A symbiotic bacterium of shipworms produces a compound with broad spectrum anti-apicomplexan activity

Roberta M. O’Connor, Felix J.V. Nepveux, Jaypee Abenoja, Gregory Bowden, Patricia Reis, Josiah Beaushaw, Rachel M. Bone Relat, Iwona Driskell, Fernanda Gimenez, Michael W. Riggs, Deborah A. Schaefer, Eric W. Schmidt, Zhenjian Lin, Daniel L. Distel, Jon Clardy, Timothy R. Ramadhar, David R. Allred, Heather M. Fritz, Pradipsinh Rathod, Laura CheryJohn White

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18 Scopus citations


Apicomplexan parasites cause severe disease in both humans and their domesticated animals. Since these parasites readily develop drug resistance, development of new, effective drugs to treat infection caused by these parasites is an ongoing challenge for the medical and veterinary communities. We hypothesized that invertebrate-bacterial symbioses might be a rich source of anti-apicomplexan compounds because invertebrates are susceptible to infections with gregarines, parasites that are ancestral to all apicomplexans. We chose to explore the therapeutic potential of shipworm symbiotic bacteria as they are bona fide symbionts, are easily grown in axenic culture and have genomes rich in secondary metabolite loci [1,2]. Two strains of the shipworm symbiotic bacterium, Teredinibacter turnerae, were screened for activity against Toxoplasma gondii and one strain, T7901, exhibited activity against intracellular stages of the parasite. Bioassay-guided fractionation identified tartrolon E (trtE) as the source of the activity. TrtE has an EC50 of 3 nM against T. gondii, acts directly on the parasite itself and kills the parasites after two hours of treatment. TrtE exhibits nanomolar to picomolar level activity against Cryptosporidium, Plasmodium, Babesia, Theileria, and Sarcocystis; parasites representing all branches of the apicomplexan phylogenetic tree. The compound also proved effective against Cryptosporidium parvum infection in neonatal mice, indicating that trtE may be a potential lead compound for preclinical development. Identification of a promising new compound after such limited screening strongly encourages further mining of invertebrate symbionts for new anti-parasitic therapeutics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1008600
JournalPLoS pathogens
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complimentary and Integrated Health (grant numer: R21AT009174; https://www.niaid.nih.gov/) to RMO. Research reported in this publication was supported by the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U19TW008163 to EWS. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health (https://www.fic.nih. gov/Pages/Default.aspx). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The authors thank Yu-Ping Xiao for excellent technical assistance.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 O’Connor et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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