Tuesday, 23 August 2016 12:00

Onward toward a Zika vaccine

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On Monday, August 1, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that pregnant women not travel to Wynwood, a neighborhood north of downtown Miami, because health officials in Florida had found that mosquitoes there are actively transmitting Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that can cause birth defects. (It can also be spread through sexual contact.) The recommendation also included guidance on mosquito avoidance for pregnant women who live in the area, as well as people planning to conceive a baby.
One of the important tasks of Public Health England’s Mycology Reference Laboratory is to identify any newly emerging fungal pathogens that could become a public health risk. In recent months, the lab had tracked several clusters of Candida auris infections in British hospitals. The multidrug-resistant C. auris yeast, first described in 2009 after being isolated from external ear discharge of a patient in Japan, has caused bloodstream infections, wound infections and ear infections (including some fatal infections in hospitalized patients) in South Korea, India, South Africa and Kuwait, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The organism also…
Robots help sort patient samples, test clinical specimens, and analyze the results. Now a study shows that robots, in the form of drones, can help move our samples from place to place, with little effect on the analytical outcome.
Clostridium difficile is a dangerous bug. Infections with this bacterium can cause life-threatening diarrhea, and they are most likely to affect the elderly or people with health problems who spend a lot of time in hospitals (where C. difficile flourishes). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2011 alone, hundreds of thousands of people were infected and 29,000 died from C. difficile infections or CDIs.
How do you identify an unknown microbe? If you’ve taken an introductory microbiology lab course in the past twenty years, chances are you were assigned an unknown bacterium that you had to identify through differential media and biochemical assays. Newer techniques like qPCR are being standardized to identify human-associated fecal bacteria for water safety surveillance. But in the wake of the next-generation sequencing revolution, there is no substitute for whole-genome sequencing as a method to pinpoint the exact strain of an unknown microbial species. As NGS technology has advanced, sequencing costs have decreased and applications of the technology have broadened.
Though both gingivitis and periodontitis are diseases of the gums, the related ailments are not simply different severities of the same disease, finds a new study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Researchers confirmed this by investigating the bacterial composition of the supragingival plaque through high- throughput sequencing.
Tuesday, 09 August 2016 11:09

Demystifying Secondary Bacterial Pneumonia

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In some individuals, an influenza A virus infection can cause asymptomatic Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) to travel to the lungs where it can trigger severe, sometimes deadly, secondary pneumonia. S. aureus is one of the most common causes of secondary bacterial pneumonia in cases of seasonal influenza. Just how the influenza virus causes asymptomatic S. aureus infection to transition to invasive disease, however, has been unclear. A new mouse model designed by scientists at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York is helping scientists put together the pieces of this puzzle.
Recently, one of the Journal of Bacteriology Classic Spotlight series highlighted the numerous studies on bacterial spores that have been published in the journal throughout the years. Bacterial endospores, the resilient and relatively quiescent bacterial structures first identified in the 1800s, have had their genetic regulation, immunological properties, and biochemical makeup investigated for decades. The structures are incredibly resistant and produced by select members of the Gram-positive Firmicutes phylum. Despite many rigorous studies investigating these biological structures,new research published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology shows that there's always something new to learn in microbiology, including aspects that appear as straightforward…
Thursday, 28 July 2016 10:42

ASMCUE Happenings 2016

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No matter the niche field a scientist pursues, there is one aspect of almost all career paths that scientists have in common: teaching. Whether lecturing a quorum of undergraduates about bacterial genetics, mentoring a research fellow as they learn the lab protocols, or presenting an invited lecture to a group of established scientists, one must consider how to present information in an understandable and absorbable manner. The American Society for Microbiology Conference for Undergraduate Education (ASMCUE) is the annual forum for science educators to discuss learning objectives, active learning exercises, and the best applications for new technologies. This year’s meeting, held…
The Gram-positive bacterium Enterococcus faecium is a member of the ESKAPE pathogens for which drug resistance has been a growing problem. How E. faecium becomes drug resistant has been a long-standing question, and is the focus of a new study now available in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. A research team led by senior scientist Louis Rice has identified chromosomal regions where homologous recombination facilitates incorporation of genes conferring beta-lactam and vancomycin resistance.
Wednesday, 20 July 2016 10:31

