I guess it hasn’t passed anyone by that we are under a global lockdown (although to very different degrees – Sweden, where we’re based, has a pretty relaxed attitude to quarantining people (1), so it could be worse for us, I guess). In any case, the novel coronavirus has forced the lab to largely work from home and has upended essentially all my plans for this spring, expect for writing grant applications (which I have done a lot).
First of all, I want to thank my fellow lab members for holding out strongly in these trying times. They have consistently shown that they are the best co-workers I could ask for, and have kept calm even when anxiety hits. Thanks a lot for that. I also would like to thank the university for providing rather clear guidance on how to handle different issues that come up in these time of crisis.
With that said, I am also sad to say that there will not be a Microbiome & Probiotics Collaboration Forum in Rotterdam on May 18-20. Instead that meeting has been postponed to early December. Similarly, I will not be in Helsinki next week to talk about EMBARK. That workshop will instead, hopefully, take place on August 28. And the same story goes for the NordicMappingAMR organised by the Swedish Medical Products Agency, which will take place at a later date (I am not sure exactly when this is planned yet).
These are trying times for all of us. I hope that you stay healthy and take care of your loved ones – particularly the elderly, but not unnecessarily visiting them. My grandparents (aged 93 and 95) have started FaceTiming us, so I guess some good things come out of this mess as well. We will come out of this crisis stronger, eventually.
- There are many things I could say about the Swedish strategy regarding covid-19, but this is not really the forum. In very brief, though, I have quite some faith in that the Swedish Public Health Agency is doing a decent job. Mistakes have been made (particularly early in the pandemic) and I am slightly anxious whether the Swedish strategy will play out as well as in other countries in Northern Europe, but right now data suggest that we are doing reasonable fine. I might return to this issue in another post if time permits.
As I have been indicating before, I will be presenting at the Microbiome & Probiotics Collaboration Forum in Rotterdam on May 18-20. In relation to this, I was asked to write a shorter blog post on (or, if you will, some type of extended abstract) what I will talk about, which is how simple model systems for microbial communities can be used to understand complex systems with loads of interactions, similar to how E. coli and yeast have enabled a much more wide-reaching understanding of molecular biology than just about those two single-celled organisms themselves. The entire post can be read here, and I hope that I will see you in Rotterdam in May!
Here’s some updates on my Spring schedule.
On March 19, I will be presenting the EMBARK program and what we aim to achieve at a conference organised by the Swedish Medical Products Agency called NordicMappingAMR. The event will feature an overview of existing monitoring of antibiotics and antibiotic resistant bacteria in the environment. The conference aims to present the results from this survey, to listen to experts in the field and to discuss possible progress. It takes place in Uppsala. For any further questions, contact Kia Salin at NordicMappingAMR@lakemedelsverket.se
Then on May 18 to 20 I will participate in the 7th Microbiome & Probiotics R&D and Business Collaboration Forum in Rotterdam. This industry/academia cross-over event focuses on cutting-edge microbiome and probiotics research, and challenges and opportunities in moving research towards commercialisation. I will talk on the work we do on deciphering genetic mechanisms behind microbial interactions in microbiomes on May 20.
And finally, I also want to bring the attention to that my collaborator Erik Kristiansson has an open PhD position in his lab. The position is funded by the Environmental Dimensions of Antibiotic Resistance (EDAR) research project, aiming to describe the environmental role in the development and promotion of antibiotic resistance. The focus of the PhD position will be on analysis of large-scale data, with special emphasis on the identification of new forms of resistance genes. The project also includes phylogenetic analysis and development of methods for assessment of gene evolution. More info can be found here.
This spring I am on part time parental leave with my son, and I have taken the opportunity to reshape this web site a bit – after all its design has not been updated since I launched the site in 2010. With the new site, I want to extend the scope of the web page a bit, focusing more on the lab I am setting up at the University of Gothenburg and less on myself alone. This will be a bit by bit process, and as you will notice most of the content does not yet reflect this change (yet).
The fact that I am on part-time parental leave (actually more like “most-time”) means that I will be slower than usual at responding to e-mails until (at least) the beginning of June. It also (sadly) means that I will have to decline a lot of nice invitations and proposals, or at least move them into the future when possible.
