Some of the most popular segments at conferences, such as Microbe 2016 coming up in in Jun, are those that give continuing medical education (CME) credit to participants. These CME credits are an important part of being an active medical professional: they keep participants current on best practices and inform practitioners about developing technologies.
In the 1960’s, the microbicide triclosan, was introduced in the United States, and soon after, human weight started to increase dramatically. For some time, researchers have wondered whether triclosan could have played a role in disrupting endocrine dysfunction and contributing to the obesity epidemic today.
Communication of experimental results via publishing is one of the most important steps of the scientific method; if you don’t share your results, how will knowledge within a field grow? A well-written article contextualizes the author’s data into a broader scientific landscape, which allows readers to develop questions based on the new data. Published articles are also a measure of a scientist’s contribution to their field, often used by search committees and in annual job reviews. As such, some authors suffer the temptation to cheat, as recently highlighted in a study of image duplication in biomedical research reports. Deliberately distorting…
This past fall, experts gathered at an American Academy of Microbiology Colloquium in Washington, D.C. to discuss an important topic relevant to many parts of society: the microbiology of built environments. A summary of the experts’ answers to important questions surrounding this topic is now available as an FAQ report.
Many components of our oral hygiene regimens are meant to keep cariogenic bacteria at bay: sodium fluoride in ACT interferes with electron transport and ATP synthesis, the essential oils in Listerine have antiseptic effects, and abrasives – small, insoluble particles in toothpaste – help remove plaque and calculus when you brush your teeth. Eliminating oral bacteria helps fight cavities, gingivitis, and periodontitis, but cavities (also called dental caries) aren’t caused by all oral microbes. The main culprit, Streptococcus mutans, causes caries by acidifying its environment, which demineralizes the enamel protecting our teeth.
In the year 2000, Kathleen Alexander, DVM, PhD, now a professor, at the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, was working as a government veterinarian in Botswana, when a sickly banded mongoose wandered onto the grounds where she worked. When the mammal died, she determined the animal was infected with a novel tuberculosis (TB) pathogen, Mycobacterium mungi.
This past weekend, I went to visit a friend and meet his twin toddler boys for the first time. Though both boys eagerly ran around the playground we visited, one was just slightly less active. “He has asthma,” his dad explained to me, “but his brother doesn’t.” Why would two boys with the same environment and genetics have different disease manifestations?
The microbial world (much larger than even originally imagined, as demonstrated in the new Tree of Life) contains an extremely wide array of biochemical reactions that various organisms use to acquire energy, release waste products, and detoxify the surrounding environment. These broad abilities allow microbes to grow in some of the harshest conditions known on Earth – from sulphuric springs to frozen tundra, there are few places that are truly sterile in this world.
Thursday, 28 April 2016 15:47

Assessing gram stain error rates

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The gram stain, also known as the Gram stain for Hans Christian Gram, is one of the first techniques budding microbiology students learn in their introductory lab courses. It’s even a good exercise for younger students (with proper supervision, of course), due to its simplicity and the colorful, beautifully stained cells that result from the procedure. The protocol is often taught in tandem with lessons on bacterial structure, since the differential staining helps determine whether an isolate is a gram-positive or gram-negative bacterium.
Tuesday, 26 April 2016 15:44

A Microbial Ocean Feast: Who Ate What?

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Single-celled organisms called bacterioplankton spend their lives drifting in open ocean, visible to the naked eye only en masse. But don't be fooled by their slight size: These minuscule critters play a hefty role in the carbon cycle. Heterotrophic microbes, by some estimates, process half of the organic carbon in the ocean fixed by phytoplankton and other autotrophs through photosynthesis.
One of the most dangerous places for an infection to occur is in the bloodstream. Septicemia, when microbes are present in the blood, not only allows bacteria access to other internal organs through the highway of our circulatory system, but also can cause a massive inflammatory response, leading to septic shock. Conditions that increase risk of bloodstream infections, such as invasive surgery or implantation of an indwelling device, are carefully monitored and are sometimes accompanied by prophylactic antimicrobial drugs to prevent this very serious condition.
Several papers published in Genome Announcements recently describe the sequences of new Zika virus isolates. Scientists have known the genomic sequence of at least one Zika virus isolate since 2007, but continue to publish newly isolated strains. What is the importance of these additional sequences?
Tuesday, 19 April 2016 15:16

Cities have Individual Microbial Signatures

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Greg Caporaso was sifting through blog posts on microbe.net, which covers the microbiology of built environments, when a study idea sparked for him and colleagues Jeff Siegel, Scott Kelley and Rob Knight.
Breast milk provides an inexpensive, nutrient-filled source of food for babies. Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the WHO recommend new mothers to exclusively breast feed their babies for the first six months of life, and continue up to two years (supplemented with other foods). Breast milk provides maternal antibodies, which protect the immature immune system. It has a balance of carbohydrate, protein, and fats that are hard to reproduce in formula. It provides digestive enzymes and hormones necessary in early life. And new research published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology suggests specific components of breast milk…
Like us, bacteria have their own microbial attackers, in the form of bacteria-specific viruses called bacteriophage, or phage. These phage come in a variety of flavors but can be broadly categorized into virulent, which immediately begin to replicate and lyse (burst) the infected cell quickly, and temperate, which incorporate the phage DNA into the bacterial genome. This non-replicative state, called lysogeny, allows the phage to be passed to daughter cells when the bacterium divides, but does not generate multiple progeny phage until activated. When activated, the lysogenic phage enter the lytic cycle, killing E. coli host cells as the phage…
Pneumonia remains a serious worldwide problem, especially among the young, elderly, and immunocompromised. Over 900,000 children die each year due to the disease, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common viral cause (Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae type b being the most common bacterial causes). Antibiotics and antivirals can help treat sick patients, but prevention remains the ideal route of protection. Scientists are hard at work generating vaccine candidates, and a promising lead in an RSV vaccine has recently been published in Clinical and Vaccine Immunology.
Is the way to treat heart disease through a person's stomach? According to a new study, the answer is yes. Researchers have found that a compound found in red wine, resveratrol, reduces the risk of heart disease by changing the gut microbiome.
Thursday, 31 March 2016 14:55

Using citizen science to engage students

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A long-standing innate curiosity can drive students to explore their world through observation, and may lead to a career in science for some people. But more commonly, students enjoy learning about science as elementary students and that interest wanes with time. There are many factors involved in keeping students engaged with learning, but participation in citizen science projects is a movement underway to introduce science as a dynamic, evolving field with many questions left to explore.
Fecal transplants are increasingly being used for refractory Clostridium difficile and other gastrointestinal disorders. While fecal donors are screened for various infectious diseases, it is unclear whether viruses can in fact be transmitted during fecal transplants. Now a new study shows that communities of viruses can be transferred during fecal transplants, but that the viruses that are transmitted are harmless to humans. The study was published this week in mBio, an online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.
Whether you’ve Google-searched “biofilm” to learn more yourself, taken courses covering the subject, or are deeply embedded in biofilm-related research, you’ve probably encountered a model similar to the one below, which represents biofilm maturation. In the current model, a biofilm begins with a planktonic cell attaching to a surface, which multiplies and develops into a three-dimensional structure that includes both cells and extracellular matrix. Eventually, the biofilm releases planktonic cells, which can seed new biofilms by attaching and reinitiating the cycle. This model has been helpful in understanding the developmental stages of biofilm formation.