Hui Hoon Chua

Genome Institute of Singapore, Tumasik, Singapore

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Publications (10)64.93 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Burkholderia pseudomallei (Bp), the causative agent of melioidosis contains a large pathogen genome (7.2 Mb) with ∼2000 genes of putative or unknown function. Interactions with potential hosts and environmental factors may induce rapid adaptations in these Bp genes, which can be discerned through evolutionary analysis of multiple Bp genomes. Here, we show that several previously-uncharacterized Bp genes bearing genetic signatures of rapid adaptation (positive selection) can induce diverse cellular phenotypes when expressed in mammalian cells. Notably, several of these phenotypes are plausibly related to virulence, including multi-nuclear giant cell formation, apoptosis, and autophagy induction. Specifically, we show that BPSS0180, a Type VI cluster-associated gene, is capable of inducing autophagy in both phagocytic and non-phagocytic mammalian cells. Following infection of macrophage cells, a Bp mutant disrupted in BPSS0180 exhibited significantly decreased colocalization with LC3 and impaired intracellular survival; these phenotypes were rescued by introduction of an intact BPSS0180 gene. The results suggest that BPSS0180 may be a novel inducer of host cell autophagy that contributes to Bp intracellular growth. More generally, our study highlights the utility of applying evolutionary principles to microbial genomes to identify novel virulence genes.
    Journal of bacteriology 10/2013; · 3.94 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Burkholderia pseudomallei (Bp), the causative agent of the often-deadly infectious disease melioidosis, contains one of the largest prokaryotic genomes sequenced to date, at 7.2 Mb with two large circular chromosomes (1 and 2). To comprehensively delineate the Bp transcriptome, we integrated whole-genome tiling array expression data of Bp exposed to >80 diverse physical, chemical, and biological conditions. Our results provide direct experimental support for the strand-specific expression of 5,467 Sanger protein-coding genes, 1,041 operons, and 766 non-coding RNAs. A large proportion of these transcripts displayed condition-dependent expression, consistent with them playing functional roles. The two Bp chromosomes exhibited dramatically different transcriptional landscapes - Chr 1 genes were highly and constitutively expressed, while Chr 2 genes exhibited mosaic expression where distinct subsets were expressed in a strongly condition-dependent manner. We identified dozens of cis-regulatory motifs associated with specific condition-dependent expression programs, and used the condition compendium to elucidate key biological processes associated with two complex pathogen phenotypes - quorum sensing and in vivo infection. Our results demonstrate the utility of a Bp condition-compendium as a community resource for biological discovery. Moreover, the observation that significant portions of the Bp virulence machinery can be activated by specific in vitro cues provides insights into Bp's capacity as an "accidental pathogen", where genetic pathways used by the bacterium to survive in environmental niches may have also facilitated its ability to colonize human hosts.
    PLoS Genetics 09/2013; 9(9):e1003795. · 8.52 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Known mechanisms of resistance to β-lactam antibiotics include β-lactamase expression, altered drug target, decreased bacterial permeability, and increased drug efflux. Here, we describe a unique mechanism of β-lactam resistance in the biothreat organism Burkholderia pseudomallei (the cause of melioidosis), associated with treatment failure during prolonged ceftazidime therapy of natural infection. Detailed comparisons of the initial ceftazidime-susceptible infecting isolate and subsequent ceftazidime-resistant variants from six patients led us to identify a common, large-scale genomic loss involving a minimum of 49 genes in all six resistant strains. Mutational analysis of wild-type B. pseudomallei demonstrated that ceftazidime resistance was due to deletion of a gene encoding a penicillin-binding protein 3 (BPSS1219) present within the region of genomic loss. The clinical ceftazidime-resistant variants failed to grow using commonly used laboratory culture media, including commercial blood cultures, rendering the variants almost undetectable in the diagnostic laboratory. Melioidosis is notoriously difficult to cure and clinical treatment failure is common in patients treated with ceftazidime, the drug of first choice across most of Southeast Asia where the majority of cases are reported. The mechanism described here represents an explanation for ceftazidime treatment failure, and may be a frequent but undetected resistance event.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 10/2011; 108(41):17165-70. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Burkholderia thailandensis is a non-pathogenic environmental saprophyte closely related to Burkholderia pseudomallei, the causative agent of the often fatal animal and human disease melioidosis. To study B. thailandensis genomic variation, we profiled 50 isolates using a pan-genome microarray comprising genomic elements from 28 Burkholderia strains and species. Of 39 genomic regions variably present across the B. thailandensis strains, 13 regions corresponded to known genomic islands, while 26 regions were novel. Variant B. thailandensis isolates exhibited isolated acquisition of a capsular polysaccharide biosynthesis gene cluster (B. pseudomallei-like capsular polysaccharide) closely resembling a similar cluster in B. pseudomallei that is essential for virulence in mammals; presence of this cluster was confirmed by whole genome sequencing of a representative variant strain (B. thailandensis E555). Both whole-genome microarray and multi-locus sequence typing analysis revealed that the variant strains formed part of a phylogenetic subgroup distinct from the ancestral B. thailandensis population and were associated with atypical isolation sources when compared to the majority of previously described B. thailandensis strains. In functional assays, B. thailandensis E555 exhibited several B. pseudomallei-like phenotypes, including colony wrinkling, resistance to human complement binding, and intracellular macrophage survival. However, in murine infection assays, B. thailandensis E555 did not exhibit enhanced virulence relative to other B. thailandensis strains, suggesting that additional factors are required to successfully colonize and infect mammals. The discovery of such novel variant strains demonstrates how unbiased genomic surveys of non-pathogenic isolates can reveal insights into the development and emergence of new pathogenic species.
