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.
Tuesday, 09 February 2016 11:17

Changing the mindset of a pathogen-based vaccine

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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!

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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.
Near Kisameet Bay on the central coast of British Columbia sits a deposit of clay that covers 5 acres and spans a depth up to 42 feet in places. This vast smear formed 10,000 years ago as glacial melt filled a granite basin and fine minerals silted out.
The previous post mentioned the onset of antibiotic resistance as one of the scarier, if less sensationalist, outbreaks of our time. We generally discuss antibiotic resistance in medically relevant microbes (on this blog and in the news), where resistance means the ability of disease-causing microbes to grow in the presence of a drug that previously prevented, or at least slowed microbial reproduction.
Wednesday, 20 January 2016 11:04

Whole-genome sequencing can help ID hospital outbreaks

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Drug-resistant infections are becoming one of the scariest epidemics since the advent of antibiotic discovery. Although microbes like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococci*, and multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa are responsible for 23,000 deaths in the US alone, they don’t garner the headlines of a disease like Ebola, which although clearly a devastating outbreak in Africa, affected far fewer people within North America.
Imagine taking an ocean-side vacation, with the sun, sand, and water lulling you to relaxed bliss. After day at the beach, you experience an intense bout of stomach cramps and – more delicately put – GI distress. A rare day off is ruined because of a bug you picked up. Next, imagine a situation where a task as innocuous as drinking tap water sends you running to the nearest bathroom. Even worse, imagine a situation where an entire town experiences simultaneous diarrhea from contaminated tap water.
Tuesday, 12 January 2016 10:50

New promise for treatment of enterovirus infections

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Feeling a bit under the weather? There’s a decent chance you’re suffering from an infection with an enterovirus. Enteroviruses are a commonly encountered virus, especially in the summer and fall. They can cause a variety of symptoms, from cold-like symptoms such as runny nose or fever to more serious sequelae such as meningitis or encephalitis. In 2014, an outbreak of enterovirus D68 correlated with nearly 100 cases of acute flaccid paralysis, though no specific cause has been identified (and there are additional viruses also under investigation). Most people infected with enteroviruses experience only mild, if any, disease, but those who…
As we’ve seen in numerous cases in 2015, food contamination is a real issue for a number of different food types. Vegetable, meat, packaged, fresh – even pet food – we’ve seen too many examples of how bacteria can outsmart our best food safety practices. The Canadian government estimates 1 of every 8 Canadians experiences food-borne illness each year, leading to 11,600 hospitalizations and 238 deaths. As we’ve often discussed on this blog, a common culprit for food contamination is Listeria monocytogenes, in part because of Listeria’s ability to grow in food storage conditions.
Monday, 04 January 2016 10:48

Cyclic-di-GMP takes center stage

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How does a single-celled organism ‘know’ how to respond to its environmental conditions? Understanding microbial cell signaling is one way to determine how bacteria will react in a particular setting. In the past decade, researchers have revealed a significant role for cyclic-di-GMP in bacterial signaling – so much so that the Journal of Bacteriology has devoted its first issue of the year to summarizing a recent conference on cyclic-di-GMP discoveries.
Tuesday, 29 December 2015 10:34

Looking back at 15 top stories from 2015

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In June 2015, mBioblog became mBiosphere, expanding its scope to all of the research journals published by the American Society of Microbiology. To commemorate the end of the year, we’d like to highlight our most popular stories since the switch. The below stories are fifteen of the top stories from 2015 (post-mBiosphere) – how many do you remember?
Regular readers will know that infectious disease issues often land the top billing in microbial news. However, most of our microbial interactions do not negatively impact our health – in fact, some interactions even lead to health improvements. The microbes that lead to these beneficial interactions are called probiotics. These probiotic microbes can be found in many niches of the body, but are most commonly studied with respect the gut microbiome. There, probiotic effects can range from stimulating or regulating the immune system, to promoting healthy division of mammalian cells, to stimulation of nutrient absorption and digestion. Some of the best-studied…
Monday, 14 December 2015 10:31

Albumin enhances antifungal drug activity

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How do we know the effective dose of antibiotics? Despite considering factors such as infection site, body weight, and age, there is a bit of unknown with each administration, since each individual reacts differently through the complexity of so many interacting variables. Additionally, each infection site is unique, with various oxygen levels, antimicrobial peptide production, and immune cell infiltrate affecting the host-microbe interactions. Finally, factors unique to each drug must be considered, including half-life, toxicity, and specificity.
Thursday, 10 December 2015 10:13

Should I stay or should I go: Pseudomonas edition

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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?
Monday, 07 December 2015 10:12

Advances in antimicrobial peptide applications

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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…
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

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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

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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.