Tag: Microbial ecology

Thanks for the applications

Our open doctoral student and postdoc positions closed over the weekend, and in total we had 110 applications, although some persons applied to more than one of the positions, bringing the total number of applicants down a bit. Still, this will be a lot of work for me. I will prioritize the postdoc position, as this had the fewest applications. So if you applied to one of the two PhD student positions, please give it some time.

A quick skimming of the applications shows that we have had extraordinary high quality of applications overall, although some of the applicants will be a bit too wet-lab oriented for these specific positions.

Thanks a lot for your interest in the lab’s work! I appreciate all of your efforts!

We’re hiring 2 PhD students and a postdoc

As I wrote a few days ago, I have now started my new position at Chalmers SysBio. This position is funded by the SciLifeLab and Wallenberg National Program for Data-Driven Life Science (DDLS), which also funds PhD and postdoc positions. We are now announcing two doctoral student projects and one postdoc project within the DDLS program in my lab.

Common to all projects is that they will the use of large-scale data-driven approaches (including machine learning and (meta)genomic sequence analysis), high-throughput molecular methods and established theories developed for macro-organism ecology to understand biological phenomena. We are for all three positions looking for people with a background in bioinformatics, computational biology or programming. In all three cases, there will be at least some degree of analysis and interpretation of large-scale data from ongoing and future experiments and studies performed by the group and our collaborators. The positions are all part of the SciLifeLab national research school on data-driven life science, which the students and postdoc will be expected to actively participate in.

The postdoc and one of the doctoral students are expected to be involved in a project aiming to uncover interactions between the bacteria in microbiomes that are important for community stability and resilience to being colonized by pathogens. This project also seeks to unearth which environmental and genetic factors that are important determinants of bacterial invasiveness and community stability. The project tasks may include things like predicting genes involved in pathogenicity and other interactions from sequencing data, and performing large-scale screening for such genes in microbiomes.

The second doctoral student is expected to work in a project dealing with understanding and limiting the spread of antibiotic resistance through the environment, identifying genes involved in antibiotic resistance, defining the conditions that select for antibiotic resistance in different settings, and developing approaches for monitoring for antibiotic resistance in the environment. Specifically, the tasks involved in this project may be things like identifying risk environments for AMR, define potential novel antibiotic resistance genes, and building a platform for AMR monitoring data.

For all these three positions, there is some room for adapting the specific tasks of the projects to the background and requests of the recruited persons!

We are very excited to see your applications and to jointly build the next generation of data driven life scientist! Read more about the positions here.

Portrait on my research

As part of a series highlighting the research at the Institute of Biomedicine, I was a few weeks a go interviewed about the research in the lab and my history. This interview has now been published on the department website, both in Swedish and English. I think it is a pretty nice read and a good introduction to our work and why we do what we do. Could make for a good weekend read!

Open PhD position

We are hiring a PhD student to work with interactions between the bacteria in human and environmental microbiomes that are important for community stability and resilience to being colonized by unwanted bacteria (including pathogens). The project seeks to unearth which environmental and genetic factors that are important determinants of bacterial invasiveness and community stability. You can read more at our Open Positions page.

We are looking for a candidate with experience with both bioinformatics and experimental microbiology. Previous experience with microbial communities is a plus, but not a must, as is work with human cell lines.

The project is fully funded by a grant from the Swedish Research Council and the position is planned for 4.5 years, with 4 years of research and course work and half a year of teaching.

If you feel that you are the right person for this position, you can apply hereWe look forward to your application! The deadline for applications is October 21.

Published preprint: Mitochondrial rRNA contamination

Last week, a preprint describing a study which I have played a small part in was posted on bioRxiv. This paper (1) uses the Metaxa2 database (2) to tease out how much of an effect mitochondrial rRNA sequences have on studies of bacterial diversity in corals. And it turns out that it matters… a lot. Importantly, by supplementing the taxonomic databases with diverse mitochondrial rRNA sequences from the Metaxa2 database, ~97% of unique unclassified sequences could be resolved as mitochondrial, without increasing the level of misannotation in mock communities. Thus the study not only points to a problem, but also to its solution! You can read it all here.


