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An important finding has been published in Nature Communications by an international consortium including Ana R. Freitas, Carla Novais and Luísa Peixe from the Bact-Drugs lab at UCIBIO, in Faculdade de Farmácia da Universidade do Porto (FFUP). The consortium, led by Jukka Corander who is affiliated with the University of Helsinki, the University of Oslo and the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge (UK), involved 21 researchers from 13 different European research institutions in 6 countries. A full evolutionary journey of a hospital superbug was mapped for the first time in this study published in March in the Nature Communications journalApparent nosocomial adaptation of Enterococcus faecalis predates the modern hospital era.


More than 2000 isolates of a leading hospital bug, Enterococcus faecalis, collected from different hosts during XX and XXI centuries (the oldest dates from 1936) were sequenced. The UCIBIO team contributed with a collection of almost 700 E. faecalis isolates obtained in diverse sources (humans, animals, food, environment), mostly in Portugal, over the last decades. Enterococcus faecalis is an intestinal bacterium that colonizes a wide variety of host species and is a common cause of sepsis and heart inflammation. E. faecalis is also known as a hospital-associated bacterial species, with related infections that are often difficult to treat, as some strains are resistant to multiple classes of antibiotics. By combining old clinical specimens and new technology (state-of-the-art Nanopore DNA sequencing technique and novel bioinformatics analysis), it was determined that E. faecalis has adapted to hospital conditions already in mid-nineteenth century – long before the first modern hospitals were built and the use of antibiotics. An intriguingly observation was that E. faecalis recovered from various wild birds species were similar to the strains specialized to hospitals. Since these birds are not in close contact with humans, we concluded that the traits that make strains associated with hospitals successful provide them with the ability to live and spread also in bird populations.


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Bacterial populations networks of 2027 Enterococcus faecalis pangenomes depict isolates of different origins distributed across the clade structure.



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Presential meeting of the consortium organized by the UCIBIO researchers and held in February 2020 at FFUP


Original Article:

Nature Communications

Anna K. Pöntinen, Janetta Top, Sergio Arredondo-Alonso, Gerry Tonkin-Hill, Ana R. Freitas, Carla Novais, Rebecca A. Gladstone, Maiju Pesonen, Rodrigo Meneses, Henri Pesonen, John A. Lees, Dorota Jamrozy, Stephen D. Bentley, Val F. Lanza, Carmen Torres, Luisa Peixe, Teresa M. Coque, Julian Parkhill, Anita C. Schürch, Rob J. L. Willems & Jukka Corander. Apparent nosocomial adaptation of Enterococcus faecalis predates the modern hospital era.