by Daniel P. Haeusser
Today I wanted to catch up with some recent books that visitors to this blog may have interest in adding to their microbiological library. So here is a roundup of six academic microbial titles of note that make up a trio of related pairs.
Antibiotics & Allelopathy
Antibiotics: Challenges, Mechanisms, Opportunities by Christopher Walsh and Timothy Wencewicz. (2016) ASM Press. ISBN: 978-1-555819-30-9 (Hardcover, 477 pages), 978-1-555819-31-6 (eBook).
The Bacteriocins: Current Knowledge and Future Prospects by Robert Dorit, Sandra M. Roy, and Margaret A. Riley (Editors). (2016) Caister Academic Press. ISBN: 978-1-910190-37-1 (Paperback, 158 pages), 978-1-910190-38-8 (eBook).
A significant update from its 2003 precursor, Antibiotics: Actions, Origins, Resistance, this new antibiotics textbook brings the concept of ‘challenges’ to the fore, namely, the societal need to develop next-generation antibiotics. The two opening chapters review the major classes and mechanisms of current antibiotics and also discuss the process of antibiotic development and the history of resistance. The next sections go into the mechanisms of antibiotic action and resistance development in greater detail, closing the section with a case study on tuberculosis.
The authors then focus on biosynthesis of different antibiotic classes and close with two chapters on ‘opportunities’: underexploited pathways/targets and prospects for new antibiotics. I believe that these chapters are the most interesting because they collect recent information on research and prospects that are sure to be inspiring to researchers in the field and students alike. As someone whose research interests are in cell division, I watchfully read sections in the final chapters on bacterial cell division and FtsZ as potential pathways/targets for novel antibiotics. The authors did a remarkable job of summarizing the background and preliminary findings in this field. They even pointed out the potential harm that could come from causing bacteria to filament without being killed.
One element missing from this text is the importance of antibiotics in microbial competition, i.e. the ecological role and evolutionary origin of antibiotics. The text is focused on antibiotics as a tool for human medicine. Not a bad thing – everything needs focus – but, in contrast, the other book on antibiotic compounds featured here, The Bacteriocins, covers both environmental and medical aspects.
Bacteriocins are antimicrobial peptides made by bacteria through non-kin exclusion as toxins directed against competitors. First discovered by Andre Gratia close to a century ago in E. coli, scientists estimate that most bacteria encode at least one bacteriocin. Similar molecules, archaeocins, are also made by the Archaea. With a family so broadly distributed, there is unsurprisingly a lot of diversity within it (Merry once wrote on them here, specifically on their relation to phages). The bacteriocins range from small peptides to large proteins that target a range of cellular processes. Regardless of their molecular target, some bacteriocins have broad activity against large groups of bacteria, while others are only potent against a narrow range of bacterial species. Their ecological role as weapons of defense (allelopathy) makes the bacteriocins attractive candidates for novel antibiotics, and some have already been used industrially, e. g., in food preservation.
Editors Dorit, Roy, and Riley pack their relatively slim compilation with a comprehensive survey across the current knowledge on these antimicrobial compounds. After a foreword by Richard James that gives the topic historical and personal perspective, two chapters review the basic biology of bacteriocin diversity. In general, while scientists know a fair amount about the targets and mechanisms of some bacteriocins, they know relatively little about ones outside common Gram-negative or Gram-positive model organisms, or about how their activity is regulated in native ecological settings of interspecific competition. Moreover, the consequences of their potential use as antibiotics, and the ease at which targets may develop resistance are largely unexplored.
The remaining chapters emphasize some of the well-known systems, from E. coli and Pseudomonas to Gram-positive species, or research into the potential use of bacteriocins as oral microbiome probiotics and as antibiotics in veterinary medicine. Rather than ending with a review of future prospects, a group that includes two of the editors presents a short paper of data on ‘The Phenotypic and Genotypic Landscape of Colicin Resistance’. Though preliminary, the data suggest that resistance to E. coli bacteriocins arises through a relatively small window around toxin receptor binding and uptake, and comes with severe costs to the resistant target strain.
Anyone interested in the topics of antibiotics, either in their practical use or their natural use as part of microbial evolution, will appreciate both of these books. The antibiotics text is useful for upper level courses or reference material, while that on the bacteriocins is a useful addition to microbiology, medical, or ecological reference libraries.
Microbial Biofilms, Second Edition by Mahmoud Ghannoum, Matthew Parsek, Marvin Whitely, and Pranab K. Mukherjee (Editors). (2015) ASM Press. ISBN: 978-1-555817-45-9 (Hardcover, 404 pages), 978-1-555817-46-6 (eBook).
Aquatic Biofilms: Ecology, Water Quality, and Wastewater Treatment by Anna M. Romaní, Helena Guasch, and M. Dolors Balaguer (Editors). (2016) Caister Academic Press. ISBN: 978-1-910190-17-3 (Hardcover, 229 pages), 978-1-910190-18-0 (eBook).
A decade following its first edition, Microbial Biofilms expands reviews of biofilm research beyond its early foundational years of ‘discovery science’. Full of colored, high-quality figures to accompany the text, this volume gives roughly equal attention to both bacterial and fungal biofilms. The contributions focus on developmental mechanisms of biofilms, molecular properties of their components, and their medical consequences/applications. The first chapter, “New Technologies for Studying Biofilms” is a particularly useful reference for the uninitiated as it discusses how microbiologists are able to study biofilms in conditions designed to mimic natural states.