Disarming a pathogen’s ability to cause disease

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The anaerobic, Gram-positive Clostridium difficile is a big problem. It causes rampant diarrhea and tissue necrosis, with more than 150,000 annual cases in the United States alone. Many of the disease manifestations of C. difficile are mediated by two exotoxins that C. difficile produces: TcdA and TcdB. Researchers have long been working at toxin inhibition as an approach to disarm C. difficile and improve treatment, and new research in Clinical and Vaccine Immunology shows promise in blocking toxin activity in vivo.
If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s likely a duck – so goes the saying that illustrates the simplest explanation is usually the right one. But what about duck decoys used in conjunction with bird calls? Misidentification can be a deadly error – and the same goes for microbes. Misdiagnosed infectious disease etiologies can be a very dangerous mistake for sick patients. Most clinical microbiology labs are able to use sophisticated biochemical and genetic tests to differentiate microbial species and strains, but newly emerging pathogens can be misidentified if they closely mimic another. That appears…
Thursday, 14 July 2016 10:22

Antibiotic stewardship - a community effort

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As we highlighted in a previous blog post, antibiotic stewardship – the careful use of appropriate antibiotic administration – can have positive effects. A small change from a difference in clinical lab reporting led to less drug use, which led to fewer drug-resistant infections. When we think of antibiotic stewardship, the onus is often thought to be on those that work in the clinic – the scientists who determine isolate susceptibility, or the clinicians who decide which antibiotic should be prescribed to a patient. These individuals certainly have an essential role to play in proper antimicrobial drug use in a…
There’s no way to avoid the news of a growing concern for drug-resistant infections. In both life-threatening and relatively superficial infections, the ability to successfully treat microbial infections with antimicrobials is decreasing. Our only recourse is to use the drugs we have carefully while researchers hunt for new drugs that must pass the stringent FDA guidelines before they can be used clinically. But here comes a bit of good news among all the doom-and-gloom: meticulous drug management programs can have a positive effect on drug-resistant infections.
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) has caused such a profound drop in honeybee populations that even the U.S. Congress is addressing the issue: Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) has proposed the Pollinator Recovery Act to preserve pollinator habitat. The rapid decline in these important pollinators affects the economy and agriculture of bee-deprived regions. Hive disappearances have been described by beekeepers before, but the large number of countries affected, and the duration of the phenomenon, have motivated scientists to concentrate on this apiary anomaly.
Wednesday, 06 July 2016 10:11

False impersonations in predatory publishing

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Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it can also be the easiest way to make a buck. That’s the primary motivation for camouflaging within an already-established brand: Sunbucks, McDowell’s, and Mountain Lightening all rely on brand recognition – of a brand that isn’t their own. While ASM Journals are by no means the only imitated journals, the well-established credibility of the journals published by ASM makes them an easy target for unscrupulous publishers.
Although the Gram-negative bacterium Vibrio cholerae (right) is normally associated with human pathogenic disease, most V. cholerae cells spend their lives in an aquatic environment, and only a few of the many serotypes are able to cause disease. When strains acquire the right genetic makeup – such as the cholera toxin and toxin coregulated pilus associated with pathogenesis - they can cause cholera outbreaks through contamination of human food and water sources. The pandemic O1/O139 serogroups are the best-known of this species, responsible for worldwide pandemic cholera outbreaks (including the recent outbreak in Haiti), but non-O1/O139 serogroups can cause smaller outbreaks…
As part of its Microbiology of the Built Environment initiative, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation started funding projects a few years ago that touched on the interaction of microbiology with architecture, buildings or, in the case of Curtis Huttenhower, PhD, an associate professor of computational biology and bioinformatics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, transit.
Microbiome research has revealed that there are good guy and bad guy bacteria living together in complex communities on our skin, in our mouths, throughout our guts and pretty much everywhere in between. But what do you call a good guy bacterium that is aiding and abetting a disease culprit?
Tuesday, 28 June 2016 10:00

Tracking How Bacteria Threaten Newborns

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For years, researchers have struggled to get a handle on Group B streptococcus (GBS), in the hopes of improving neonatal outcomes. GBS are a bacteria commonly found in the vagina, rectum, and urinary tract of women. In healthy women, the bacteria are commensal, simply living without causing disease; however, when a woman is pregnant, there is concern that GBS will travel to the uterus, where it can harm the fetus.