Characterization of shifts of koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) intestinal microbial communities associated with antibiotic treatment.
ABSTRACT: Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) are arboreal marsupials native to Australia that eat a specialized diet of almost exclusively eucalyptus leaves. Microbes in koala intestines are known to break down otherwise toxic compounds, such as tannins, in eucalyptus leaves. Infections by Chlamydia, obligate intracellular bacterial pathogens, are highly prevalent in koala populations. If animals with Chlamydia infections are received by wildlife hospitals, a range of antibiotics can be used to treat them. However, previous studies suggested that koalas can suffer adverse side effects during antibiotic treatment. This study aimed to use 16S rRNA gene sequences derived from koala feces to characterize the intestinal microbiome of koalas throughout antibiotic treatment and identify specific taxa associated with koala health after treatment. Although differences in the alpha diversity were observed in the intestinal flora between treated and untreated koalas and between koalas treated with different antibiotics, these differences were not statistically significant. The alpha diversity of microbial communities from koalas that lived through antibiotic treatment versus those who did not was significantly greater, however. Beta diversity analysis largely confirmed the latter observation, revealing that the overall communities were different between koalas on antibiotics that died versus those that survived or never received antibiotics. Using both machine learning and OTU (operational taxonomic unit) co-occurrence network analyses, we found that OTUs that are very closely related to Lonepinella koalarum, a known tannin degrader found by culture-based methods to be present in koala intestines, was correlated with a koala's health status. This is the first study to characterize the time course of effects of antibiotics on koala intestinal microbiomes. Our results suggest it may be useful to pursue alternative treatments for Chlamydia infections without the use of antibiotics or the development of Chlamydia-specific antimicrobial compounds that do not broadly affect microbial communities.
Project description:Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) are highly specialized herbivorous marsupials that feed almost exclusively on Eucalyptus leaves, which are known to contain varying concentrations of many different toxic chemical compounds. The literature suggests that Lonepinella koalarum, a bacterium in the Pasteurellaceae family, can break down some of these toxic chemical compounds. Furthermore, in a previous study, we identified L. koalarum as the most predictive taxon of koala survival during antibiotic treatment. Therefore, we believe that this bacterium may be important for koala health. Here, we isolated a strain of L. koalarum from a healthy koala female and sequenced its genome using a combination of short-read and long-read sequencing. We placed the genome assembly into a phylogenetic tree based on 120 genome markers using the Genome Taxonomy Database (GTDB), which currently does not include any L. koalarum assemblies. Our genome assembly fell in the middle of a group of Haemophilus, Pasteurella and Basfia species. According to average nucleotide identity and a 16S rRNA gene tree, the closest relative of our isolate is L. koalarum strain Y17189. Then, we annotated the gene sequences and compared them to 55 closely related, publicly available genomes. Several genes that are known to be involved in carbohydrate metabolism could exclusively be found in L. koalarum relative to the other taxa in the pangenome, including glycoside hydrolase families GH2, GH31, GH32, GH43 and GH77. Among the predicted genes of L. koalarum were 79 candidates putatively involved in the degradation of plant secondary metabolites. Additionally, several genes coding for amino acid variants were found that had been shown to confer antibiotic resistance in other bacterial species against pulvomycin, beta-lactam antibiotics and the antibiotic efflux pump KpnH. In summary, this genetic characterization allows us to build hypotheses to explore the potentially beneficial role that L. koalarum might play in the koala intestinal microbiome. Characterizing and understanding beneficial symbionts at the whole genome level is important for the development of anti- and probiotic treatments for koalas, a highly threatened species due to habitat loss, wildfires, and high prevalence of Chlamydia infections.
