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.

The ability of bacterial cells to hunker down as resilient biofilms is an important mechanism used to respond to stress. So is the ability to swim away from a nutrient-poor or stressful environment (for those bacteria lucky enough to be motile). Stay versus go: it’s a primal precursor to fight-or-flight decisions. But as single-celled organisms, bacteria don’t ‘decide’ to initiate biofilm formation versus motility machinery – so how do these cells determine which behavior to commence?

Drug-resistant infections are a problem. Does it even need to be said? International campaigns have done their best to raise awareness, but even if all of humanity agreed to be on their best behavior, it seems the best we might do is slow the inevitable spread of already-identified resistance genes. Microbes have several advantages against our cleverest attempts: they multiply rapidly, they share genes readily, and there are just a dang lot of them. Last month, a gene that confers drug-resistance against the polymyxin colistin, the latest drug of last resort, was found to be widespread in China. How to stem the spread of these resistant infections?

It goes without saying that both patients and their doctors want to treat infections as quickly and successfully as possible. Unfortunately, when it comes to traditional diagnostic methods, culturing a microorganism can take several days – time during which the microbes may be multiplying and the infection spreading. Slower-growing organisms, such as fungi, can take weeks to identify with culture methods. Acquiring the resistance profile of these organisms takes additional precious time, during which the patient caregivers must make their best guess at the infection source and susceptibility.

In the happy afterglow of Thanksgiving, many Americans will have leftovers for reheating and turning into sandwiches. Unfortunately, there might not be as much leftover turkey as in previous years because of the price increase this year. The cause of the recent jump in turkey price talk? Good, old-fashioned supply and demand – while the number of people eating turkey for Thanksgiving remained the same, the supply was decimated this year by avian influenza (although most reports now state that most consumer prices weren’t affected by this epidemic).

Tuesday, 24 November 2015 09:55

Finessing cocoa fermentation

Food microbiology, the most delicious of all microbiology fields, encompasses many subfields, one of which is fermentation processes. Lots of foodstuffs require microbial metabolic processing to change the chemical composition of food or drink – from fermenting ethanol in alcoholic beverages to lactic acid in cheese and yogurt, microbes contribute a good deal to the everyday foods we eat.

Friday, 20 November 2015 09:54

ICE-ing out antibiotic resistance

There’s no question antibiotic resistance is one of the major medical issues of our era. The numbers are stark: 23,000 deaths from drug-resistant infections in the United States alone each year (25,000 in the European Union). Hospitals spend billions more on patients who require 8 million days of extra care. These numbers, while striking, are less important than the experience many have had with patients, friends, or family members suffering with an infection not responding to treatment.

Earlier today, I wrote about biofilms and the negative consequences they can have on human health during infection. Much discussion of biofilms centers around the interaction of pathogenic microbes and their abilities to form during infection. However, as I alluded to in the introduction, biofilms are important in many nonmedical aspects of life – they contaminate cargo ships, food processing centers (including your kitchen), as well as occur naturally in many environmental settings.

Biofilms – the bane of dentists and cargo ships alike – are a form of surface-attached microbial growth that is especially hardy. The cellular community not only changes its genetic expression patterns to increase resiliency under harsh conditions such as chemical or immunological attack, but the extracellular matrix in which the microbes reside adds a layer of protection. Newly published research support that these two phenomena – the gene expression pattern changes and the physical encasement by the matrix – are related.

The relatively new field of extracellular vesicle study (see graph with increasing Pubmed search hits) has found these amazing objects to carry out many different functions for many different cell types. Extracellular vesicles are membrane-bound structures that are released away from cells into the environment. These vesicles carry signaling molecules, nutrient scavenging molecules, immune-modulating molecules – the list goes on and on. Every cell type examined produces vesicles, too: bacterial, protozoan, archaeal, and metazoan extracellular vesicles have been described with many different biological effects.

We discuss the problem of antibiotic resistance a lot on this blog. With increases in the number of infectious diseases that no longer respond to drugs that were once effective, this effort makes sense. However, some diseases have never responded well to antibiotic treatment in the first place. Mucormycosis, also called zygomycosis, is one of these diseases.