Bacteria in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis (CF) adapt to this environment in multiple ways, resulting in a diverse bacterial community even within the same person.

Roy Kishony at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and his colleagues sequenced multiple isolates of Burkholderia dolosa from the lungs of five patients with CF. Genes involved in antibiotic resistance and scavenging iron (a limiting nutrient) showed signs of adaptation. Individual patients harboured microbes with a variety of adaptive mutations in these genes.

In separate work, a team led by Jeremy Dettman at the University of Ottawa, Canada, sequenced Pseudomonas aeruginosa isolates from 24 patients with CF and compared their genomes to eight previously sequenced ones. The team found that genes involved in biofilm formation, antibiotic resistance and coping with oxidative stress seemed to help the bacteria adapt to the CF lung. The analysis also showed that a strain with increased antibiotic resistance has spread between North America and the United Kingdom.

Nature Genet. (2013)

Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA (2013)