Microbiology

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C difficile bacteria

Research Reveals Exciting New Possibilities for Microbiome Therapies

February 15, 2018

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

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Martin J. Blaser

Blaser Shares Groundbreaking Research on Antibiotics and Microbiome Health

February 7, 2018

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 yeast organism

BioTech Institute Scientists Engineer Self-Destructing GMOs

January 29, 2018

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

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Lakes seen from the air

New Assessment Tool Will Help Improve Water Quality in Lakes and Streams

November 27, 2017

A team led by Michael Sadowsky, PhD, has created a tool designed to help public health officials better understand sources of contamination in our waterways. Sadowsky, a microbiologist, is the director of the BioTechnology Institute, a Consortium member. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, 40% of Minnesota’s lakes and streams are impaired, with fecal contamination becoming a growing concern. Improved DNA sequencing technology has made it possible for researchers to identify the source of contamination, which should allow for identification of the pollutant at its source. Sadowsky's group used SourceTracker, a software program developed by the UMN’s Knights Lab, to compare the various organisms found in water samples. To learn more, click here

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World Health Org logo

WHO Recommends Against Antibiotic Use for Healthy Animals

November 8, 2017

New guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend farmers and the food industry stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals. According to the WHO, "Over-use and misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans is contributing to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance," a serious danger to global health that's the subject of the Consortium's 2018 lecture seriesDr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of the Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses at WHO, states "The volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide, driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin, often produced through intensive animal husbandry.” However, H. Morgan Scott, DVM, PhD (Texas A&M University), who will be delivering the second lecture in the Consortium series, emphasizes that veterinarians and producers must work to achieve reductions in the need for preventive use of antimicrobials. In his talk, he'll explore the social norms, moral imperatives (to both humans and animals), and ethical features that should frame future antimicrobial stewardship practices. To register for the lectures, which are free and open to the public, click here

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M is for Microbe logo

BTI Launches M is for Microbe Lab Contest

September 18, 2017

The Biotechnology Institute (BTI), a Consortium member, has announced a competition in which participating labs will grow fungi, bacteria or algae in the shape of the U's block M. Any undergraduate student, graduate student, postdoc, or faculty member in a BTI lab is eligible to win "bragging rights and a $300 gift certificate" to buy lunch for the lab. The contest runs until Dec. 15, 2017 and requires contenders to share their results on Twitter. To learn more or enter, click here

Lecture

Lecture

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CoreBiome

New U Spinoff Company Aims to Accelerate Microbiome Discovery

August 28, 2017

The University of Minnesota has announced the launch of CoreBiome, a startup that provides analysis of microbial communities for agricultural, environmental and human health applications. The technology behind CoreBiome is based on discoveries by researchers Kenneth Beckman, PhD, director of the University of Minnesota Genomics Center (UMGC), a Consortium member; Daryl Gohl, PhD, research and development lead of UMGC; and Dan Knights, PhD, of the BioTechnology Institute, which is also a Consortium member. Understanding how communities of microbes behave, whether in the human gut, in farm animals and soil, or in natural waterways, can help scientists discover new ways to control and remedy harmful microbial processes or to facilitate beneficial ones. Microbiome research is leading to new opportunities that range from treating antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections to removing toxins from contaminated water. Some of the research that led to the startup was funded by the Clinical & Translational Science Institute (CTSI), a Consortium member. Visit Corebiome's website here.  

Lecture

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Sleeping baby in mother's arms

In a First, Study Demonstrates Effectiveness of a Probiotic Strain in Preventing Disease

August 18, 2017

Probiotics like Lactobacillus have become common supplements, consumed either in pill form or in food. Despite their popularity, however, scientific evidence of probiotic benefits has been scarce. Now, according to an article in The Atlantic, a team from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has released the results of a large clinical trial demonstrating that babies given a combination of the probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum and sugar "had a significantly lower risk of developing sepsis — a life-threatening condition where infections trigger body-wide inflammation, restricted blood flow, and organ failure." The team, led by Prof. Pinaki Panigrahi, took the novel approach of identifying probiotic strains that actually thrive in the human gut; previously, studies have focused on those that are easy to grow and manufacture. The study may be the first to credibly demonstrate a benefit that had, until now, been theoretically possible but unproven. The lack of hard evidence has left most scientists skeptical of the probiotics craze — for example, Prof. Alexander Khoruts of the University of Minnesota's Microbiota Therapeutics Program has stated his belief that, until further tested, they're a waste of money; see his Consortium-sponsored talk on the evolving human microbiome here. Since this large-scale study shows compelling results, it could mark the beginning of a new era in probiotic therapies.

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Zebra mussels on clam shell

Fight Against Zebra Mussels Drives Innovative Scientific Research

July 31, 2017

The Star Tribune has published a major, in-depth analysis of what the zebra mussel invasion means for Minnesota's waterways and what scientists are doing to combat it. Researchers from the University of Minnesota are leading the charge: Consortium member the Genomics Center "expects to release later this summer the first ever sequence of the entire genome of the highly invasive mollusk. . . . Scientists at the U’s BioTechnology Institute [also a Consortium member] . . . are awaiting the DNA profile to speed their hunt for a naturally occurring bacterium or parasite that will kill zebra mussels." The U of MN's Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are also key players in this complicated, high-stakes fight.