    Genome biology 01/2010; 11(8):R89. · 10.30 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Certain environmental microorganisms can cause severe human infections, even in the absence of an obvious requirement for transition through an animal host for replication ("accidental virulence"). To understand this process, we compared eleven isolate genomes of Burkholderia pseudomallei (Bp), a tropical soil microbe and causative agent of the human and animal disease melioidosis. We found evidence for the existence of several new genes in the Bp reference genome, identifying 282 novel genes supported by at least two independent lines of supporting evidence (mRNA transcripts, database homologs, and presence of ribosomal binding sites) and 81 novel genes supported by all three lines. Within the Bp core genome, 211 genes exhibited significant levels of positive selection (4.5%), distributed across many cellular pathways including carbohydrate and secondary metabolism. Functional experiments revealed that certain positively selected genes might enhance mammalian virulence by interacting with host cellular pathways or utilizing host nutrients. Evolutionary modifications improving Bp environmental fitness may thus have indirectly facilitated the ability of Bp to colonize and survive in mammalian hosts. These findings improve our understanding of the pathogenesis of melioidosis, and establish Bp as a model system for studying the genetics of accidental virulence.
    PLoS Pathogens 01/2010; 6(4):e1000845. · 8.14 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Natural isolates of Burkholderia pseudomallei (Bp), the causative agent of melioidosis, can exhibit significant ecological flexibility that is likely reflective of a dynamic genome. Using whole-genome Bp microarrays, we examined patterns of gene presence and absence across 94 South East Asian strains isolated from a variety of clinical, environmental, or animal sources. 86% of the Bp K96243 reference genome was common to all the strains representing the Bp "core genome", comprising genes largely involved in essential functions (eg amino acid metabolism, protein translation). In contrast, 14% of the K96243 genome was variably present across the isolates. This Bp accessory genome encompassed multiple genomic islands (GIs), paralogous genes, and insertions/deletions, including three distinct lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-related gene clusters. Strikingly, strains recovered from cases of human melioidosis clustered on a tree based on accessory gene content, and were significantly more likely to harbor certain GIs compared to animal and environmental isolates. Consistent with the inference that the GIs may contribute to pathogenesis, experimental mutation of BPSS2053, a GI gene, reduced microbial adherence to human epithelial cells. Our results suggest that the Bp accessory genome is likely to play an important role in microbial adaptation and virulence.
