Hydrocarbon cycling at the bottom of the Mariana Trench

Researchers in China and the UK, including Jonathan Todd and David Lea-Smith at the UEA School of Biological Sciences, and Nikolai Pedentchouk at the UEA School of Environmental Sciences, have published a paper in the journal Microbiome, investigating the microbial populations at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. This trench reaches a depth of 11,000 metres, the lowest known point in the ocean, and organisms living in this environment have to survive water pressure equal to 1,091 kilograms pressed against a fingernail. This study examined the genetic potential of the microbial population at the bottom of the trench. Approximately a quarter of bacteria had the potential to degrade hydrocarbons, the highest proportion in any environment on Earth. Some of these hydrocarbons may be derived from ocean surface pollution but biological alkane production was also observed from an unknown source. These results reveal that hydrocarbon-degrading microorganisms are present in great abundance in the deepest seawater on Earth and shed new light on potential biological processes in this extreme environment. 


Evolutionary genomics of anthroponosis in Cryptosporidium

Generalist pathogens can infect multiple host species. In the case of anthroponotic infectious diseases, the spread is from humans to animals, whereas zoonotic diseases spread from animals to humans. Many Cryptosporidium species can infect multiple hosts, and these infections tend to result in severe diarrhoea. Diarrhoeal pathogens cause more mortality than malaria, measles, and AIDS combined. Globally, Cryptosporidium is the most severe, vaccine non-preventable cause of diarrhoeal mortality for children under five. The zoonotic Cryptosporidium parvum and the anthroponotic Cryptosporidium hominis account for a vast majority of such cases. Because these infections cannot be treated with vaccines, understanding the biology and transmission of these pathogens is important. In a recent paper published in Nature Microbiology, Nader et al. (2019) conducted a phylogenetic comparison of 21 whole genome sequences to investigate the evolutionary genomic changes of Cryptosporidium during its association and specialisation to its human host. In addition, the study characterised the global distribution of Cryptosporidium species and subtypes, summarising the data of 743 peer-reviewed publications of cases in a total of 126 countries. The study shows that hybridisation between four anthroponotic Cryptosporidium subtypes and species has led to genetic exchange between these pathogens, and that these hybridisation events have occurred recently, probably within the past millennium. The genes that are exchanged during hybridisation are undergoing rapid change due to strong natural selection, and in particular genes that are responsible for coding extracellular peptides show evidence of rapid adaptive evolution. The study also identifies a new subspecies, Cryptosporidium parvum anthroponosum, which has only recently emerged through hybridisation. This species is well-adapted to humans and appears to have a distinct way of infecting host through direct human-to-human transmission. The study suggests that this could explain the occasional outbreaks of infections in Europe, which may be transmitted by travellers who have visited developing countries.

Picture: Scanning electron micrograph showing a Cryptosporidium infection of (rat) colon. Credits: Bohumil Sak, Nikola Holubová, Martin Kváč.

Nader JL, Mathers TC, Ward BJ, Pachebat JA, Swain MT, Robinson G, Chalmers RM, Hunter PR, van Oosterhout C, Tyler KM. Evolutionary genomics of anthroponosis in Cryptosporidium. Nature Microbiology. 2019 Mar 4:1. doi.org/10.1038/s41564-019-0377-x

ELSA PhD student success at Microbes in Norwich

Over 230 Microbiologists from across the Norwich Research Park came together to enjoy an excellent day of exciting science at Microbes in Norwich 2019. This Biennial event showcases the depth and breadth of microbiology research across the NRP. In addition to 10 research talks from newly established microbiologists on the NRP and a super Plenary talk on marine symbioses from Professor Nicole Dubilier of the Max Planck Institute of Marine Sciences, Bremen, Germany, there were over 50 posters from Early Career Researchers on display. The International Society for Microbial Ecology (ISME) sponsored Microbes in Norwich through two Poster Prizes. ELSA PhD student Lisa Gibson (left in picture) received a prize for her poster describing the ecology of isoprene degrading bacteria in palm oil forest from Nicole Dubilier who is also Vice President of ISME.


Microbes in Norwich 2019

The Organising Committee for Microbes in Norwich 2019 would like to acknowledge support from the International Society for Microbial Ecology, Nature Microbiology and the Microbiology Society and in particular for their sponsorship of Poster Prizes for Early Career Researchers. The Poster Awards Committee chaired by Jon Todd (UEA) had a difficult job in selecting just seven winners for the various prizes from over 50 excellent posters that highlighted the breadth of research in the microbial sciences across the Norwich Research Park. Alex Howat (left), a former ELSA PhD student, now Publishing Operations Manager at the Microbiology Society, presenting prizes to Emma Holden (QIB) and Leanne Sims (right, a current ELSA PhD student at UEA working on the enzyme isoprene monooxygenase).