Project description:Metagenomic analysis of 16S ribosomal RNA has been used to profile microbial communities at high resolution, and to examine their association with host diet or diseases. We examined the oral and gut microbiome composition of two captive koalas to determine whether bacterial communities are unusual in this species, given that their diet consists almost exclusively of Eucalyptus leaves. Despite a highly specialized diet, koala oral and gut microbiomes were similar in composition to the microbiomes from the same body regions of other mammals. Rectal swabs contained all of the diversity present in faecal samples, along with additional taxa, suggesting that faecal bacterial communities may merely subsample the gut bacterial diversity. Furthermore, the faecal microbiomes of the captive koalas were similar to those reported for wild koalas, suggesting that captivity may not compromise koala microbial health. Since koalas frequently suffer from ocular diseases caused by Chlamydia infection, we also examined the eye microbiome composition of two captive koalas, establishing the healthy baseline for this body part. The eye microbial community was very diverse, similar to other mammalian ocular microbiomes but with an unusually high representation of bacteria from the family Phyllobacteriaceae.
Project description:Disease caused by Chlamydia pecorum is characterised by ocular and urogenital infections that can lead to blindness and infertility in koalas. However, koalas that are infected with C. pecorum do not always progress to disease. In other host systems, the influence of the microbiota has been implicated in either accelerating or preventing infections progressing to disease. This study investigates the contribution of koala urogenital and ocular microbiota to Chlamydia infection and disease in a free ranging koala population. Using univariate and multivariate analysis, it was found that reproductive status in females and sexual maturation in males, were defining features in the koala urogenital microbiota. Changes in the urogenital microbiota of koalas is correlated with infection by the common pathogen, C. pecorum. The correlation of microbiota composition and C. pecorum infection is suggestive of members of the microbiota being involved in the acceleration or prevention of infections progressing to disease. The analysis also suggests that multiple microbes are likely to be associated with this process of disease progression, rather than a single organism. While other Chlamydia-like organisms were also detected, they are unlikely to contribute to chlamydial disease as they are rare members of the urogenital and ocular microbiota communities.
Project description:Infections with Trypanosoma spp. have been associated with poor health and decreased survival of koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus), particularly in the presence of concurrent pathogens such as Chlamydia and koala retrovirus. The present study describes the application of a next-generation sequencing (NGS)-based assay to characterise the prevalence and genetic diversity of trypanosome communities in koalas and two native species of ticks (Ixodes holocyclus and I. tasmani) removed from koala hosts. Among 168 koalas tested, 32.2% (95% CI: 25.2-39.8%) were positive for at least one Trypanosoma sp. Previously described Trypanosoma spp. from koalas were identified, including T. irwini (32.1%, 95% CI: 25.2-39.8%), T. gilletti (25%, 95% CI: 18.7-32.3%), T. copemani (27.4%, 95% CI: 20.8-34.8%) and T. vegrandis (10.1%, 95% CI: 6.0-15.7%). Trypanosoma noyesi was detected for the first time in koalas, although at a low prevalence (0.6% 95% CI: 0-3.3%), and a novel species (Trypanosoma sp. AB-2017) was identified at a prevalence of 4.8% (95% CI: 2.1-9.2%). Mixed infections with up to five species were present in 27.4% (95% CI: 21-35%) of the koalas, which was significantly higher than the prevalence of single infections 4.8% (95% CI: 2-9%). Overall, a considerably higher proportion (79.7%) of the Trypanosoma sequences isolated from koala blood samples were identified as T. irwini, suggesting this is the dominant species. Co-infections involving T. gilletti, T. irwini, T. copemani, T. vegrandis and Trypanosoma sp. AB-2017 were also detected in ticks, with T. gilletti and T. copemani being the dominant species within the invertebrate hosts. Direct Sanger sequencing of Trypanosoma 18S rRNA gene amplicons was also performed and results revealed that this method was only able to identify the genotypes with greater amount of reads (according to NGS) within koala samples, which highlights the advantages of NGS in detecting mixed infections. The present study provides new insights on the natural genetic diversity of Trypanosoma communities infecting koalas and constitutes a benchmark for future clinical and epidemiological studies required to quantify the contribution of trypanosome infections on koala survival rates.