    PLoS Pathogens 11/2008; 4(10):e1000178. · 8.14 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Many microbial pathogens express specific virulence traits at distinct growth phases. To understand the molecular pathways linking bacterial growth to pathogenicity, we have characterized the growth transcriptome of Burkholderia pseudomallei, the causative agent of melioidosis. Using a fine-scale sampling approach, we found approximately 17% of all B. pseudomallei genes displaying regulated expression during growth in rich medium, occurring as broad waves of functionally coherent gene expression tightly associated with distinct growth phases and transition points. We observed regulation of virulence genes across all growth phases and identified serC as a potentially new virulence factor by virtue of its coexpression with other early-phase virulence genes. serC-disrupted B. pseudomallei strains were serine auxotrophs and in mouse infection assays exhibited a dramatic attenuation of virulence compared to wild-type B. pseudomallei. Immunization of mice with serC-disrupted B. pseudomallei also conferred protection against subsequent challenges with different wild-type B. pseudomallei strains. At a genomic level, early-phase genes were preferentially localized on chromosome 1, while stationary-phase genes were significantly biased towards chromosome 2. We detected a significant level of chromosomally clustered gene expression, allowing us to predict approximately 100 potential operons in the B. pseudomallei genome. We computationally and experimentally validated these operons by showing that genes in these regions are preferentially transcribed in the same 5'-->3' direction, possess significantly shorter intergenic lengths than the overall genome, and are expressed as a common mRNA transcript. The availability of this transcriptome map provides an important resource for understanding the transcriptional architecture of B. pseudomallei.
    Journal of Bacteriology 01/2007; 188(23):8178-88. · 3.19 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The Gram-negative bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei (Bp) is the causative agent of the human disease melioidosis. To understand the evolutionary mechanisms contributing to Bp virulence, we performed a comparative genomic analysis of Bp K96243 and B. thailandensis (Bt) E264, a closely related but avirulent relative. We found the Bp and Bt genomes to be broadly similar, comprising two highly syntenic chromosomes with comparable numbers of coding regions (CDs), protein family distributions, and horizontally acquired genomic islands, which we experimentally validated to be differentially present in multiple Bt isolates. By examining species-specific genomic regions, we derived molecular explanations for previously-known metabolic differences, discovered potentially new ones, and found that the acquisition of a capsular polysaccharide gene cluster in Bp, a key virulence component, is likely to have occurred non-randomly via replacement of an ancestral polysaccharide cluster. Virulence related genes, in particular members of the Type III secretion needle complex, were collectively more divergent between Bp and Bt compared to the rest of the genome, possibly contributing towards the ability of Bp to infect mammalian hosts. An analysis of pseudogenes between the two species revealed that protein inactivation events were significantly biased towards membrane-associated proteins in Bt and transcription factors in Bp. Our results suggest that a limited number of horizontal-acquisition events, coupled with the fine-scale functional modulation of existing proteins, are likely to be the major drivers underlying Bp virulence. The extensive genomic similarity between Bp and Bt suggests that, in some cases, Bt could be used as a possible model system for studying certain aspects of Bp behavior.
    BMC Microbiology 02/2006; 6:46. · 2.98 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The environmental saphrophyte Burkholderia pseudomallei is the causative agent of melioidosis, a systemic, potentially life-threatening condition endemic to many parts of south-east Asia and northern Australia. We have used the soil nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as a model host to characterize the mechanisms by which this bacterium mounts a successful infection. We find that C. elegans is susceptible to a broad range of Burkholderia species, and that the virulence mechanisms used by this pathogen to kill nematodes may be similar to those used to infect mammals. We also find that the specific dynamics of the C. elegans-B. pseudomallei host-pathogen interaction can be highly influenced by environmental factors, and that nematode killing results at least in part from the presence of a diffusible toxin. Finally, by screening for bacterial mutants attenuated in their ability to kill C. elegans, we genetically identify several new potential virulence factors in B. pseudomallei. The use of C. elegans as a model host should greatly facilitate future investigations into how B. pseudomallei can interact with host organisms.
    Molecular Microbiology 07/2002; 44(5):1185-97. · 4.96 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The environmental saphrophyte Burkholderia pseudomallei is the causative agent of melioidosis, a systemic, potentially life-threatening condition endemic to many parts of south-east Asia and northern Australia. We have used the soil nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as a model host to characterize the mechanisms by which this bacterium mounts a successful infection. We find that C. elegans is susceptible to a broad range of Burkholderia species, and that the virulence mechanisms used by this pathogen to kill nematodes may be similar to those used to infect mammals. We also find that the specific dynamics of the C. elegans–B. pseudomallei host–pathogen interaction can be highly influenced by environmental factors, and that nematode killing results at least in part from the presence of a diffusible toxin. Finally, by screening for bacterial mutants attenuated in their ability to kill C. elegans, we genetically identify several new potential virulence factors in B. pseudomallei. The use of C. elegans as a model host should greatly facilitate future investigations into how B. pseudomallei can interact with host organisms.
    Molecular Microbiology 05/2002; 44(5):1185 - 1197. · 4.96 Impact Factor