Blue Haze and Bacteria

Have you ever wondered what causes the blue haze over the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in the USA or the Blue Mountains in Australia? It is caused by a volatile organic compound called isoprene that is released in huge amounts by trees. Isoprene is an interesting trace gas in the atmosphere as it can cause both global warming and cooling. Unlike methane, which is consumed by methane oxidising bacteria, we know little about the biogeochemical cycles for isoprene and if microbes can consume this climate-active gas. Andrew Crombie and colleagues at UEA hypothesised that the leaves of high isoprene-emitting trees such as poplar. Using stable isotope probing, metagenomics and metatranscriptomics they showed that the phyllosphere of poplar did indeed harbour isoprene-degrading bacteria of the genus Rhodococcus which had been previously been found in soil environments and also more diverse isoprene degraders such as Variovorax, providing a new model isoprene-degrader to study the metabolism of isoprene in the lab. The work, recently published in PNAS nicely demonstrates the variety of isoprene degraders present in the phyllosphere of poplar trees. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1812668115

Microbial Interactions across the Norwich Research Park

Over 100 Early Career Researchers from across the Norwich Research Park came together for a One-Day Workshop on Microbial Interactions organised by the Microbes in Norwich Team and ELSA. The line-up features speakers from UEA, the Earlham Institute, Quadrum Institute of Biosciences, the John Innes Centre and an excellent, diverse range of topics were covered. These included plant-virus interactions, insect-microbe symbioses, bacteriophage-bacteria interactions and the human microbiome. The Plenary Lecture was given by Professor Itzik Mizrahi from the Department of Life Sciences, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. In a highly entertaining and inspirational lecture entitled “Persistent drivers of animal gut microbiome plasticity and persistence” he described cutting edge research aimed at understanding the ecological and evolutionary forces that shape microbial communities in nature and specifically, in gut environments, using both the gut of fish and the rumen of cattle as model systems. His research is enabling his research team to predict and modulate the composition of the microbiome with the overall goal of optimizing functionality. The large turnout of ECRs for this event highlights the great strength and breadth in microbiology across the Norwich Research Park and the opportunities to exchange new ideas and forge new collaborations.

Dr Laura Lehtovirta-Morley joins Editorial Board of The ISME Journal

Dr Laura Lehtovirta-Morley, our new Dorothy Hodgkin Royal Society Research Fellow in the ELSA lab at UEA has just accepted an invitation to join the Editorial Board of The ISME Journal. The ISME Journal is the premier journal in the field of microbial ecology with an Impact Factor of 9.5 and has recently celebrated 10 year of publication (see https://www.nature.com/ismej/). Congratulations Laura on this recognition.


Eternal flames and gas seeps in New York State harbour natural gas eaters

A recent survey of natural gas seeps in New York State, which are sometimes known as “Eternal Flames,” has shown that nutritionally diverse, facultative methane oxidising bacteria are highly abundant at these environments. The lead author of this study, recently published in Microbiome, Dr Farhan Ul-Haque has shown that the ability to grow on methane and other components of natural gas such as ethane and propane gives the facultative methanotroph Methylocella competitive edge when foraging for growth substrates. A survey of over thirty different habitats exposed to both natural gas, and new methane produced by methanogens in environments such as wetlands, has shown that Methylocella thrive where there is a mixture of gaseous hydrocarbons.

For further details see: https://doi.org/10.1186/s40168-018-0500-x

FSBI 2018 conference at the UEA

The Fisheries Society of the British Isles (FSBI) held its yearly conference at the UEA in July 2018. The theme was “Sustainable Use and Exploitation of Fishes”, and one of the presenters was Ryan S. Mohammed from the University of the West Indies (UWI) who presented research co-funded by ELSA. Using a host-parasite model system, the guppy (Poecilia reticulata) and gyrodactylus ecto-parasites, he examined the effects of temperature, host strain and the fishes’ infection history on the number and distribution of gyrodactylus parasites on the fishes’ skin. The findings of the research are relevant for the aquaculture industry given the abundance of gyrodactylus parasites on captive-bred fish, such as salmon.


Photo caption: Ryan S. Mohammed at the FSBI 2018 conference at the UEA.

Royal Society Funding for Research into Global Nitrogen and Carbon Cycling

Congratulations to our new Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow, Laura Lehtovirta-Morley who has just secured funding from the Royal Society for funding of two projects entitled “Crosstalk between global biogeochemical cycles and its impact on climate change” and “Resolving a missing biochemical link in the global nitrogen cycle”. These exciting new projects will involve use of Laura’s new ammonia oxidising archaea (see image of Nitrosotalea devanaterra) to investigate links between global carbon and nitrogen cycles. For this Laura will be recruiting new PhD students to start in her lab in October 2018.

Earlham institute
Quadram Institute Bioscience
John Innes Centre
The Sainsbury Laboratory
University of East Anglia

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