  1. Sonnet D, Brown T, Bengtsson-Palme J, Padilla-Gamiño J, Zaneveld JR: The Organelle in the Room: Under-annotated Mitochondrial Reads Bias Coral Microbiome Analysis. bioRxiv, 431501 (2021). doi: 10.1101/2021.02.23.431501 [Link]
  2. Bengtsson-Palme J, Hartmann M, Eriksson KM, Pal C, Thorell K, Larsson DGJ, Nilsson RH: Metaxa2: Improved identification and taxonomic classification of small and large subunit rRNA in metagenomic data. Molecular Ecology Resources, 15, 6, 1403–1414 (2015). doi: 10.1111/1755-0998.12399 [Paper link]

Published preprint: Road runoff microbes

I am happy to report that today a preprint on a recent collaboration with Christian Wurzbacher‘s group came out on bioRxiv. In the preprint study, we explore microbial communities in stormwater runoff from roads in terms of microbial composition and the potential for these settings to disseminate and select for antibiotic resistance, as well as metal resistance. My part of this study is quite small; I mostly provided the analysis of resistance genes on integrons, but it was a fun study and I look forward to work more with Christian and his excellent team!

Full reference:

  • Ligouri R, Rommel SH, Bengtsson-Palme J, Helmreich B, Wurzbacher C: Microbial retention and resistances in stormwater quality improvement devices treating road runoff. bioRxiv, 426166 (2021). doi: 10.1101/2021.01.12.426166 [Link]

Emil Burman defends today

Emil Burman, master student in the lab, defends his master’s thesis today, titled “Biofilms, how cool are they? Effects of temperature and invasion on model microbial communities“. We wish him the best of luck today presenting this excellent work!

Open PhD position

We are hiring a PhD student to work with effects of antibiotics on microbial communities! The project will use large-scale techniques to investigate how sub-inhibitory concentrations of antibiotics affect microbial communities. Specifically, the project will examine how the ability for bacteria to colonize and invade established microbial communities is impacted by antibiotics. The project will also explore how antibiotics influence the interactions between different species in bacterial communities and if this may change their ability to withstand invasions. The goal is to identify the genes and mechanisms that contribute to change and stability in microbial communities.

A cool thing about this position is that it is fairly adaptable to the eventual candidate, and the project can be somewhat tailored to suit the profile of the PhD student. This means that we’re looking for someone who is either a bioinformatician or an experimentalist (or both). Previous experience with microbial communities is a plus, but not a must.

If you feel that you are the right person for this position, you can apply here. More information is also available here. We look forward to your application! The deadline for applications is December 9.

Published paper: Mumame

I am happy to share the news that the paper describing out software tool Mumame is now out in its final form! (1) The paper got published today in the journal Metabarcoding and Metagenomics after being available as a preprint (2) since last autumn. This version has not changed a whole lot since the preprint, but it is more polished and better argued (thanks to a great review process). The software is virtually the same, but is not also available via Conda.

In the paper, we describe the Mumame software, which can be used to distinguish between wildtype and mutated sequences in shotgun metagenomic sequencing data and quantify their relative abundances. We further demonstrate the utility of the tool by quantifying antibiotic resistance mutations in several publicly available metagenomic data sets (3-6), and find that the tool is useful but that sequencing depth is a key factor to detect rare mutations. Therefore, much larger numbers of sequences may be required for reliable detection of mutations than is needed for most other applications of shotgun metagenomics. Since the preprint was published, Mumame has also found use in our recently published paper on selection for antibiotic resistance in a Croatian macrolide production wastewater treatment plant, unfortunately with inconclusive results (7). Mumame is freely available here.

I again want to stress the fantastic work that Shruthi Magesh did last year as a summer student at WID in the evaluation of this tool. As I have pointed out earlier, I did write the code for the software (with a lot of input from Viktor Jonsson), but Shruthi did the software testing and evaluations. Thanks and congratulations Shruthi, and good luck in pursuing your PhD program!