Finally, here’s a few things that will happen this year regardless. In April (16th to 18th), I will be at ICOHAR in Utrecht, where I will give a talk in a session on the role of the environment in the spread of antimicrobial resistance. Then in June, I will attend ASM Microbe in San Fransisco (June 20-24), where I will co-chair a session on Environmental Resistomes together with Ashley Shade. In this session I will also give a talk on the effect of antibiotics on interactions in microbial communities. However, I will not attend EDAR-5 in Hong Kong this year – there simply wasn’t time to fit that into the agenda as well. (Also, I am trying to cut down on air travel which contributed to the decision not to go this year.)
As the 8th Next Generation Sequencing Congress in London is drawing to a close as I write this, I have a few reflections that might warrant sharing. The first thing that has been apparent this year compared to the two previous times I have visited the event (in 2012 and 2013) is that there was very little talk about where Illumina sequencing is heading next. Instead the discussion was about the applications of Illumina sequencing in the clinical setting; so apparently this is now so mainstream that we only expect slow progress towards longer reads. Apart from that, Illumina is a completed, mature technology. Instead, the flashlight is now pointing entirely towards long-read sequencing (PacBio, NanoPore) as the next big thing. However, the excitement around these technologies has also sort of faded compared to in 2013 when they were soon-to-arrive. Indeed, it seems like there’s not much to be excited about in the sequencing field at the moment, or at least Oxford Global (who are hosting the conference) has failed to get these technologies here.
What also strikes me is the vast amounts of talk about RNAseq of cancer cells. The scope of this event has narrowed dramatically in the past three years. Which makes me substantially less interested in returning next year. If there is not much to be excited about, and the focus is only on cancer sequencing – despite the human microbiota being a very hot topic at the moment – what is the reason for non-cancer researchers to come to the event? There will need to be a stark shift towards another direction of this event if the arrangers want it to remain a broad NGS event. Otherwise, they may just as well go all in and rename the event the Next Generation Sequencing of Cancer Congress. But I hope they choose to widen the scope again; conferences discussing technology as a foundation for a variety of applications are important meeting points and spawning grounds for novel ideas.
I just want to highlight that the paper on strategies to improve database accuracy and usability we recently published in Proteomics (1) has been included in their most recent issue, which is a special issue focusing on Data Quality Issues in Proteomics. I highly recommend reading our paper (of course) and many of the other in the special issue. Happy reading!
On another note, I will be giving a talk next Wednesday (October 5th) on a seminar day on next generation sequencing in clinical microbiology, titled “Antibiotic resistance in the clinic and the environment – There and back again“. You are very welcome to the lecture hall at floor 3 in our building at Guldhedsgatan 10A here in Gothenburg if you are interested! (Bear in mind though that it all starts at 8.15 in the morning.)
Finally, it seems that I am going to the Next Generation Sequencing Congress in London this year, which will be very fun! Hope to see some of you dealing with sequencing there!
- Bengtsson-Palme J, Boulund F, Edström R, Feizi A, Johnning A, Jonsson VA, Karlsson FH, Pal C, Pereira MB, Rehammar A, Sánchez J, Sanli K, Thorell K: Strategies to improve usability and preserve accuracy in biological sequence databases. Proteomics, 16, 18, 2454–2460 (2016). doi: 10.1002/pmic.201600034 [Paper link]
I have been asked to give a short talk on the metals and biocides and antibiotic resistance co-selection conference I mentioned in February. My presentation will take place late Tuesday afternoon, and is entitled “Elucidating biocide and metal co-selection for antibiotic resistance in sewage treatment plants using metagenomics“. I hope to see you there!
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (KVA) is, together with Joakim Larsson, arranging a conference on the mechanisms and evidence for the involvement of metals and biocides in selection of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Several experts from around Europe will attend and give talks, including for example Dan Andersson, Kristian Brandt, Teresa Coque, Will Gaze, Åsa Melhus and Chris Rensing. The symposium is open to everyone and is free of charge (although registration is binding).
I have had the pleasure to be chosen as a speaker for next week’s (ten days from now) Swedish Bioinformatics Workshop. My talk is entitled “Turn up the signal – wipe out the noise: Gaining insights into bacterial community functions using metagenomic data“, and will largely deal with the same questions as my talk on EDAR3 in May this year. As then, the talk will highlight the some particular pitfalls related to interpretation of data, and exemplify how flawed analysis practices can result in misleading conclusions regarding community function, and use examples from our studies of environments subjected to pharmaceutical pollution in India, the effect of travel on the human resistome, and modern municipal wastewater treatment processes.