Project description:The koala, an iconic marsupial native to Australia, is a threatened species in many parts of the country. One major factor in the decline is disease caused by infection with Chlamydia. Current therapeutic strategies to treat chlamydiosis in the koala are limited. This study examines the effectiveness of an inhibitor, JO146, which targets the HtrA serine protease for treatment of C. pecorum and C. pneumoniae in vitro and ex vivo with the aim of developing a novel therapeutic for koala Chlamydia infections. Clinical isolates from koalas were examined for their susceptibility to JO146. In vitro studies demonstrated that treatment with JO146 during the mid-replicative phase of C. pecorum or C. pneumoniae infections resulted in a significant loss of infectious progeny. Ex vivo primary koala tissue cultures were used to demonstrate the efficacy of JO146 and the non-toxic nature of this compound on peripheral blood mononuclear cells and primary cell lines established from koala tissues collected at necropsy. Our results suggest that inhibition of the serine protease HtrA could be a novel treatment strategy for chlamydiosis in koalas.
Project description:Australian small mammals such as koalas must cope with immense pressure from anthropogenic induced stressors or trauma such as bushfires, vehicle collision impacts and habitat disturbance and land clearance. In addition, they must cope with diseases such as chlamydia. To date, there is no published literature on physiological stress levels in wild koala populations compared with identified environmental stressors. This study investigated physiological stress levels within sub-populations of wild koalas encountering environmental trauma and disease from New South Wales (NSW), Queensland (QLD) and South Australia (SA). Physiological stress was determined using a faecal glucocorticoid (or cortisol) metabolites (FGMs) enzyme-immunoassay (EIA) from 291 fresh faecal samples collected from wild koalas at the point of rescue. A healthy breeding sub-population from a forest reserve in QLD acted as a control group. Clearance of prime Eucalyptus habitat had the largest impact on FGMs, followed by bushfire related factors (e.g. flat demeanour, dehydration and burns injury). Koalas with other sources of physical injury (dog-attacks and vehicle collisions) and disease (chlamydia) also had higher FGMs compared to healthy wild koalas. Healthy wild koalas expressed the lowest median levels of FGMs. Overall, the results highlight that anthropogenic-induced stressors tend to increase physiological stress in wild koalas. Thus, the ultimate stressors such as habitat clearance and bush fire events could increase the incidences of proximate stressors such as dog attacks and vehicle collisions, and increase risks of foliage shortage, diseases and mortality. Therefore, there is need for ecological monitoring, conservation management actions and policy changes to curb the koala population crisis, especially within on-going and future land and road development programs.
Project description:Chlamydia infection and disease are endemic in free-ranging koalas. Antibiotics remain the front line treatment for Chlamydia in koalas, despite their rates of treatment failure and adverse gut dysbiosis outcomes. A Chlamydia vaccine for koalas has shown promise for replacing antibiotic treatment in mild ocular Chlamydia disease. In more severe disease presentations that require antibiotic intervention, the effect of vaccinating during antibiotic use is not currently known. This study investigated whether a productive immune response could be induced by vaccinating koalas during antibiotic treatment for Chlamydia-induced cystitis. Plasma IgG antibody levels against the C. pecorum major outer membrane protein (MOMP) dropped during antibiotic treatment in both vaccinated and unvaccinated koalas. Post-treatment, IgG levels recovered. The IgG antibodies from naturally-infected, vaccinated koalas recognised a greater proportion of the MOMP protein compared to their naturally-infected, unvaccinated counterparts. Furthermore, peripheral blood mononuclear cell gene expression revealed an up-regulation in genes related to neutrophil degranulation in vaccinated koalas during the first month post-vaccination. These findings show that vaccination of koalas while they are being treated with antibiotics for cystitis can result in the generation of a productive immune response, in the form of increased and expanded IgG production and host response through neutrophil degranulation.
