Washington, DC - April 20, 2017 - Colonization by the human and animal parasite, Giardia, changed the species composition of the mouse microbiome in a way that might be harmful. The research is published in Infection and Immunity, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.
â€śThis shift is generally characterized by more aerobic bacteria and less diversity of anaerobic species in the gastrointestinal tract,â€ť said coauthor Scott C. Dawson, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, the University of California, Davis. â€śThis suggests that Giardia infection couldâ€”at least in partâ€”be an ecological disease, with parasite colonization disrupting the previously stable ecology of the gut.â€ť
Indeed, â€śWe found changes in the host microbial community throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract,â€ť said Dawson. These findings challenge the conventional wisdom that Giardia is a disease of the small intestine.
â€śWe infected mice with Giardia, sacrificed them at different times post-infection, and sequenced specific regions throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract using high-throughput 16S ribosomal RNA sequencing,â€ť said Dawson. This enabled the investigators to quantify the shifts in microbial diversity in each part of the GI tract, following infection. They also pre-treated one cohort of mice with antibiotics, to determine if that pretreatment resulted in different shifts in the microbiome as compared to those in mice not receiving antibiotics (it did so).
The various investigators had different motives for their interest in conducting this research, said Dawson. Steven M. Singer, of Georgetown University, Washington, DC, had previously noted that when mice were infected with a human Giardia, they had to be pre-treated with antibiotics in order for a robust infection to develop. â€śThat suggested that the gut microbiome had a protective effect in limiting giardiasis,â€ť said Dawson.
Furthermore, giardiasis is a major cause of sickness and malnutrition in developing nations, said Dawson, infecting an estimated 200 million in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, â€śoften infecting children in communities without access to clean water. In the US, more than 15,000 cases were reported in 2012.
â€śWhile symptoms can be severe or even debilitating, the mechanism by which Giardia infection causes the disease symptoms remains unclear,â€ť said Dawson. â€śAs an anaerobic, fermenting, eukaryotic parasite, we reasoned that Giardiaâ€™s unique anaerobic metabolism may disturb host gut ecology.â€ť (Eukaryotes are all organisms with cells that contain a nucleus, from microbes to plants to vertebrates. Prokaryotes, mostly bacteria, have much simpler cells, which lack a nucleus.)
Partly as a result of the unknown mechanism, there are few novel therapeutics, said Dawson. Moreover, even when treatment eradicates the parasite, GI symptoms may persist.
But if giardiasis really is an ecological disease, that raises the possibility that repopulating beneficial members of the gut microbiome could help treat this condition, said Dawson. â€śAlso, it is possible that certain types of gut commensal microbes could limit or inhibit early Giardia infection.â€ť
The American Society for Microbiology is the largest single life science society, composed of over 48,000 scientists and health professionals. ASM's mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences.
ASM advances the microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications and educational opportunities. It enhances laboratory capacity around the globe through training and resources. It provides a network for scientists in academia, industry and clinical settings. Additionally, ASM promotes a deeper understanding of the microbial sciences to diverse audiences.