Microbiology

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Mike Osterholm

Osterholm Appointed an International Science Envoy

June 12, 2018

Michael T. Osterholm has been honored with the position of Science Envoy by the US Department of State. Through the Science Envoy Program, eminent scientists and engineers leverage their expertise and networks to forge connections and identify opportunities for sustained international cooperation, championing innovation and demonstrating America’s scientific leadership and technical ingenuity. Osterholm is an international leader regarding preparedness for a global pandemic as well as the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance. As a Science Envoy for Health Security, he will combat biological threats by working with priority countries on infectious disease preparedness and antimicrobial stewardship. Osterholm is Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), a Consortium member, and currently serves on our Executive Committee. Read an interview with him about his appointment here

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Logo for BTI biomanufacturing event June 2018

Advancing Biomanufacturing Symposium, June 1

May 23, 2018

A one-day symposium, "Advancing Biomanufacturing for the Environment, Health & Industry," will be held on the University of Minnesota campus from 9:30-4 on Friday, June 1. The event will highlight the research outcomes of the Biocatalysis Initiative, an arm of the BioTechnology Institute, a Consortium member. External speakers are Michelle C. Chang (University of California, Berkeley) and Daniela Grabs (Arzeda). Poster prizes will be available; learn more and register here

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Ramanan Laxminarayan

Global Antibiotic Use Rises, Fueled by Economic Growth

April 2, 2018

A large-scale international study has found that the use of antibiotics is increasing around the world, largely driven by improving living standards in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). An article from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), a Consortium member, describes the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which shows that overall global antibiotic use "rose by 65% from 2000 through 2015, while the antibiotic consumption rate increased by 39%. Over that period, antibiotic consumption in LMICs more than doubled, with some LMICs having consumption rates that surpassed those of high-income countries (HICs). The increase was correlated with growth in per capita gross domestic product." One of the authors of the study is Ramanan Laxminarayan of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy (CDDEP), who was scheduled to be the third speaker in our lecture series on Antibiotic Resistance: Policy Challenges & Solutions; that talk was canceled because of extreme weather. A recent CIDRAP-sponsored webinar by Prof. Laxminarayan, "What Can the United Nations Do about Antimicrobial Resistance," is available for viewing here

News

H. Morgan Scott

Video Available for Lecture on Agricultural Use of Antimicrobials

March 13, 2018

A lecture delivered on Feb. 28 by H. Morgan Scott, DVM, PhD, is now available for viewing via the Consortium's YouTube channel. In his talk, Prof. Scott discussed antimicrobial stewardship in the production of food animals. An article published by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), a lecture co-sponsor and Consortium member, describes Scott's proposal of "an ethical framework for defining judicious use of antibiotics in animals." Last November, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for a major reduction in the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals; according to Scott, that is "where things start to get a little tricky," since it indicates a pullback from preventive practices. Prof. Scott provided a nuanced consideration of the values shared by both sides in this contentious debate — for instance, both agree that "antibiotics enhance the health and well-being of animals and humans, that there is overuse and misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans, and that protecting the efficacy of antibiotics for future generations is a good thing." Scott was joined by Jeff Bender and Tim Johnson of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. In addition to CIDRAP, this lecture was co-sponsored by the Microbiota Theraputics Program. The next lecture in the series will be held on April 3, 2018 and will feature Ramanan Laxminarayan, PhD, MPH of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP) and the Princeton Environmental Institute. He will discuss policies that can increase global access to effective antimicrobials.

News

C difficile bacteria

Research Reveals Exciting New Possibilities for Microbiome Therapies

February 22, 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 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. An article in the Star Tribune further describes the work of Sadowsky and Khoruts’ Microbiota Therapeutics Program, which is on the cutting edge of developing remedies for various microbiome-related illnesses. You can also read a Star Tribune op ed by Khoruts and Sadowsky, in which they express their concerns about the article's focus on a for-profit model for developing such therapies. 

News

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.  

News

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

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

News

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.

News

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.

News

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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