The talk will take place on Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 16:30. The full program for the conference can be found here. And also, if you want a sneak peak of the talk, you can drop by on Friday 13.00 at Chemistry and Molecular Biology, where I will give a seminar on the same topic in the Monthly Bioinformatic Practical Meetings series.
Late last year, an opinion paper by José Martínez, Teresa Coque and Fernando Baquero was published in Nature Reviews Microbiology (1). In this paper, the authors present a system – resistance readiness conditions (RESCon) – for ranking the risks associated with the detection of antibiotic resistance genes. They also outline the obstacles associated with determining risks presented by antibiotic resistance genes in environmental microbial communities in terms of their potential to transfer to human pathogens. Generally, I am very positive about this paper, which I think is a must-read for anyone who works with antibiotic resistance genes in metagenomes, regardless of it they stem from the human gut or the external environment.
There is, however, one very important aspect that struck me and many other members of our research group as curious: the proposed system assign antibiotic resistance genes already present on mobile genetic elements in human pathogens to the highest risk category (RESCon 1), while resistance genes encoding novel resistance mechanisms not yet been found on mobile elements in a pathogen are considered to be part of lower risk categories. We believe that this system will overestimate the risks associated with well-known resistance factors that are already circulating among human pathogens and under-appreciate the potentially disastrous consequences that the transfer of previously unknown resistance determinants from the environmental resistome could have (exemplified by the rapid clinical spread of the NDM-1 metallo-beta-lactamase gene (2,3)).
With this in mind me and Joakim Larsson wrote a response letter to Nature Reviews Microbiology that went online last monday (4), together with the authors’ reply to us (5). (I strongly suggest that you read the entire original paper (1) before you read the reply (5) to our response letter (4), since Martinez et al. changes the scope slightly from the original paper in their response letter, and these clarifications may (or may not) have been in response to our arguments.)
In our response, we also stress that the abundances of resistance genes, and not only their presence, should be accounted for when estimating risks (although that last point might have been slightly obscured due to the very low word limit). In other words, we think that identifying environmental hotspots for antibiotic resistance genes, where novel resistance genes could be selected for (6,7,8), is of great importance for mitigating public health risks related to environmental antibiotic resistance. Please read our full thoughts on the matter in Nature Reviews Microbiology.
- Martinez JL, Coque TM, Baquero F: What is a resistance gene? Ranking risk in resistomes. Nat Rev Microbiol 2015, 13:116–123.
- Kumarasamy KK, et al.: Emergence of a new antibiotic resistance mechanism in India, Pakistan, and the UK: a molecular, biological, and epidemiological study. Lancet Infect Dis 2010, 10:597–602.
- Walsh TR, Weeks J, Livermore DM, Toleman MA: Dissemination of NDM‐1 positive bacteria in the New Delhi environment and its implications for human health: an environmental point prevalence study. Lancet Infect Dis 2011, 11:355–362.
- Bengtsson-Palme J, Larsson DGJ: Antibiotic resistance genes in the environment: prioritizing risks. Nat Rev Microbiol 2015, Advance online publication. doi:10.1038/nrmicro3399‐c1
- Martinez JL, Coque TM, Baquero F: Prioritizing risks of antibiotic resistance genes in all metagenomes. Nat Rev Microbiol 2015, Advance online publication. doi:10.1038/nrmicro3399‐c2
- Kristiansson E, et al.: Pyrosequencing of antibiotic‐contaminated river sediments reveals high levels of resistance and gene transfer elements. PLoS ONE 2011, 6:e17038.
- Bengtsson‐Palme J, Boulund F, Fick J, Kristiansson E, Larsson DGJ: Shotgun metagenomics reveals a wide array of antibiotic resistance genes and mobile elements in a polluted lake in India. Front Microbiol 2014, 5:648.
- Marathe NP, et al.: A treatment plant receiving waste water from multiple bulk drug manufacturers is a reservoir for highly multi‐drug resistant integron‐bearing bacteria. PLoS ONE 2013, 8:e77310.