Microbiology, Metagenomics and Bioinformatics

Johan Bengtsson-Palme, University of Gothenburg | Wisconsin Institute for Discovery

BMC Genomics today published a paper first-authored by my long-time colleague Fredrik Boulund, which describes a computational screen of genomes and metagenomes for novel qnr fluoroquinolone resistance genes (1). The study makes use of Fredrik’s well-designed and updated qnr-prediction pipeline, but in contrast to his previous publication based on the pipeline from 2012 (2), we here study a 20-fold larger dataset of almost 13 terabases of sequence data. Based on this data, the pipeline predicted 611 putative qnr genes, including all previously described plasmid-mediated qnr gene families. 20 of the predicted genes were previously undescribed, and of these nine were selected for experimental validation. Six of those tested genes improved the survivability under ciprofloxacin exposure when expressed in Escherichia coli. The study shows that qnr genes are almost ubiquitous in environmental microbial communities. This study also lends further credibility to the hypothesis that environmental bacterial communities can act as sources of previously uncharacterized antibiotic resistance genes (3-7). The study can be read in its entirety here.


  1. Boulund F, Berglund F, Flach C-F, Bengtsson-Palme J, Marathe NP, Larsson DGJ, Kristiansson E: Computational discovery and functional validation of novel fluoroquinolone resistance genes in public metagenomic data sets. BMC Genomics, 18, 682 (2017). doi: 10.1186/s12864-017-4064-0
  2. Boulund F, Johnning A, Pereira MB, Larsson DGJ, Kristiansson E: A novel method to discover fluoroquinolone antibiotic resistance (qnr) genes in fragmented nucleotide sequences. BMC Genomics, 13, 695 (2012). doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-13-695
  3. Bengtsson-Palme J, Larsson DGJ: Antibiotic resistance genes in the environment: prioritizing risks. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 13, 369 (2015). doi: 10.1038/nrmicro3399-c1
  4. Allen HK, Donato J, Wang HH et al.: Call of the wild: antibiotic resistance genes in natural environments. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 8, 251–259 (2010).
  5. Berendonk TU, Manaia CM, Merlin C et al.: Tackling antibiotic resistance: the environmental framework. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 13, 310–317 (2015).
  6. Martinez JL: Bottlenecks in the transferability of antibiotic resistance from natural ecosystems to human bacterial pathogens. Frontiers in Microbiology, 2, 265 (2011).
  7. Finley RL, Collignon P, Larsson DGJ et al.: The scourge of antibiotic resistance: the important role of the environment. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 57, 704–710 (2013).

I just wanted to notify anyone who might be interested in following my more personal reflections on my month in Wisconsin (and in Michigan over EDAR4) that I will be updating my Wisconsin Blog at this site (hopefully) regularly. The blog updates are not visible on the first page, so you will have to actively go to the Wisconsin Blog page by clicking in the upper right of the page.

Mitochondrial DNA Part B today published a mitochondrial genome announcement paper (1) in which I was involved in doing the assemblies and annotating them. The paper describes the mitogenome of Calanus glacialis, a marine planktonic copepod, which is a keystone species in the Arctic Ocean. The mitogenome is 20,674 bp long, and includes 13 protein-coding genes, 2 rRNA genes and 22 tRNA genes. While this is of course note a huge paper, we believe that this new resource will be of interest in understanding the structure and dynamics of C. glacialis populations. The main work in this paper has been carried out by Marvin Choquet at Nord University in Bodø, Norway. So hats off to him for great work, thanks Marvin! The paper can be read here.


  1. Choquet M, Alves Monteiro HJ, Bengtsson-Palme J, Hoarau G: The complete mitochondrial genome of the copepod Calanus glacialis. Mitochondrial DNA Part B, 2, 2, 506–507 (2017). doi: 10.1080/23802359.2017.1361357 [Paper link]

Today, I started my new position at the University of Gothenburg as a non-tenured assistant professor (forskarassistent)*. In essence, this means that I have a position funded by my own grant until the end of 2020, although I will be on a leave-of-absence while doing my PostDoc with Jo Handelsman in Wisconsin. Speaking of which, I will be leaving to the US on Thursday next week for a month of setting things up at her lab (and also going to the EDAR4 conference in Lansing). I will return to Sweden in mid-September and leave for the US for real early next year.

In terms of actual work, this change of position will not mean very much at the moment. I will continue to do the same things for some time, and I will remain closely associated with Joakim Larsson’s lab at the Dept. of Infectious Diseases. And luckily, I will retain my lovely roommates for at least the time being. In the long run, however, this means that I will shift my research focus slightly, away from antibiotic resistance risk management towards interactions in microbial communities (still related to antibiotics though). Exciting times ahead!

* For some reason, the university administration refuses to call this position assistant professor in English at this time, instead referring to the position as “Postdoctoral research fellow”. I guess that it might be bloody annoying explaining that this is not the same as “postdoctoral researcher” and virtually everywhere else would be called “(non-tenured) assistant professor”, but then on the other hand, who cares about titles anyway?