Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) host Mike Mulcahy interviewed two experts yesterday about this year's unusually strong — and deadly — outbreak of influenza. Patsy Stinchfield of Children's Minnesota focused on steps to prevent the illness. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), a Consortium member, outlined the challenges to developing effective vaccines. Osterholm co-authored a New York Times op ed in January, with Mark Olshaker, sounding the alarm on our lack of preparedness for a flu pandemic. They write: "A worldwide influenza pandemic is literally the worst-case scenario in public health — yet far from an unthinkable occurrence. Unless we make changes, the question is not if but when it will come."
A major paper just published in Cell Host & Microbe sheds light on a question that has puzzled scientists for years: while we know fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) works for people suffering from recurrent Clostridium difficile infection, how exactly does it work? The research team behind the paper includes Consortium collaborators Alexander Khoruts and Michael J. Sadowsky, the director of the Biotechnology Institute, a Consortium member center. They used clinical experiments and statistical modeling to uncover the "rules" for how donor bacteria grafts itself to existing gut microbes in the host. One of the outcomes of the research is Strain Finder, a method to predict which types of bacteria will best colonize a microbiome being treated via FMT. In addition to its implications for the treatment of C. diff, the study findings may also help with therapies for metabolic syndrome as well as other common conditions. Prof. Khoruts gave a lecture on The Evolving Human Microbiome that was moderated by Michael J. Sadowsky; it's been viewed thousands of times because it provides a coherent overview of this fascinating subject; you can view it here. More recently, Martin J. Blaser spoke about the effects of antibiotics on the human microbiome; you can view his lecture here.
Two University of Minnesota professors have co-authored a major nutrition policy paper on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Today, Martin J. Blaser of New York University's School of Medicine spoke to a standing-room-only crowd on "The Dark Side of Antibiotics." Prof. Blaser provided an overview of what we've learned about changes to the human microbiome over the past 70+ years. His talk focused on obesity, diabetes, asthma and other harms that appear to be linked to the aggressive use of antibiotics. Prof. Blaser also outlined research indicating that microbiome characteristics can be passed from mother to child, leading to ever more limited microbiotic diversity over generations. He looked at global differences in the human microbiome related to the number of antibiotics prescribed, and discussed the more judicious use of these drugs in countries like Sweden, where antibiotics are prescribed less frequently but health measures are still strong. Finally, he described some possible approaches to microbiome restoration. James R. Johnson, an infectious disease specialist, provided a commentary in which he discussed the various ways antibiotics have been viewed by medical professionals since coming into wide usage in the early 1940s. Prof. Johnson offered a clinical perspective on the challenges of limiting their use. A video of the entire talk can be viewed here.
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Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have the potential to help prevent the spread of diseases and increase both crop yields and nutritional value, but according to an article in Science Alert, "There's a big problem. . . . When you release altered species out into the wild, how can you prevent them from breeding with untweaked organisms living in their natural environment, and producing hybrid offspring that scientists can't control or regulate?" Synthetic biologist Maciej Maselko of the BioTechnology Institute, a Consortium member, is leading a team to solve this problem. Prof. Maselko's researchers have used the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to alter yeast microbes so they're genetically incompatible and incapable of mating with their non-GMO counterparts. They call this approach "synthetic incompatability," and it's a technique that could be used in a multitude of ways, including to curb invasive carp or increase the production of medicines derived from plants. Read the entire article here.