ECCMID 2019 - The power of commensal bacteria in disease control

  • Jackie Johnson
  • Conference Reports
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During his keynote lecture at the ECCMID 2019 meeting, Dr. Trevor Lawley explained that despite nearly 50% of the human ecosystem being composed of microbiota, there is still a limited understanding of the role it plays in disease.

To better understand the microbiome, investigators from Lawley’s laboratory have cultured the unculturable bacteria, discovering novel taxa and extensive sporulation in the human gut. The phylogenetic tree included 137 species and 254 strains derived from 6 healthy individuals. This contributed to The Personalized Bacterial Bank (PBB), a collection of healthy adult microbiota that can now be used for research worldwide. Lawley’s laboratory has a unique capability to rapidly culture the vast majority of gut bacteria from any individual.

Lawley has also contributed to the UK baby biome multi-centre study, which has analyzed large-scale microbiome samples from babies born at three UK hospitals. In this study, investigators found that independent of the mode of delivery (c-section vs vaginal birth) microbial distribution changes drastically over time. However, the delivery mode, postnatal antibiotics, and maternal antibiotics significantly impact bacteria that survive and thrive in neonates following delivery. Counterintuitively, microbial community composition in neonates was less affected by hospital stays or feeding modes. Delivery via c-section promoted healthcare-associated pathogen colonization.

In a landmark study, infusion of donor feces (i.e. fecal microbiota transplant [FMT]) was significantly more effective for the treatment of recurrent C. difficile infections than the use of vancomycin.Placebo controlled studies from Lawley’s group have shown that FMT also induces bacterial remission in ulcerative colitis.

Taken together, Lawley’s work has contributed to understanding the diversity of human ecosystems and the power of commensal bacteria in disease control.

Expert commentary:

Question: Have you looked into [the presence of] viruses or phages in your samples?

Lawley: We have not done this just yet, but it would be interesting.