  1. Magesh S, Jonsson V, Bengtsson-Palme JMumame: A software tool for quantifying gene-specific point-mutations in shotgun metagenomic data. Metabarcoding and Metagenomics, 3: 59–67 (2019). doi: 10.3897/mbmg.3.36236
  2. Magesh S, Jonsson V, Bengtsson-Palme JQuantifying point-mutations in metagenomic data. bioRxiv, 438572 (2018). doi: 10.1101/438572
  3. 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. Frontiers in Microbiology, 5, 648 (2014). doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2014.00648
  4. Lundström S, Östman M, Bengtsson-Palme J, Rutgersson C, Thoudal M, Sircar T, Blanck H, Eriksson KM, Tysklind M, Flach C-F, Larsson DGJ: Minimal selective concentrations of tetracycline in complex aquatic bacterial biofilms. Science of the Total Environment, 553, 587–595 (2016). doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.02.103
  5. Pal C, Bengtsson-Palme J, Kristiansson E, Larsson DGJ: The structure and diversity of human, animal and environmental resistomes. Microbiome, 4, 54 (2016). doi: 10.1186/s40168-016-0199-5
  6. Kraupner N, Ebmeyer S, Bengtsson-Palme J, Fick J, Kristiansson E, Flach C-F, Larsson DGJ: Selective concentration for ciprofloxacin in Escherichia coli grown in complex aquatic bacterial biofilms. Environment International, 116, 255–268 (2018). doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.04.029
  7. Bengtsson-Palme J, Milakovic M, Švecová H, Ganjto M, Jonsson V, Grabic R, Udiković Kolić N: Pharmaceutical wastewater treatment plant enriches resistance genes and alter the structure of microbial communities. Water Research, 162, 437-445 (2019). doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2019.06.073

Published paper: Diarrhea-causing bacteria in the Choqueyapu River in Bolivia

My first original paper of the year was just published in PLoS ONE. This is a collaboration with Åsa Sjöling’s group at the Karolinska Institute and the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés in Bolivia, and the project has been largely run by Jessica Guzman-Otazo.

Poor drinking water quality is a major cause of diarrhea, especially in the absence of well-working sewage treatment systems. In the study, we investigate the numbers of bacteria causing diarrhea (or actually, marker genes for those bacteria) in water, soil and vegetable samples from the Choqueyapu River area in La Paz – Bolivia’s third largest city (1). The river receives sewage and wastewater from industries and hospitals while flowing through La Paz. We found that levels of ETEC – a bacterium that causes severe diarrhea – were much higher in the city than upstream of it, including at a site where the river water is used for irrigation of crops.

In addition, several multi-resistant bacteria could be isolated from the samples, of which many were emerging, globally spreading, multi-resistant variants. The results of the study indicate that there is a real risk for spreading of diarrheal diseases by using the contaminated water for drinking and irrigation (2,3). Furthermore, the identification of multi-resistant bacteria that can cause human diseases show that water contamination is an important route through which antibiotic resistance can be transferred from the environment back to humans (4).

The study was published in PLoS ONE and can be found here.


  1. Guzman-Otazo J, Gonzales-Siles L, Poma V, Bengtsson-Palme J, Thorell K, Flach C-F, Iñiguez V, Sjöling Å: Diarrheal bacterial pathogens and multi-resistant enterobacteria in the Choqueyapu River in La Paz, Bolivia. PLoS ONE, 14, 1, e0210735 (2019). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0210735
  2. Graham DW, Collignon P, Davies J, Larsson DGJ, Snape J: Underappreciated Role of Regionally Poor Water Quality on Globally Increasing Antibiotic Resistance. Environ Sci Technol 141001154428000 (2014). doi: 10.1021/es504206x
  3. Bengtsson-Palme J: Antibiotic resistance in the food supply chain: Where can sequencing and metagenomics aid risk assessment? Current Opinion in Food Science, 14, 66–71 (2017). doi: 10.1016/j.cofs.2017.01.010
  4. Bengtsson-Palme J, Kristiansson E, Larsson DGJ: Environmental factors influencing the development and spread of antibiotic resistance. FEMS Microbiology Reviews, 42, 1, 68–80 (2018). doi: 10.1093/femsre/fux053