Tuesday, 22 March 2016 14:32

Communicating your science via social media

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ASM aims to promote and advance the microbial sciences in a myriad of ways. In addition to promoting scientific education and discoveries, we also hope to engage the public with the diverse world of microbes! Last year, we held our first Agar Art contest, to highlight the often-overlooked beauty of microbial growth. We were amazed at member participation, including both the number and quality of the art works! Every submission required a short explanation in lay language, which helped garner public interest in the beautiful microbial pictures.
What kinds of microbes do you associate with hot springs? Maybe microbial mats? Thermus aquaticus and the discovery of Taq polymerase? Archaea, previously (and erroneously) thought to be strict extremophiles? Viruses may not be the first microbial subtype that springs to mind (pun intended) but rest assured, where cells exist, so do viruses. A recent paper published in the Journal of Virology describes a newly discovered virus, originally characterized based its genome sequence.
Because of its safety, efficacy, and affordability, chloroquine remains the treatment of choice for all Plasmodium species, except in regions with chloroquine-resistant P. falciparum. Chloroquine-resistant protists are treated with combination therapy, which includes artemisinin-derived molecules in some cases. But one drug is easier to administer than two, and scientists working on chloroquine resistance have found a clever mechanism that may lead to a new, two-birds-with-one-stone malaria treatment.
Tuesday, 15 March 2016 12:12

Microbial Communication Over the Airwaves

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Jean-Paul Latgé originally wanted to know if he could test the breath of patients with Aspergillus infections for volatile compounds produced by the fungus. His group at the Pasteur Institute in Paris thought this might be a new way of diagnosing fungal culprits like Aspergillus fumigatus that often colonize the lungs of cystic fibrosis (CF) and immunocompromised patients.
This blog discusses food safety quite a bit because microbial contaminants in one part of the food chain can have a major impact on human health. Since the last post on Chipotle contamination, there’s been a major recall at Starbucks, Wonderful brand Pistachios, and another scare at a Chipotle restaurant.
Tuesday, 08 March 2016 12:02

Clostridium difficile in the domicile

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Fecal microbiota transplants (FMTs) have been used in recent years to treat patients with recurrent Clostridium difficile infection. The infection is recurrent because physicians are able to temporarily decrease symptoms by administering antibiotics. C. difficile is a difficult bacterium to fully eliminate, however, in part due the ability of this Gram-positive bacterium to form endospores, or spores: extremely resistant, metabolically-dormant cell types that can endure the harsh antibiotic treatment. Once the environment reverts to a friendlier one, the spores can germinate to become vegetative bacteria again. In many cases, these endospore-generated bacteria germinate in an environment where most bacterial residents…
Friday, 26 February 2016 11:56

Zika diagnostics in a nutshell

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The swiftness with which Zika and the Zika virus have gained notoriety is nearly unprecedented. The fear of a not-well-characterized disease, including transmission, symptoms, and infection sequelae, has lead to dire warnings and even the spread of misinformation. Scientists are moving as quickly as they can to secure funding and prevent further spread of this arbovirus.
We at mBiosphere know you are busy, reader! With various gels, analyses, programs, and classes to run, not to mention reports, abstracts, and grants to write, we know there are many demands made on our readers’ time (plus, dinner to plan, laundry to fold, the dog to walk...wait! Don't go! You have time to read this, I swear!). The smart folks at mSystems also recognize their readers’ full schedules, and thus they’ve initiated a new video introduction system in which authors themselves give a short summation of their recently published reports. The videos feature the authors providing a clear, condensed…
Many mBiosphere readers will have seen Contagion, the 2011 movie about a worldwide viral pandemic. In the movie, a deadly new virus spreads throughout the world, leaving those infected dead and those uninfected to deal with vast societal upheaval (as dangerous a consequence as disease itself). The movie is a fascinating look at the impact of emerging diseases on our relationships, society, and interactions, and the ending clip implies the origin of that pandemic:
If there is a problem built for a systems-based research approach, climate change – with its complex carbon and nitrogen cycles, numerous species involvement, and interaction of geographical zones – would be an excellent candidate. Concurrent with the launch of the systems-based microbial research journal, mSystemsTM, Editor-in-Chief Jack Gilbert has contributed an article to the most recent Cultures magazine on just this subject.
Friday, 12 February 2016 11:28

Catching Ebola virus in the act of fusion

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Since the first outbreak of Ebola virus in 1976, the frequency and scale of the deadly disease’s outbreaks have increased. The 2014-2015 outbreak in West Africa caused 11,000 deaths, precipitated panic at airports and emergency rooms worldwide, and renewed the urgency to find cures.
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…