective pressure imprinted in the architecture of these proteins. The evolutionary precedent for these findings suggests ecological importance for microbial activity as evidenced by higher growth rates when I. calvum grows predominantly using its ammonification pathway and by assimilating its end-product (ammonium) for growth under ammonium-free conditions. Genomic analysis of I. calvum further reveals a versatile ecophysiology to cope with nutrient stress and redox conditions. Metabolite and transcriptional profiles during growth indicate that enzyme modules, NrfAH and NirK, are not constitutively expressed but rather induced by nitrite production via NarG. Mechanistically, our results suggest that pathway selection is driven by intracellular redox potential (redox poise), which may be lowered when resource concentrations are low, thereby decreasing catalytic activity of upstream electron transport steps (i.e., the bc1 complex) needed for denitrification enzymes. Our work advances our understanding of the biogeochemical flexibility of N-cycling organisms, pathway evolution, and ecological food-webs.

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