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Tuesday, 28 July 2015 13:31

CF Microbes Survive with Little to No Oxygen

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On sabbatical four years ago, Dianne K. Newman, PhD, came up with an idea to apply geochemistry tools to infectious diseases. At that point Newman, a professor of biology and geobiology at the California Institute of Technology, already had been working in Pseudomonas biology for a decade, and her laboratory work suggested that some findings may be relevant in infectious diseases of the lungs, like cystic fibrosis (CF).
The doctor enters the patient’s room for the fourth visit in three days. Her immunosuppressed patient was transferred from a small local clinic to this large research facility to provide more intensive treatment. Despite this, the patient is deteriorating, and suffering from multiple infections. A culture has just come back from the microbiology lab, which shows the Klebsiella pneumoniae isolated from the patient is resistant to ertapenem, imipenem, and meropenem – the isolate is a carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). The drug susceptibility testing directs therapeutic decisions, but an important question remains: did the patient pick up this resistant strain in this…
Thursday, 23 July 2015 12:53

Signaling a stop to biofilm formation

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Many reports focus on bacterial growth in water (especially nutrient-rich waste water), but bacteria also grow well – if not better – on surfaces, where they can form a biofilm community. Biofilms are surface-dwelling microbes growing in a single- or multispecies mixture, encased in an extracellular matrix. Scientists study many characteristics of biofilms – nutrient and oxygen gradation, gene expression patterns, adherence capabilities – but important to healthcare systems is the resilience of biofilms. Biofilms are extremely resistant to antibiotic treatment, and thus a common problem of hospital-acquired infections.
While many people think of the flu (influenza) as just a pesky illness, it can be lethal. The 1918 Spanish flu killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people. To protect against the morbidity and mortality from seasonal flu, each year scientists develop a vaccine to protect against the specific influenza strains that are predicted to cause the most problems for that year. Since future pandemics or outbreaks cannot be predicted, it has not been possible to make a protective pre-pandemic vaccine with current vaccine strategies. Now researchers say they have developed a strategy that may lead to a practical…
It started around this time last year, in August 2014. Young children with respiratory distress were arriving in unusual numbers to Kansas City’s Childrens Mercy Hospital. Soon the Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago had a similar report. By mid-October, 691 people, mostly young children, were associated with the outbreak, which was diagnosed as Entervirus D-68 (EV-D68) infection. Recent data counts at least 1153 confirmed cases that have resulted in 14 deaths, with the total number of infected individuals unknown (since most people with colds don’t go to the doctor, let alone have their cold-causing microbe sequenced).
Clyde (Chip) Manuel and Dr. Lee Ann Jaykus are excited about their results. “I’m very proud of this story. It’s going to have pretty immediate benefits,” says Manuel, a senior graduate student in Dr. Jaykus’ lab at NC State. “This is a great example of applied research that has a basic science component,” says Jaykus. The results they are excited about are published in the August issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
Diet and environment are two of the biggest influences on gut microbiota. So maybe it’s only appropriate that gut microbiota researcher Patrick Schloss often uses food and gardening analogies to describe his research problem.
Friday, 08 July 2016 12:07

New drug shows promise in silencing HIV

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When asked what inspired her to test a derivative compound from a saltwater sponge against HIV replication, investigator Dr. Susana Valente laughed.
The changing weather reminds us that influenza season is around the corner, which means it’s nearly time to get your annual vaccine. This year’s vaccine is updated to protect against influenza A viruses H1N1 + H3N2 and influenza B virus Victoria lineage. These strains are included in vaccine production after intensive epidemiological work predicted these to be circulating strains for the year. But what if the circulating strains vary slightly from the vaccine strains? Even worse, what if the circulating subtype is one not contained in the vaccine at all?
Scott Hultgren is that rare biologist who has tracked the problem of uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC)—the bacteria responsible for the vast majority of urinary tract infections—from the atomic level to the clinic. In a quarter century of study, he and his collaborators have attacked the problem by crystallizing protein structures, analyzing binding pockets, mutating genes, tinkering with cell adhesion, and rigorously testing their ideas in a mouse model of urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Although hantaviruses cause significant human diseases worldwide, no specific antiviral treatments are available, in part because gaps in the understanding of how the viruses enter human cells have hampered the search for therapeutics. In Europe and Asia, hantavirus strains have caused hemorrhagic fever with kidney failure, while in the Americas the viruses have caused hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome, a severe, sometimes fatal respiratory disease.
This past weekend, the New York Times ran an article addressing the connection between the microbiome and mood. Evidence is increasing that resident microbes can affect host systems such as the immune system, the digestive system, and, more and more, the nervous system. However, the human microbiome is very complex, with over 1000 different species (and that’s just bacteria!). There are a number of hard-to-control variables when conducting human microbiome studies, such as diet and other potentially confounding factors. These can complicate drawing strong conclusions in human microbiome studies.
The war on invasive fungal infections has not been going well. Despite state-of-the art therapy, roughly 50% of individuals with invasive fungal infections will die. Now, a new study has identified a new therapeutic attack strategy and a new class of antifungal agents. The research demonstrates that compounds that target the synthesis of lipid glucosylceramide on the surface of fungal cells can kill fungal infections.
Monday, 08 June 2015 11:36

Can Statins Help Treat Ebola?

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When David Fedson, MD, read about Ebola patients last spring, he noted that some clinicians had found the disease to parallel sepsis: Both conditions involve severe dysfunction of endothelial cells lining blood vessels throughout the body; in both, this dysfunction causes major abnormalities in blood coagulation; and both diseases, if not managed, can lead to organ failure and eventually death.
Since May 2013, the U.S. swine industry has been hit hard by diarrhea outbreaks, which have caused significant economic losses including the recorded deaths of at least 8 million piglets. Although two different viruses -- porcine epidemic diarrhea coronavirus and delta coronavirus -- already have been isolated from affected swine, disease has been reported in 32 American states as well as Mexico, Peru, Dominican Republic, Canada, Columbia, Ecuador and Ukraine, with repeated outbreaks in previously affected herds. Despite strict, intensive biosecurity measures adopted by many farms to control the epidemics, disease has continued to spread.
After a long career studying how certain bacteria clean up environmental contamination through bioremediation, Terry Hazen wondered if some of the same bacteria present in the natural environment could also serve as in situ sensors of environmental damage.
Can bacteria that cause food-borne illness be used to fight cancer? Ongoing research suggests this is the case.
The malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum contains an organelle called an apicoplast. It’s akin to a chloroplast found in plants, but without the ability to photosynthesize.
Thursday, 26 March 2015 11:00

Cataloguing the microbiology of Merlot terroir

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Microbial ecologist Jack Gilbert says he’s not very scientific when it comes to sampling new wines: “I’m a bit slapdash.”
When infectious diseases specialist Michael David was in medical school at Yale in the 1990s, almost no one on the U.S. East Coast had community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections. In fact, he says, if patients presented with a skin infection, he and his colleagues would ask the patient if he or she had been in the hospital. If they hadn’t, “you would not treat them for a MRSA infection because it was almost impossible that they would get one.”