Microbial Sciences

Explorations of the microbial sciences and a look at the many ways microbiology touches the world around us.
Articles are written by a volunteer team of ASM members.

Research on the human microbiome has captured the public imagination. Data showing that gut bacteria could be involved in protection against everything from malnutrition to obesity to anxiety and sleep disorders has led to the hope that perhaps the answers to what ails us have literally been inside us all along. With this hope, however, have come calls for caution and moderation from a number of researchers.
The Nobel Prize for Medicine this year went to Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi of the Tokyo Institute for Technology for his work on autophagy, the process of digesting unneeded or damaged cellular components. This process plays a role in many central cellular activities, with applications ranging from genetic to infectious diseases in microbes, plants, and animals. Dr. Ohsumi’s work to uncover the genes required for autophagy has relied on many model organisms, including the model microbe Saccharomyces cerevisiae. His work was published broadly, including in journals published by ASM. Some of these publications uncovered novel mechanisms or interactions. We spoke with…
Friday, 30 September 2016 02:39

Food for Thought: Microbes and Fermented Food

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We might not always think about them when we sit down to eat a meal, but microbes are responsible for many of our favorite foods.  Are you ready to try some homemade microbiology?    
It appears that an imbalance of microbes in the GI tract can adversely affect how the immune system functions. In fact, we are learning more and more how normal human development is dependent on the microbes that have coevolved with us
Written by Ada Hagan and Amber Gourley | Ever been dared to eat worms before? Would you consider it if they could help improve your autoimmune disease? Some researchers think that might be the case.
Monday, 12 September 2016 14:06

Frequently Asked Questions about Pneumonia

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Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi
Friday, 09 September 2016 15:50

Microbes Down on the Farm

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Just 20 years after the classic, well-reasoned argument addressing the question “What is a Pathogen?” by Stanley Falkow, we are now confronting a similarly persuasive case against the very word “pathogen”!   A thoughtful argument against “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” microbiomes has also been made.
Written by Lori R. Shapiro | Because of high genetic and physiological homogeneity that characterize modern industrial agro-ecosystems, microbial pathogens and insect pests have the evolutionary potential to quickly invade these populations. One pathosystem that offers insight into rapid evolution of microbes in agricultural systems is the phytopathogenic bacterium Erwinia tracheiphila, its plant hosts, and herbivorous insect vectors.
Friday, 26 August 2016 17:28

Age of the Microzoo

Written by Scott Chimileski and Julie Wolf | In 3500 BCE, Egyptian rulers built a menagerie of exotic creatures within the ancient capital of Hierakonpolis. Archaeologists have found 112 animal skeletons at this site: the first zoo on Earth. But from this earliest exhibition of the natural world through today’s most famous animal displays, zoos have featured only macroscopic organisms. By not including microbes, they’ve left out most life on the planet.
Textbooks are a ubiquitous feature of the academic world, but their reliable presence makes it easy to overlook how they come to be.  Find out what it took to create your favorite scientific text and how you can add to the literary world of the microbial sciences.
Thursday, 11 August 2016 18:58

Exploring the human virome

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What do we know about how viruses affect human microbiomes? Not a lot. Meet a researcher trying to change that.
Saturday, 06 August 2016 18:21

Hey Bear! Can I Sample Your Microbiota?

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Have you ever been in a stressful situation and distracted yourself by deliberately thinking of something else? How about recalling recent research on the grizzly bear microbiome, while a wild mother grizzly bear with her cub is a few hundred feet away? This story of lumbering apex predators and their microbes takes place in Glacier National Park in Montana. It’s the last in the series celebrating the microbiology of our National Parks! 
Have you ever gone to the beach, ready for a day of sun and sand, only to find a warning sign? One of the most common reasons beaches close is due to the presence of coliform bacteria. These indicator bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, are used as markers for fecal waste, since their presence can suggest the presence of other, more pathogenic species, such as Shigella or Salmonella. E. coli is used as an indicator species because the lower infectious dose of these other pathogens means that they are harder to detect. E. coli is present in much higher numbers,…
Can fossilized microbial communities in Capitol Reef National Park help us to imagine what the Southwest United States looked like 200 million years ago?
Friday, 08 July 2016 13:21

Surf's Up!

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Microscopic surfers! Surf diatoms bring an element of whimsy along with ecosystem productivity to some of your favorite summertime locales. But not to worry, there’s room for everyone.
We can’t go back in time to see life on Earth two billion years ago. We can’t go to other planets to see life there either. But we can get a real sense of what ancient and alien life might be like, right here within the microbial communities of Yellowstone National Park. #NPS100
Friday, 24 June 2016 13:04

Bacteriophage: A Drop in the Carbon Ocean

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One researcher is investigating the microbiology of climate change. What do some of the smallest organisms on Earth have to do with one of the largest problems that humans face?
Wednesday, 22 June 2016 22:16

Dispatches from ASM Microbe: Monday and wrap up

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After absorbing research on manipulation of the human microbiome, the impact of waterway and agricultural microbiomes, antibiotic resistance spread and the potential of stewardship guard against it, and potential antimicrobial therapies of the future, we have yet to cover an important research theme seen in many sessions at Microbe: emerging infectious disease. Many (though not all) of the microbes that present challenges in antimicrobial treatment are microbial species that have caused disease for generations. The other end of the spectrum involves microbes that are new or changing, and therefore effective therapies aren’t yet available. These will be covered as part…
Sunday, 19 June 2016 00:07

Dispatches from ASM Microbe: Sunday

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We’ve had a whirlwind of amazing talks, poster sessions, and networking sessions so far at ASM Microbe 2016. In our previous two Dispatches from ASM Microbe, we’ve covered microbiomes, for which research ranges from extremely basic (Which microbes are present? How do we quantify them?) to clinical applications (What microbiome characteristics are associated with health? How do we engineer a particular microbiome function?). Similarly, today’s focus on antimicrobial resistance has both extremely basic and widely applicable research arms represented at ASM Microbe.  
Saturday, 18 June 2016 00:51

Dispatches from ASM Microbe: Saturday

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Welcome back to Dispatches from ASM Microbe! Today we’ll continue Microbe 2016 highlights of the microbiome, focusing on the non-human microbiome research being presented during the conference.   As mentioned Friday, commencement of the National Microbiome Initiative was met with great excitement by ASM. We are not only excited to delve deeper into the role of the human microbiome on health impacts, but also to learn more about the numerous microbial communities that exist apart from people. Some of these microbiomes impact us through interaction with our urban environments or agriculture, while others may appear to impact us less directly but…
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