Some of the medically related selections are model-organism specific, such as reviews of fungal pathogens like Candida albicans and Cryptococcus neoformans, or of bacterial pathogens like Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Other content focuses on general pathogenic roles of biofilms (e.g. antimicrobial tolerance and host defense evasion), and on biofilm control and combat.
For all its medical focus, several sections of Microbial Biofilms cover topics of general relevance regardless of environmental context. This includes the opening chapter and basic reviews on biofilm formation, development, and dispersal. One chapter discusses the ecological/evolutionary consequences of interspecific competition in biofilms, while another, from the lab of our own Roberto Kolter, details the mirror image of such interactions: cooperation that permits biofilms a multicellular-esque division of labor.
While the ASM Press volume focuses on the medical side of research, another recent collection from Caister Academic Press focuses on biofilms in aquatic settings. The opening article nicely introduces the topic through historical and practical considerations of what defines biofilms. Notably, the authors discuss the classification of biofilms not just in consideration of the organism involved, but also in relation to the abiotic factors of substrate and environmental conditions. This provides an ecosystem perspective to a topic that is commonly only considered at the population or community ecology level. For all its strengths from the holistic-ecological view, Aquatic Biofilms does notably lack a broad overview on the techniques of biofilm study; it includes only a single review, in this case on laser microscopy imaging.
Yet, this omission is more than balanced by the unique environmental focus of the rest of the volume. The first of three parts in Aquatic Biofilms concludes by summarizing microbial diversity in biofilms and their role in biogeochemical processes. This information sets up the second part on the role of biofilms in aquatic pollution and their use for monitoring freshwater community health. The final part consists of three reviews detailing new environmental science technologies involving biofilms, such as in the biodegradation of persistent organic pollutants or bioelectrochemical system technology for pollutant removal from contaminated water and air. These latter fascinating chapters may inspire an upcoming piece for Small Things Considered on a topic that our readers may be less familiar with.
Even Misanthropes Catch Disease
Infections of Leisure, 5th Edition by David Schlossberg (Editor). (2016) ASM Press. ISBN: 978-1-555819-22-4 (Paperback, 411 pages), 978-1-555819-23-1 (eBook).
Zoonoses: Infectious Diseases Transmissible from Animals to Humans, Fourth Edition by Rolf Bauerfeind, Alexander von Graevenitz, Peter Kimmig, Hans Gerd Schiefer, Tino Schwarz, Werner Slenczka, and Horst Zahner. (2016) ASM Press. ISBN: 978-1-555819-25-5 (Paperback, 532 pages), 978-1-555819-26-2 (eBook).
If any germophobes out there need some fresh nightmare fuel, this pair of updated volumes from ASM Press should be just the thing. Regular readers of this blog probably realize that the majority of microbes are not ‘germs’ at all. However, these texts remind us that many infectious agents are out there, in perhaps surprising places, and that they often aren’t transmissible just through contact with other people.
Of the two books, Infections of Leisure will interest the broader audience simply due to the readability of the text in a new edition that includes color figures. Some of the diseases in this volume are exotic, and relatively rarely seen in otherwise healthy individuals. But the transmission of these diseases occurs through mundane activities of everyday human life. Written by infectious disease experts, the contents are organized by disease source, from “Infections Acquired in the Garden” to “Infectious Risks of Air Travel” and “Infections from Body Piercing and Tattoos”.
This book has been an invaluable reference for me while co-teaching for the first time a college microbiology course that integrates material from pathogenic microbiology with an environmental microbiology perspective. For instance, the chapter “Infections Acquired via Fresh Water: from Lakes to Hot Tubs” provided a foundation to address the microbial ecology of freshwater environments in relation to viral, bacterial, and eukaryotic pathogens of humans, such as Norovirus, Legionella, and Acanthamoeba.
Following the review of infectious agents found in the given environment, and their effects, each chapter concludes with a bulleted list of “practical tips” for avoiding disease transmission and citations of recommended primary literature readings, the latter provided excellent material for assigning to students for reading and class discussion.
The revised and updated Zoonoses is an exhaustive catalog of infectious agents that are transmitted to humans from other animals. While it will be useful for clinical microbiologists and reference libraries, it is not the type of book for a broad audience to pick up and read. Encyclopedic in nature, its organization separates viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic zoonoses each according to disease agent families. A typical chapter includes a broad introduction followed by short sections on occurrence, etiology, transmission, diagnosis, and treatment. The appendices highlight infections by kind of animal bite, consumption of infected animal tissue, and include other quickly accessible practical information for clinicians. For educators, a list of references at the end of each section could be useful for finding primary literature related to a topic of focus in class.
I hope these reviews are of some use to readers and followers of Small Things Considered. I have many more recent books on the shelf, so look for another roundup soon!
Daniel is an Assistant Professor in the Biology Department of Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. He teaches courses in the freshman and sophomore introductory sequence, General Microbiology, and an integrated Environmental & Pathogenic Microbiology course. In his lab he focuses on undergraduate research mentoring through projects on bacterial cell division and phage factors that subvert the bacterial cytoskeleton. In addition to science, he enjoys reading, writing, and film. He can be found on Twitter and his book reviews at Reading 1000 Lives or on Goodreads.