Julie Wolf

Julie Wolf

ASM Communications Social Media Specialist Julie Wolf spent her research career focused on medical mycology and infectious disease. Broadly interested in microbiology and scientific communication, she has taught at Long Island University and the community biolab Genspace and has written for the Scientista Foundation and Scholastic’s Science World magazine. Follow her on Twitter for more ASM and Microbiology highlights at @JulieMarieWolf.

Friday, 27 May 2016 16:30

Predicting UTI antibiotic resistance

By now, the news of a colistin-resistant E. coli isolate from a patient in the United States is widespread, with many major news sources covering the story. Most outlets highlighted the ease of future transfer of the plamid-borne mcr-1 gene between bacteria, the role of agricultural antibiotic use in generating resistant strains, and the looming antibiotic crisis once this gene spreads to carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae. This particular strain was identified as part of a routine screen for all extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL)-producing clinical isolates, and was found to harbor fifteen different resistance genes – but fortunately remained susceptible to carbapenem-class antibiotics, and so the patient, a 49-year-old woman, was successfully treated.

Thursday, 26 May 2016 16:26

A microbial mystery in the Namib desert

The Namib Desert is different than other deserts: it has an unusual geographic feature that differentiates it from most others. This desert (map, right) is where you can find ‘fairy circles,’ or circular areas absent of growth in an already plant-scarce environment. These deadened circles are surrounded by tall grass rings, a surprising sight in the arid land. This unexplained phenomenon has captured people’s imaginations, leading to mythological explanations for their origins. Scientists are also captivated by this geographic feature, and are working to discover what causes these unusual formations. A new study on the fairy circle microbial makeup, published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, adds another clue to the ongoing mystery.

Some of the most popular segments at conferences, such as Microbe 2016 coming up in in Jun, are those that give continuing medical education (CME) credit to participants. These CME credits are an important part of being an active medical professional: they keep participants current on best practices and inform practitioners about developing technologies.

This past fall, experts gathered at an American Academy of Microbiology Colloquium in Washington, D.C. to discuss an important topic relevant to many parts of society: the microbiology of built environments. A summary of the experts’ answers to important questions surrounding this topic is now available as an FAQ report.

Many components of our oral hygiene regimens are meant to keep cariogenic bacteria at bay: sodium fluoride in ACT interferes with electron transport and ATP synthesis, the essential oils in Listerine have antiseptic effects, and abrasives – small, insoluble particles in toothpaste – help remove plaque and calculus when you brush your teeth. Eliminating oral bacteria helps fight cavities, gingivitis, and periodontitis, but cavities (also called dental caries) aren’t caused by all oral microbes. The main culprit, Streptococcus mutans, causes caries by acidifying its environment, which demineralizes the enamel protecting our teeth.

This past weekend, I went to visit a friend and meet his twin toddler boys for the first time. Though both boys eagerly ran around the playground we visited, one was just slightly less active. “He has asthma,” his dad explained to me, “but his brother doesn’t.” Why would two boys with the same environment and genetics have different disease manifestations?

The microbial world (much larger than even originally imagined, as demonstrated in the new Tree of Life) contains an extremely wide array of biochemical reactions that various organisms use to acquire energy, release waste products, and detoxify the surrounding environment. These broad abilities allow microbes to grow in some of the harshest conditions known on Earth – from sulphuric springs to frozen tundra, there are few places that are truly sterile in this world.

Thursday, 28 April 2016 15:47

Assessing gram stain error rates

The gram stain, also known as the Gram stain for Hans Christian Gram, is one of the first techniques budding microbiology students learn in their introductory lab courses. It’s even a good exercise for younger students (with proper supervision, of course), due to its simplicity and the colorful, beautifully stained cells that result from the procedure. The protocol is often taught in tandem with lessons on bacterial structure, since the differential staining helps determine whether an isolate is a gram-positive or gram-negative bacterium.

One of the most dangerous places for an infection to occur is in the bloodstream. Septicemia, when microbes are present in the blood, not only allows bacteria access to other internal organs through the highway of our circulatory system, but also can cause a massive inflammatory response, leading to septic shock. Conditions that increase risk of bloodstream infections, such as invasive surgery or implantation of an indwelling device, are carefully monitored and are sometimes accompanied by prophylactic antimicrobial drugs to prevent this very serious condition.

Several papers published in Genome Announcements recently describe the sequences of new Zika virus isolates. Scientists have known the genomic sequence of at least one Zika virus isolate since 2007, but continue to publish newly isolated strains. What is the importance of these additional sequences?