Genomic and epidemiological evidence of bacterial transmission from probiotic capsule to blood in ICU patients

Idan Yelin, Kelly B. Flett, Christina Merakou, Preeti Mehrotra, Jason Stam, Erik Snesrud, Mary Hinkle, Emil Lesho, Patrick McGann, Alexander J. McAdam, Thomas J. Sandora, Roy Kishony, Gregory P. Priebe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Probiotics are routinely administered to hospitalized patients for many potential indications1 but have been associated with adverse effects that may outweigh their potential benefits2–7. It is particularly alarming that probiotic strains can cause bacteremia8,9, yet direct evidence for an ancestral link between blood isolates and administered probiotics is lacking. Here we report a markedly higher risk of Lactobacillus bacteremia for intensive care unit (ICU) patients treated with probiotics compared to those not treated, and provide genomics data that support the idea of direct clonal transmission of probiotics to the bloodstream. Whole-genome-based phylogeny showed that Lactobacilli isolated from treated patients’ blood were phylogenetically inseparable from Lactobacilli isolated from the associated probiotic product. Indeed, the minute genetic diversity among the blood isolates mostly mirrored pre-existing genetic heterogeneity found in the probiotic product. Some blood isolates also contained de novo mutations, including a non-synonymous SNP conferring antibiotic resistance in one patient. Our findings support that probiotic strains can directly cause bacteremia and adaptively evolve within ICU patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1728-1732
Number of pages5
JournalNature Medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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