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Drawing of a microbe

BTI Kicks Off Research Collaboration with the University of Tokyo

July 20, 2017

On Aug. 8, the Biotechnology Institute (BTI), a Consortium member, will be co-hosting a one-day symposium with colleagues from the University of Tokyo. This event inaugurates a Research Exchange Program between BTI and the University of Tokyo’s Department of Biotechnology; Biotechnology Research Center; and Department of Applied Biological Chemistry. Scholars from both universities will present their research; there will also be a poster session and catered lunch. The event will be held from 8:30am-5:00pm at Borlaug Hall 306 on the St. Paul campus. Learn more and RSVP here.

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Bread and cheese

Register for 2016 Healthy Foods Summit: Food, Microbes, and Health

August 25, 2016

Microbes are everywhere in our food system, inhabiting biomes from soil to human, for better or worse. This year's Healthy Foods Summit will be held on Oct. 27-28. On the first, on-campus day, food scientists, microbiologists, and policymakers will present recent research on how these tiny organisms can be better understood and controlled to ensure healthy, safe food for everyone. The second day at the Minnesota Arboretum will be more applied and practical, featuring talks by community farmers, grocery coops, small food business owners and restaurateurs. Early Bird registration fees are available until Sept. 23; student rates are also offered. For a full agenda, locations and to register, visit z.umn.edu/healthyfoods2016

Conference

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Poo lookalike ice cream sundae from Beijing

Consortium Lecturers Discuss Fecal Transplant Pill

August 2, 2016

An article by Ed Yong in The Atlantic describes attempts to create effective stool substitutes to replace fecal transplants used to treat Clostridium difficile, which kills almost 30,000 Americans each year. One such substitute, from Seres Therapeutics, recently failed during a phase 2 drug trial. Yong quotes Dianne Hoffmann, who spoke last spring during the Consortium's Microbiome Therapeutics lecture series: she notes that "whole stool" is clearly more effective than bacterial pills. "Something in there is working. We just don’t know what it is, and it might be hard to deconstruct.” Another speaker in the lecture series, Alexander Khoruts, adds "The full spectrum of microbes harvested from donors has been designed by nature, and has a proven safety track record in the original host. That’s a very hard benchmark to improve upon with any kind of synthetic." You can view Diane Hoffmann's lecture on regulating microbiome therapeutics here; Alex Khoruts' talk, The Evolving Human Microbiome, is here.

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C. difficile bacterium

Scientists Seek Answers: Why Do Fecal Transplants Work?

July 18, 2016

An article in the New York Times features recently published research by Alexander Khoruts, MD (Microbiota Therapeutics Program) and Michael J. Sadowsky, PhD (Director, Consortium member the Biotechnology Institute). They are among the scientists trying to understand the mechanisms enabling transplanted fecal matter to fight potentially fatal Clostridium difficile infections. While Khoruts and Sadowsky are currently focusing on the chemistry of the human gut, specifically bile acids, other researchers are looking at microbes known as archaea, and still others are considering the role of bacteria-infecting viruses. Understanding the human microbiome is notoriously complex; as Prof. Khoruts notes, it's "something nature put together over millions and millions of years.” View Prof. Khoruts' recent lecture on the human microbiome here.  

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C difficile bacteria

Probiotics Regulation Talk Concludes Microbiome Lecture Series

April 21, 2016

The 2015-16 Microbiome Research & Microbiota Therapeutics lecture series wrapped up today with a talk by Prof. Diane Hoffmann, JD, MS, of the Law & Health Care Program at the University of Maryland. Prof. Hoffmann discussed her work leading an NIH-funded working group charged with identifying regulatory gaps and recommending solutions to ensure the safety and efficacy of probiotic products. She also described a project currently underway to perform a similar audit of fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) regulations and those for other microbiome transplants. Prof. Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, PhD (Dept. of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota) offered a commentary from his perspective as a food safety expert and microbiologist. Videos are available of the two previous lectures in the series, one on the evolving human microbiome by Prof. Alexander Khoruts, MD (University of Minnesota) and the other on pediatric uses of FMT by Prof. Stacy Kahn, MD (University of Chicago). Video of the lecture by Prof. Hoffmann will be posted soon; please check back. 

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Dr. Stacy Kahn lecturing

Pediatric Microbiome Therapeutics Lecture – Video Now Available

March 31, 2016

Prof. Stacy A. Kahn, MD, (University of Chicago School of Medicine, Comer Children's Hospital) recently delivered a lecture on Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT): Ethical Challenges and Regulatory Hurdles. Dr. Kahn, a pediatrician, discussed the real-world challenges faced by clinicians whose patients see FMT as a magic bullet for the treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD), despite a lack of evidence that it works for those conditions. She reviewed the differences between Clostridium difficile, for which FMT has been proven effective, and other digestive diseases, and provided an overview of ethical and regulatory issues presented by FMT. A video of her entire talk, which was the second in a series of three on Microbiome Research & Microbiota Therapeutics, can be found here

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Alexander Khoruts speaking

Online Video of Evolving Human Microbiome Lecture Now Available

March 11, 2016

On February 17, Alexander Khoruts, MD, of the University of Minnesota's Microbiota Therapeutics Program delivered the first lecture in the three-part Consortium-sponsored microbiome series. Video of that event – including commentary by Dan Knights, PhD, of the BioTechnology Institute and a Q&A moderated by Michael Sadowsky, PhD, also of the BioTech Institute – is now available here. The next lecture in the series is on regulatory challenges in microbiota-targeted therapies, including probiotics. It will be delivered on Thursday, April 21, by Diane E. Hoffmann, JD, MS, of the University of Maryland Law School – register for that event today! 

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