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Microbiology and infectious diseases

The study of microorganisms, the most abundant living entities on Earth, aims to understand their unique biology and the influence they have on human health, disease, and life in general. Here, we highlight work that furthers our understanding of the microbial world.

Featured articles

Glycoprotein US9 of human cytomegalovirus downregulates the activating immune ligand MICA*008 to avoid NK cell activation. Here, Seidel et al. show that the signal peptide of US9 is cleaved unusually slowly, causing MICA*008 to be retained in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and degraded via the ER quality control system.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Prokaryotic cell transcriptomics has been limited to mixed or sub-population dynamics and individual cells within heterogeneous populations. Here the authors develop a ‘TRANSITomic’ approach to profile transcriptomes of single Burkholderia pseudomallei cells as they transit through host cell infection.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The origin and nature of rebound HIV-1 virus following antiretroviral therapy (ART) discontinuation still remains unclear. Here, Liu et al. suggest that intact proviral DNA in peripheral blood and lymph node mononuclear cells during ART suppression likely is the source of viral rebound following ART discontinuation.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Some epidemiological data suggests that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted through the air over longer distances. Here, Kutter et al. show in the ferret model that SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV can be transmitted through the air over more than a meter distance, however, data should be interpreted with care, as ferrets are likely more susceptible to coronavirus infections.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

It is unknown whether capsulized fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) can modify the microbiota of people with HIV. Here, the authors report the results of a pilot double-blind study, where 30 HIV-infected subjects on ART were randomized to either weekly oral FMT capsules or placebo for 8 weeks, and show that transplanted microbiota successfully engrafts and is able to attenuate HIV-associated dysbiosis.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Here, the authors analyze 4907 Circular Metagenome Assembled Genomes from human microbiomes and identify and characterize nearly 600 diverse genomes of crAss-like phages, finding two putative families with unusual genomic features, including high density of self-splicing introns and inteins.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Transcription factor Rme1 regulates meiosis and pseudohyphal growth in baker’s yeast, but its role in the meiosis-defective pathogen Candida albicans is unclear. Here, Hernández-Cervantes et al. show that Rme1 activates the expression of genes required for formation of asexual spores in Candida species.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Mobile genetic elements have evolved anti-CRISPR (Acr) proteins to bypass the immunity provided by prokaryotic CRISPR–Cas systems. Here, the authors identify 11 type I Acrs encoded on mobile genetic elements, and show that acr loci neighborhoods can be used to discover inhibitors of other bacterial defense systems.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The circadian factors BMAL1/CLOCK and REV-ERB are master regulators of the human liver transcriptome but their role in hepatitis B virus infection is largely unknown. Here, Zhuang et al. show that REV-ERB regulates hepatitis B virus entry and BMAL1 directly binds HBV DNA and activates viral genome transcription.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Protein kinases are fundamental in cellular signalling required for Leishmania survival throughout the life cycle. Here, Baker and Catta-Preta et al. report on a kinome-wide functional study in Leishmania mexicana to define protein kinases with roles in life cycle transition.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The fungus Neurospora crassa is a model organism for the study of various biological processes, but it is not known to be infected by any viruses. Here, Honda et al. identify RNA viruses that infect N. crassa and examine viral replication and RNAi-mediated antiviral responses, thus establishing this fungus as a model for the study of host-virus interactions.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The mechanisms underlying resistance of Neisseria gonorrhoeae to the antibiotic azithromycin are incompletely understood. Here, Ma et al. conduct a conditional genome-wide association study to identify new resistance mutations and experimentally confirm that a mutation in ribosomal protein L4 confers increased resistance.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Plasmodium falciparum secretes extracellular vesicles (EVs) while growing inside red blood cells (RBCs). Here the authors show that these EVs contain assembled and functional 20S proteasome complexes that remodel the cytoskeleton of naïve human RBCs, priming the RBCs for parasite invasion.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Serology is an important way to monitor SARS-CoV-2 infection in the population and support vaccine development. Here the authors develop a multiplex immunoassay including spike and nucleocapsid proteins of SARS-CoV-2 and the endemic human coronaviruses with high specificity and sensitivity.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

In this single-arm clinical trial, the authors show that treatment of COVID-19 patients with bevacizumab, an anti-vascular endothelial growth factor drug, can improve PaO2/FiO2 ratios and oxygen-support status. Relative to an external control group, bevacizumab shows clinical efficacy by improving oxygenation.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Control of mosquito populations using pesticides is important for malaria elimination, but effects of pesticides on humans aren’t well understood. Here, Prahl et al. show in a cohort of pregnant Ugandan women and their infants that household spraying with bendiocarb affects the fetal immune system and response to vaccination in infancy.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Remdesivir is under evaluation for treatment of COVID-19 in clinical trials. Here, the authors report results of remdesivir treatment in a patient with COVID-19 and the genetic antibody deficiency XLA. They show a temporally correlated clinical and virological response, suggesting that remdesivir can reduce SARS-CoV-2 replication in patients.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Antibiotic therapy can lead to pathogen clearance, but also to alterations in the gut microbiota and systemic immune responses. Here, the authors analyze data from patients with tuberculosis and healthy subjects to show that pathogen clearance and gut microbiota alterations are independently associated with antibiotic-induced changes of the inflammatory response of active tuberculosis.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Nucleotides pppGpp and ppGpp regulate bacterial responses to nutritional and other stresses, while the potential roles of the related pGpp are unclear. Here, Yang et al. systematically identify proteins interacting with these nucleotides in Bacillus, and show that pGpp has roles distinct from those of (p)ppGpp.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

