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The most alarming aspect of the Sudanese toombak smokeless tobacco is that it contains high levels of highly toxic tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs). Understanding the microbiology of toombak is of relevance because TSNAs are an indirect result of microbial-mediated nitrate reductions. We conducted shotgun metagenomic sequencing on a toombak product for which relevant features are presented here. The microbiota was composed of over 99% Bacteria. The most abundant taxa included Actinobacteria, specifically the genera Enteractinococcus and Corynebacterium, while Firmicutes were represented by the family Bacillaceae and the genus Staphylococcus. Selected gene targets were nitrate reduction and transport, antimicrobial resistance, and other genetic transference mechanisms. Canonical nitrate reduction and transport genes (i.e. nar) were found for Enteractinococcus and Corynebacterium while various species of Staphylococcus exhibited a notable number of antimicrobial resistance and genetic transference genes. The nitrate reduction activity of the microbiota in toombak is suspected to be a contributing factor to its high levels of TSNAs. Additionally, the presence of antimicrobial resistance and transference genes could contribute to deleterious effects on oral and gastrointestinal health of the end user. Overall, the high toxicity and increased incidences of cancer and oral disease of toombak users warrants further investigation into the microbiology of toombak. © 2021 Society for Applied Microbiology. This article has been contributed to by US Government employees and their work is in the public domain in the USA.


R E Tyx, A J Rivera, S B Stanfill, G S Zaatari, C H Watson. Shotgun metagenome sequencing of a Sudanese toombak snuff tobacco: genetic attributes of a high tobacco-specific nitrosamine containing smokeless tobacco product. Letters in applied microbiology. 2022 Mar;74(3):444-451

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PMID: 34862647

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