Natural History Museum of Utah
The human body is inhabited by trillions of microorganisms—collectively called the ‘microbiota’ or ‘microbiome’. We now know that the variety of bacteria inhabiting one’s skin, mouth and intestine can greatly influence their health. Current research efforts are intensely focused on how the microbiota assembles and functions.
This video is a great introduction to some of the key features of the microbiota and the mysteries surrounding it.
Wonder what’s going on inside your microbiome? Artist Ben Arthur gives NPR an illustrated tour.
Extracting pertinent biological information from the large and complex datasets that are generated by high-throughput genetic approaches remains a challenge. We performed a negative selection screen using Tn-seq to dissect out genes required by a strain of ExPEC (Extraintestinal Pathogenic E. coli) in vivo. To zero in on genes that act specifically to enhance fitness under pathogenic conditions, we developed a novel algorithm referred to as ‘TEA’ (Trait Enrichment Analysis). TEA allowed us to identify several previously uncharacterized genes that are more often confined to the genomes of pathogens—suggesting that they may have evolved to specifically promote pathogenic behaviors. The images above depict the overflow of candidate genes that can result from high-throughput experimental procedures (text, background) and the penultimate goal of assembling this information into a working, functional model (bacterium with inner workings shown, foreground).
our findings are reported in the open access journal PLOS Genetics
‘Minimalist E. coli model systems and invasion' project by Travis Wiles via Behance
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Bacterial pathogens, even those belonging to the same species, can be incredibly diverse. For example, strains of extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli (ExPEC) can differ by up to 20-30% of their gene contents. This characteristic presents a significant challenge to the design of effective therapeutic and diagnostic strategies. Through a genetic screen carried out in a surrogate zebrafish host, Wiles et al. discovered that a rare, strain-specific gene harbored within an integrated bacteriophage supports pathogen fitness during colonization of distinct host tissues. Specifically, it was determined that the novel gene neaT is necessary for competitive growth within the bloodstream of both zebrafish and mice and was likely recently acquired by lateral gene transfer from an extraphyletic source. Defining how rare genes like neaT impact bacterial virulence will help us better understand pathogen evolution and niche adaptation.