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  1. ABSTRACT There are complex interactions between an organism's microbiome and its response to stressors, often referred to as the ‘gut–brain axis’; however, the ecological relevance of this axis in wild animals remains poorly understood. Here, we used a chronic mild stress protocol to induce stress in wild-caught house sparrows (Passer domesticus), and compared microbial communities among stressed animals, those recovering from stress, captive controls (unstressed) and a group not brought into captivity. We assessed changes in microbial communities and abundance of shed microbes by culturing cloacal samples on multiple media to select for aerobic and anaerobic bacteria and fungi. We complemented this with cultivation-independent 16S and ITS rRNA gene amplification and sequencing, pairing these results with host physiological and immune metrics, including body mass change, relative spleen mass and plasma corticosterone concentrations. We found significant effects of stress and captivity on the house sparrow microbiomes, with stress leading to an increased relative abundance of endotoxin-producing bacteria – a possible mechanism for the hyperinflammatory response observed in captive avians. While we found evidence that the microbiome community partially recovers after stress cessation, animals may lose key taxa, and the abundance of endotoxin-producing bacteria persists. Our results suggest an overall link betweenmore »chronic stress, host immune system and the microbiome, with the loss of potentially beneficial taxa (e.g. lactic acid bacteria), and an increase in endotoxin-producing bacteria due to stress and captivity. Ultimately, consideration of the host's microbiome may be useful when evaluating the impact of stressors on individual and population health.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2023
  2. Sourdough bread is an ancient fermented food that has sustained humans around the world for thousands of years. It is made from a sourdough ‘starter culture’ which is maintained, portioned, and shared among bread bakers around the world. The starter culture contains a community of microbes made up of yeasts and bacteria, which ferment the carbohydrates in flour and produce the carbon dioxide gas that makes the bread dough rise before baking. The different acids and enzymes produced by the microbial culture affect the bread’s flavor, texture and shelf life. However, for such a dependable staple, sourdough bread cultures and the mixture of microbes they contain have scarcely been characterized. Previous studies have looked at the composition of starter cultures from regions within Europe. But there has never been a comprehensive study of how the microbial diversity of sourdough starters varies across and between continents. To investigate this, Landis, Oliverio et al. used genetic sequencing to characterize the microbial communities of sourdough starters from the homes of 500 bread bakers in North America, Europe and Australasia. Bread makers often think their bread’s unique qualities are due to the local environment of where the sourdough starter was made. However, Landis, Oliveriomore »et al. found that geographical location did not correlate with the diversity of the starter cultures studied. The data revealed that a group of microbes called acetic acid bacteria, which had been overlooked in past research, were relatively common in starter cultures. Moreover, starters with a greater abundance of this group of bacteria produced bread with a strong vinegar aroma and caused dough to rise at a slower rate. This research demonstrates which species of bacteria and yeast are most commonly found in sourdough starters, and suggests geographical location has little influence on the microbial diversity of these cultures. Instead, the diversity of microbes likely depends more on how the starter culture was made and how it is maintained over time.« less
  3. ABSTRACT Bacteria within the genus Mycobacterium can be abundant in showerheads, and the inhalation of aerosolized mycobacteria while showering has been implicated as a mode of transmission in nontuberculous mycobacterial (NTM) lung infections. Despite their importance, the diversity, distributions, and environmental predictors of showerhead-associated mycobacteria remain largely unresolved. To address these knowledge gaps, we worked with citizen scientists to collect showerhead biofilm samples and associated water chemistry data from 656 households located across the United States and Europe. Our cultivation-independent analyses revealed that the genus Mycobacterium was consistently the most abundant genus of bacteria detected in residential showerheads, and yet mycobacterial diversity and abundances were highly variable. Mycobacteria were far more abundant, on average, in showerheads receiving municipal water than in those receiving well water and in U.S. households than in European households, patterns that are likely driven by differences in the use of chlorine disinfectants. Moreover, we found that water source, water chemistry, and household location also influenced the prevalence of specific mycobacterial lineages detected in showerheads. We identified geographic regions within the United States where showerheads have particularly high abundances of potentially pathogenic lineages of mycobacteria, and these “hot spots” generally overlapped those regions where NTM lung diseasemore »is most prevalent. Together, these results emphasize the public health relevance of mycobacteria in showerhead biofilms. They further demonstrate that mycobacterial distributions in showerhead biofilms are often predictable from household location and water chemistry, knowledge that advances our understanding of NTM transmission dynamics and the development of strategies to reduce exposures to these emerging pathogens. IMPORTANCE Bacteria thrive in showerheads and throughout household water distribution systems. While most of these bacteria are innocuous, some are potential pathogens, including members of the genus Mycobacterium that can cause nontuberculous mycobacterial (NTM) lung infection, an increasing threat to public health. We found that showerheads in households across the United States and Europe often harbor abundant mycobacterial communities that vary in composition depending on geographic location, water chemistry, and water source, with households receiving water treated with chlorine disinfectants having particularly high abundances of certain mycobacteria. The regions in the United States where NTM lung infections are most common were the same regions where pathogenic mycobacteria were most prevalent in showerheads, highlighting the important role of showerheads in the transmission of NTM infections.« less