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.

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…
Friday, 17 June 2016 00:25

Dispatches from ASM Microbe: Friday

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ASM Microbe is the new conference that merges the former General Meeting with the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC) to make one microbial sciences-packed meeting with something for everyone. Why institute one new meeting instead of maintaining two separate ones? Says David Hooper, Chair of the ASM Meetings Board, “This inaugural ASM Microbe meeting will, for the first time, integrate the full spectrum of the microbial sciences from basic science to translational and clinical applications, highlighting the broad transdisciplinary nature of microbiology and offering the newest information in the field.”  
Perhaps you’ve seen labels in the meat aisle declaring “No Antibiotics!” With the looming antibiotic resistance crisis, and the unsavory idea of antibiotic residue in our meat products, these antibiotic-free meats are certainly tempting options. Consumers have spoken—Americans and Europeans no longer want drugs going into their meat. However, as I learned after attending the Antibiotics in Food: Can Less Do More? conference, getting rid of all antibiotics in our livestock-rearing systems isn’t quite as easy—or humane—as I had originally thought.
On May 27, 2016 at the Rollins Chapel on the campus of Dartmouth College, nestled into the idyllic Upper Valley of New Hampshire, a large and diverse group of friends and family came together to remember Ronald K. Taylor, who had passed away suddenly a few weeks earlier. At the service, Ron’s Dartmouth colleague and friend George O’Toole asked the simple, profound question:  “How does one put into words what Ron meant?”.
Thursday, 26 May 2016 14:50

Bacteriophage Therapies: Where Are They Now?

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We've studied phages for almost a century, but what progress has been made towards phage therapies? Researchers are developing some surprising ways to exploit phage in the clinic. One method, phage display, has both anthrax and cocaine addiction in common.
It is striking how many ways there are to move virulence genes between bacteria. However, the bacteria that inhabit and infect us are not entirely themselves. They contain alien genes from multiple species, strains, and the bacteriophages that infect them.
Just as humans have a complex relationship with microorganisms, some make us sick while others aid our health, plants too coexist with a mixture of mostly helpful but sometimes harmful microbes. While geosmin may overwhelm our noses, plants are able to detect a number of compounds produced by their neighboring microorganisms.
Thursday, 05 May 2016 18:21

Mystery of the Spring-Smelling Microbes

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There is an incubator on the top floor of the Harvard Institutes of Medicine building where I work that continuously smells like dirt. And I am not complaining. It’s that refreshing aroma of garden soil, spring rain and deep forest. Everyone in the department can smell it, even halfway down the hall. But why would a medical school smell like the forest? What mysterious molecules float between the walls here and where are they coming from? Not to mention, why do they smell so good, compared with, let’s be honest, the pungent array of odors from the microbial world?
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