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.

Breast milk provides an inexpensive, nutrient-filled source of food for babies. Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the WHO recommend new mothers to exclusively breast feed their babies for the first six months of life, and continue up to two years (supplemented with other foods). Breast milk provides maternal antibodies, which protect the immature immune system. It has a balance of carbohydrate, protein, and fats that are hard to reproduce in formula. It provides digestive enzymes and hormones necessary in early life. And new research published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology suggests specific components of breast milk help to shape the baby’s nascent gut microbiome as well.

Like us, bacteria have their own microbial attackers, in the form of bacteria-specific viruses called bacteriophage, or phage. These phage come in a variety of flavors but can be broadly categorized into virulent, which immediately begin to replicate and lyse (burst) the infected cell quickly, and temperate, which incorporate the phage DNA into the bacterial genome. This non-replicative state, called lysogeny, allows the phage to be passed to daughter cells when the bacterium divides, but does not generate multiple progeny phage until activated. When activated, the lysogenic phage enter the lytic cycle, killing E. coli host cells as the phage replicate; lysis of E. coli via any lytic phage can be visualized in the resulting plaque (or clearance) of the surrounding killed bacterial cells (see figure, left).

Pneumonia remains a serious worldwide problem, especially among the young, elderly, and immunocompromised. Over 900,000 children die each year due to the disease, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common viral cause (Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae type b being the most common bacterial causes). Antibiotics and antivirals can help treat sick patients, but prevention remains the ideal route of protection. Scientists are hard at work generating vaccine candidates, and a promising lead in an RSV vaccine has recently been published in Clinical and Vaccine Immunology.

Is the way to treat heart disease through a person's stomach? According to a new study, the answer is yes. Researchers have found that a compound found in red wine, resveratrol, reduces the risk of heart disease by changing the gut microbiome.

Thursday, 31 March 2016 14:55

Using citizen science to engage students

A long-standing innate curiosity can drive students to explore their world through observation, and may lead to a career in science for some people. But more commonly, students enjoy learning about science as elementary students and that interest wanes with time. There are many factors involved in keeping students engaged with learning, but participation in citizen science projects is a movement underway to introduce science as a dynamic, evolving field with many questions left to explore.

Whether you’ve Google-searched “biofilm” to learn more yourself, taken courses covering the subject, or are deeply embedded in biofilm-related research, you’ve probably encountered a model similar to the one below, which represents biofilm maturation. In the current model, a biofilm begins with a planktonic cell attaching to a surface, which multiplies and develops into a three-dimensional structure that includes both cells and extracellular matrix. Eventually, the biofilm releases planktonic cells, which can seed new biofilms by attaching and reinitiating the cycle. This model has been helpful in understanding the developmental stages of biofilm formation.

Thursday, 24 March 2016 14:34

Shiga toxin: no preassembly required

Making something requires connecting parts in a particular order. Baking: dry ingredients must be mixed before adding wet ingredients. Puzzles: much easier if the border is assembled first. Legos. Ikea products. Similarly, the order of biological interactions at the molecular level can determine whether a complex has the correct structure or activity for its function: translation is a simple example. If the small and large ribosomal subunits formed before interacting with an mRNA, there would be no message to scan for instructions on amino acid incorporation into proteins.

ASM aims to promote and advance the microbial sciences in a myriad of ways. In addition to promoting scientific education and discoveries, we also hope to engage the public with the diverse world of microbes! Last year, we held our first Agar Art contest, to highlight the often-overlooked beauty of microbial growth. We were amazed at member participation, including both the number and quality of the art works! Every submission required a short explanation in lay language, which helped garner public interest in the beautiful microbial pictures.

What kinds of microbes do you associate with hot springs? Maybe microbial mats? Thermus aquaticus and the discovery of Taq polymerase? Archaea, previously (and erroneously) thought to be strict extremophiles? Viruses may not be the first microbial subtype that springs to mind (pun intended) but rest assured, where cells exist, so do viruses. A recent paper published in the Journal of Virology describes a newly discovered virus, originally characterized based its genome sequence.

Because of its safety, efficacy, and affordability, chloroquine remains the treatment of choice for all Plasmodium species, except in regions with chloroquine-resistant P. falciparum. Chloroquine-resistant protists are treated with combination therapy, which includes artemisinin-derived molecules in some cases. But one drug is easier to administer than two, and scientists working on chloroquine resistance have found a clever mechanism that may lead to a new, two-birds-with-one-stone malaria treatment.