Project description:Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus), an iconic Australian marsupial, are being heavily impacted by the spread of Chlamydia pecorum, an obligate intracellular bacterial pathogen. Koalas vary in their response to this pathogen, with some showing no symptoms, while others suffer severe symptoms leading to infertility, blindness or death. Little is known about the pathology of this disease and the immune response against it in this host. Studies have demonstrated that natural killer (NK) cells, key components of the innate immune system, are involved in the immune response to chlamydial infections in humans. These cells can directly lyse cells infected by intracellular pathogens and their ability to recognise these infected cells is mediated through NK receptors on their surface. These are encoded in two regions of the genome, the leukocyte receptor complex (LRC) and the natural killer complex (NKC). These two families evolve rapidly and different repertoires of genes, which have evolved by gene duplication, are seen in different species.In this study we aimed to characterise genes belonging to the NK receptor clusters in the koala by searching available koala transcriptomes using a combination of search methods. We developed a qPCR assay to quantify relative expression of four genes, two encoded within the NK receptor cluster (CLEC1B, CLEC4E) and two known to play a role in NK response to Chalmydia in humans (NCR3, PRF1).We found that the NK receptor repertoire of the koala closely resembles that of the Tasmanian devil, with minimal genes in the NKC, but with lineage specific expansions in the LRC. Additional genes important for NK cell activity, NCR3 and PRF1, were also identified and characterised. In a preliminary study to investigate whether these genes are involved in the koala immune response to infection by its chlamydial pathogen, C. pecorum, we investigated the expression of four genes in koalas with active chlamydia infection, those with past infection and those without infection using qPCR. This analysis revealed that one of these four, CLEC4E, may be upregulated in response to chlamydia infection.We have characterised genes of the NKC and LRC in koalas and have discovered evidence that one of these genes may be upregulated in koalas with chlamydia, suggesting that these receptors may play a role in the immune response of koalas to chlamydia infection.
Project description:Debilitating infectious diseases caused by Chlamydia are major contributors to the decline of Australia's iconic native marsupial species, the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). An understanding of koala chlamydial disease pathogenesis and the development of effective strategies to control infections continue to be hindered by an almost complete lack of species-specific immunological reagents. The cell-mediated immune response has been shown to play an influential role in the response to chlamydial infection in other hosts. The objective of this study, hence, was to provide preliminary data on the role of two key cytokines, pro-inflammatory tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF?) and anti-inflammatory interleukin 10 (IL10), in the koala Chlamydia pecorum response. Utilising sequence homology between the cytokine sequences obtained from several recently sequenced marsupial genomes, this report describes the first mRNA sequences of any koala cytokine and the development of koala specific TNF? and IL10 real-time PCR assays to measure the expression of these genes from koala samples. In preliminary studies comparing wild koalas with overt chlamydial disease, previous evidence of C. pecorum infection or no signs of C. pecorum infection, we revealed strong but variable expression of TNF? and IL10 in wild koalas with current signs of chlamydiosis. The description of these assays and the preliminary data on the cell-mediated immune response of koalas to chlamydial infection paves the way for future studies characterising the koala immune response to a range of its pathogens while providing reagents to assist with measuring the efficacy of ongoing attempts to develop a koala chlamydial vaccine.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Chlamydia infects multiple sites within hosts, including the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). In certain hosts, gastrointestinal infection is linked to treatment avoidance and self-infection at disease susceptible sites. GIT C. pecorum has been detected in livestock and koalas, however GIT prevalence rates within the koala are yet to be established. METHODS:Paired conjunctival, urogenital and rectal samples from 33 koalas were screened for C. pecorum and C. pecorum plasmid using 16S rRNA and CDS5-specific quantitative PCR assays, respectively. Amplicon sequencing of 359 bp ompA fragment was used to identify site-specific genotypes. RESULTS:The overall C. pecorum prevalence collectively (healthy and clinically diseased koalas) was 51.5%, 57.6% and 42.4% in urogenital, conjunctival and gastrointestinal sites, respectively. Concurrent urogenital and rectal Chlamydia was identified in 14 koalas, with no cases of GIT only Chlamydia shedding. The ompA genotype G dominated the GIT positive samples, and genotypes A and E' were dominant in urogenital tract (UGT) positive samples. Increases in C. pecorum plasmid per C. pecorum load (detected by PCR) showed clustering in the clinically diseased koala group (as assessed by scatter plot analysis). There was also a low correlation between plasmid positivity and C. pecorum infected animals at any site, with a prevalence of 47% UGT, 36% rectum and 40% faecal pellet. CONCLUSIONS:GIT C. pecorum PCR positivity suggests that koala GIT C. pecorum infections are common and occur regularly in animals with concurrent genital tract infections. GIT dominant genotypes were identified and do not appear to be related to plasmid positivity. Preliminary results indicated a possible association between C. pecorum plasmid load and clinical UGT disease.