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.

This blog discusses food safety quite a bit because microbial contaminants in one part of the food chain can have a major impact on human health. Since the last post on Chipotle contamination, there’s been a major recall at Starbucks, Wonderful brand Pistachios, and another scare at a Chipotle restaurant.

Tuesday, 08 March 2016 12:02

Clostridium difficile in the domicile

Fecal microbiota transplants (FMTs) have been used in recent years to treat patients with recurrent Clostridium difficile infection. The infection is recurrent because physicians are able to temporarily decrease symptoms by administering antibiotics. C. difficile is a difficult bacterium to fully eliminate, however, in part due the ability of this Gram-positive bacterium to form endospores, or spores: extremely resistant, metabolically-dormant cell types that can endure the harsh antibiotic treatment. Once the environment reverts to a friendlier one, the spores can germinate to become vegetative bacteria again. In many cases, these endospore-generated bacteria germinate in an environment where most bacterial residents were eliminated through use of broad-spectrum antibiotics. Because many gut microbes don’t form endospore reservoirs, those that do (like C. difficile) can occupy a broader niche than they previously occupied if they germinate quickly in this drug-cleared niche.

Friday, 26 February 2016 11:56

Zika diagnostics in a nutshell

The swiftness with which Zika and the Zika virus have gained notoriety is nearly unprecedented. The fear of a not-well-characterized disease, including transmission, symptoms, and infection sequelae, has lead to dire warnings and even the spread of misinformation. Scientists are moving as quickly as they can to secure funding and prevent further spread of this arbovirus.

We at mBiosphere know you are busy, reader! With various gels, analyses, programs, and classes to run, not to mention reports, abstracts, and grants to write, we know there are many demands made on our readers’ time (plus, dinner to plan, laundry to fold, the dog to walk...wait! Don't go! You have time to read this, I swear!). The smart folks at mSystems also recognize their readers’ full schedules, and thus they’ve initiated a new video introduction system in which authors themselves give a short summation of their recently published reports. The videos feature the authors providing a clear, condensed explanation of why and how the research was performed.

Many mBiosphere readers will have seen Contagion, the 2011 movie about a worldwide viral pandemic. In the movie, a deadly new virus spreads throughout the world, leaving those infected dead and those uninfected to deal with vast societal upheaval (as dangerous a consequence as disease itself). The movie is a fascinating look at the impact of emerging diseases on our relationships, society, and interactions, and the ending clip implies the origin of that pandemic:

If there is a problem built for a systems-based research approach, climate change – with its complex carbon and nitrogen cycles, numerous species involvement, and interaction of geographical zones – would be an excellent candidate. Concurrent with the launch of the systems-based microbial research journal, mSystemsTM, Editor-in-Chief Jack Gilbert has contributed an article to the most recent Cultures magazine on just this subject.

The Biodefense and Emerging Diseases Research Meeting, held earlier this week, covered many bioterrorist threats that should be familiar to mBiosphere readers: plague, anthrax, influenza. However, not every biological threat is a mortal threat to humanity. Diseases can disrupt society if enough people become sick, even if the disease doesn’t kill them – imagine the disruption from even a tenth of a city’s population calling in sick: the missing police, teachers, transit workers, cashiers, and doctors would greatly affect the city’s infrastructure (fortunately, we bloggers would be safe). Infrastructure is a prime target for disrupting society.

It’s hard to turn on the news at the moment and not hear about the latest emerging disease, Zika. The flavivirus* joins a cadre of infectious diseases spread by arthropod vectors – meaning the disease is passed between infected individuals via insect bites. A long list of microbes are spread this way, representing viral, bacterial, and protozoan pathogens: West Nile virus, Borrelia burgdorferi, Plasmodium species, Chikagunya virus, Trypanasoma species, Rickettsia species, yellow fever virus – the list goes on and on.

Friday, 05 February 2016 11:16

E. coli, Salmonella, and Norovirus - oh my!

This upcoming Monday, Chipotle restaurants across the country will close as its employees discuss food safety and safe food handling. The restaurant was in the news throughout the last half of 2015, beginning with an outbreak of E. coli in Seattle (which was kept secret!), followed by another E. coli outbreak involving nine states, and a Salmonella outbreak centered in Minnesota. But the largest number of Chipotle customers were sickened by two outbreaks of norovirus, in California and in Boston, Massachusetts. Clearly, an informational workshop on best practices seems the least the restaurant can do to clean up its act.

News headlines highlighting an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease often leave readers shaking their heads. These diseases – measles, chickenpox, whooping cough – could have been prevented if only the infected children had been vaccinated. Right? Well, in the case of whooping cough, the situation is a bit more complicated.