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.

Microbes may be single-celled life forms, but they can also work socially, as plenty of research has shown. Social behaviors may involve formation of a reproductive body, forming complex communities, or even altruistic behavior for the sake of the larger population. One of the first observations of social microbial interaction was in the now-famous quorum sensing of Aliivibrio fischeri, in which a bacterial population that has replicated to a certain density will change its gene expression pattern, and thus its behavior – in this case, turning on bioluminescence pathways that allow the colony to glow.

Friday, 11 September 2015 15:03

That'll do, (MRSA-covered) pig

One of the most pressing scientific problems of our era is antibiotic resistance. After the golden era of antibiotic discovery, liberal use of these drugs in numerous settings has led to regular appearance of antibiotic-resistant outbreaks and 23,000 deaths in the US each year. The situation has become so dire that the President issued an Executive Order today, setting up a task force to revisit regulations of hospital, food, and farm use, calling for standardized practices across hospital settings.

The bacterium that causes cholera, Vibrio cholerae, can grow both aquatically and in a human host. To survive, the bacterium must be able to live in very distinct conditions: imagine how different the temperature, available nutrients, and neighboring microbes are between these two niches. To adapt, V. cholerae must turn on and off the genes appropriate for its current environment. How does the bacterial cell know what its current environment is and which genes it needs?

Wednesday, 26 August 2015 14:56

The anti-HIV properties of breast milk

One of the most successful battles in the war on HIV has been stemming mother-to-child transmission of the virus. By treating expectant mothers with antiretrovirals that limit the virus numbers in the blood, HIV-infected women are able to have healthy, uninfected babies. However, babies are still susceptible to HIV virions that can be found in breastmilk, and breastfeeding is not recommended for new mothers in the U.S. Since these recommendations were made in the 1990s, infections passed to newborns right after birth have decreased 90% in the U.S.

We’re approaching the end of summer, and many mBiosphere readers may want to take advantage of the hot weather to go hiking and camping before the chill of autumn sets in. But be prepared – in certain parts of North America, hikers are advised to wear protective clothing to help avoid tick bites, which may carry the causative agent of Lyme Disease, Borrelia burgdorferi. Where did this bacterium come from and why does it infect humans? In Applied and Environmental Microbiology this week, a new review by Dr. Nicholas Ogden et. al. covers the evolutionary and geographical history of Lyme Disease in North America.

Streptococcus species are a natural part of the microflora: its ability to survive under a variety of conditions allow it to colonize several niches on the human body. Some of these species live as mostly harmless commensals, while some of these are potential pathogens that can cause disease under the right circumstances. Group B Streptococcus (GBS), or Streptococcus agalactiae, falls under both categories, as healthy adults rarely present GBS disease symptoms, but those with immunocompromised immune systems – especially the very young and the elderly – can be susceptible to invasive disease.

Should infectious disease researchers be allowed to generate lab strains that are more pathogenic than naturally occurring microbes?

Lignocellulosic plant biomass is one of the most available and renewable materials on earth. It serves as a potent source of energy, being comprised of several polysaccharide sugars crosslinked to lignin. Sugars fermented into bioethanol can be used as a fuel source or additive.  But removing the polysaccharides and breaking them down into smaller sugar subunits requires heat, chemical, and enzymatic treatment, and is energetically and financially expensive.  Research on a wide variety of lignocellulose-degrading microbes, from archaea to bacteria to fungi, is therefore focused on finding a more efficient way to degrade these materials.

Friday, 14 August 2015 13:50

A role for histidine in influenza HA

HA is a glycoprotein found in the viral envelope of influenza A virus as a trimer (see schematic at left). HA is required for the first step of the viral life cycle: attachment of the virus to its new host cell. After HA binds its sialic acid receptor, the host takes up the virus via endocytosis. As the endosome becomes acidic, HA changes shape to insert into the lipid membrane, fusing viral and endosomal membranes to release viral genomic contents into the cytoplasm (see schematic below). Because HA is so important for these steps in viral replications, understanding how it functions is important to understanding influenza biology.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015 13:41

Special (drug) delivery

Targeted drug delivery is the ultimate goal: imagine fewer side effects, more selective killing, and lower drug concentration needed to reach a desired effect. Toward that end, microbes are well ahead of us (as usual), having developed several targeted delivery systems.