A roadmap from unknowns to knowns: Advancing our understanding of the microbiomes of commercially available tobacco products
Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2021 Mar 11. doi: 10.1007/s00253-021-11183-4. Online ahead of print.
Tobacco smoking is still the leading cause of preventable diseases and death in the USA and throughout the globe. Under Section 904(a)(3) of the US Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, tobacco manufacturing companies need to report on quantities of harmful and potentially harmful constituents (HPHCs) in all tobacco products. While the extensive HPHC list of 2012 includes 93 chemicals, which are categorized as carcinogenic, respiratory, cardiovascular, or reproductive toxicants or addictive compounds, it fails to include microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) that have been shown to contribute to adverse health outcomes among tobacco users. Nevertheless, over the last 50 years, researchers have studied microorganisms in a variety of tobacco products using both culture-based and culture-independent techniques. In this mini-review, we provide an overview of this body of research, detailing the bacterial and fungal microbiomes residing in commercial tobacco products. Overall, studies have characterized over 89 unique bacterial genera and 19 fungal genera in cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, hookah, and smokeless tobacco. The most predominant bacterial genera are Bacillus, Pseudomonas, and Staphylococcus. Fungal genera identified have included Aspergillus, Penicillium, Mucor, Alternaria, Cladosporium, Streptomyces, and Candida, to name a few. While some of the identified microorganisms are known human pathogens, others are potential opportunistic pathogens. Given the vast array of microorganisms that are present across diverse types of tobacco products, future research should be focused on the viability of these microorganisms, as well as their ability to transfer to the user’s respiratory tract, potentially contributing to adverse health outcomes. KEY POINTS: • Commercial tobacco products harbor diverse bacterial and fungal communities. • Some of these microorganisms are known or opportunistic human pathogens. • Research on their viability and transmission to users’ respiratory tracts is needed.