A key feature that differentiates prokaryotic cells from eukaryotes is the absence of an intracellular membrane surrounding the chromosomal DNA. Here, the authors isolate a member of the ubiquitous, yet-to-be-cultivated bacterial phylum ‘Candidatus Atribacteria’ that has an intracytoplasmic membrane apparently surrounding the nucleoid.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

In this study, Omry Koren, Samuli Rautava and colleagues report a sex-specific association between neonatal antibiotic exposure and weight and height gain during the first six years of life and showing that boys but not girls exposed to neonatal antibiotics exhibit impaired weight and height development.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The effects of antibiotics on the gut microbiota can lead to enhanced colonization of Clostridioides difficile (C. difficile) and toxin-mediated pathogenesis. Here, using defined toxin-mutant strains and a murine model, the authors provide insights into how toxin-induced inflammation alters C. difficile metabolism, host tissue gene expression and gut microbiota, together influencing a beneficial niche for infection.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The emergence and spread of artemisinin resistance has compromised antimalarial efficacy. Here, Mok et al. apply quantitative transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics to provide evidence that K13 mutations alter multiple aspects of the parasite’s intra-erythrocytic development to enhance survival following artemisinin treatment.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The evolutionary relationships within Archaea remain unresolved. Here, the authors used genomic approaches to study the Undinarchaeota, a previously uncharacterized clade of DPANN, shed light on their position in an updated archaeal phylogeny and illuminate the history of archaeal genome evolution.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Controlled human infection models (CHIMs) provide a pathway for accelerating vaccine development. Here, the authors describe the isolation, characterization, and GMP manufacture of a clinical Leishmania major strain to be used as a resource for CHIM studies of sand fly transmitted cutaneous leishmaniasis.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Herpes simplex virus establishes lifelong latency in ganglionic neurons, which are the source for recurrent infection. Here Aubert et al. report a promising antiviral therapy based on gene editing with adeno-associated virus-delivered meganucleases, which leads to a significant reduction in ganglionic HSV loads and HSV reactivation.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Bacterial nanotubes and other similar membranous structures have been reported to function as conduits between cells to exchange DNA, proteins, and nutrients. Here the authors provide evidence that bacterial nanotubes are formed only by dead or dying cells, thus questioning their previously proposed functions.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Fungi produce oxygenated fatty acids, or oxylipins, of unclear function. Here, Niu et al. show that an Aspergillus oxylipin induces various developmental processes in several fungi, including lateral branching in human pathogenic Aspergillus species, and appressorium formation in the plant pathogen Magnaporthe grisea.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Yellow fever is absent from the Asia/Pacific region, despite presence of the mosquito vector. Here, the authors demonstrate that mosquitoes collected from field sites across the region are capable of transmitting yellow fever virus, indicating that vector competence is not a barrier to disease spread.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Genome sequencing can be used to infer pathogen transmission dynamics and inform public health responses. Here, the authors sequence >1,200 SARS-CoV-2 samples from Victoria, Australia and find genomic support for the effectiveness of social restrictions in reducing transmission.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Milk breastfeeding and prebiotic-supplemented formulas have varying effects on the infant gut microbiome. Here, in a randomized controlled clinical trial, the authors investigate the effects of a Lactobacillus paracasei-fermented formula on the immune defense mechanisms, microbiota and its metabolome in full term infants.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

Hormonal contraception may alter women’s susceptibility to HIV. Here, the authors report the results of a randomized clinical trial substudy assessing the effects of injectable Net-En, oral contraceptives (COC) and Nuvaring on vaginal microbiota and cytokines, associating COC with lower microbial diversity and Nuvaring with increased inflammation.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

A vaccine protecting from SARS-CoV-2 infection is needed. Here the authors generate a replication-incompetent adenovirus based vaccine expressing SARS-CoV-2 spike, show protection from infection in non-human primates, and analyze the immune response after intramuscular and intranasal vaccination.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications

The mechanism underlying periodicity of Plasmodium’s intra-erythrocytic developmental cycle (IDC) is unclear. Here, Subudhi et al. show that serpentine receptor 10 (SR10) plays a role in regulating the schedule of the IDC in line with the timing of host daily rhythms.

Article | Open Access | | Nature Communications