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'Fuzzy' Bacterial Boundaries

A paper published in Nature last year suggested that human gut bacterial communities fall into three distinct enterotypes, and that each enterotype is characterized by high levels of a single microbial genus — Bacteroides, Prevotella, or Ruminococcus — says Ed Yong at Nature News. But at the International Human Microbiome Congress in Paris this week, some researchers are saying those enterotypic boundaries may be "fuzzier" than previously suggested, he says. A new study, as yet unpublished, "shows that a genus of archaea called Methanobrevibacter joins Ruminococcus as a defining microbe in the third enterotype," Yong adds. "And the separation between this cluster and the Bacteroides-led enterotype is no longer as clear, although these two groups remain distinct from the Prevotella-driven one." University of Colorado at Boulder computational biologist Dan Knights told conference attendees that discrete enterotypes may not exist at all.

Other researchers disagreed. "This disagreement matters because enterotypes might eventually affect how we weigh a person’s risk of disease, or their response to different drugs," Yong says. "The issue will only be resolved with larger studies that include more populations, such as South Americans and Africans."

The Scan

Not as High as Hoped

The Associated Press says initial results from a trial of CureVac's SARS-CoV-2 vaccine suggests low effectiveness in preventing COVID-19.

Finding Freshwater DNA

A new research project plans to use eDNA sampling to analyze freshwater rivers across the world, the Guardian reports.

Rise in Payments

Kaiser Health News investigates the rise of payments made by medical device companies to surgeons that could be in violation of anti-kickback laws.

Nature Papers Present Ginkgo Biloba Genome Assembly, Collection of Polygenic Indexes, More

In Nature this week: a nearly complete Ginkgo biloba genome assembly, polygenic indexes for dozens of phenotypes, and more.