mBiosphere

If you work in microbiology, you know the statistics: as many as 99% of bacterial species have yet to succumb to science’s best efforts to cultivate them. Even many of the bacteria we harbor within our bodies resist growing in culture, and if they can’t be grown in the laboratory we have limited opportunities to figure out what they do for us (or what they do to us). In mBio this week, a new approach to cultivating these reluctant microbes reads the metatranscriptome – the RNA a community of bacteria makes as a blueprint for making their proteins – for…
Without the benefit of sex to help them ensure their genetic legacy, bacteria employ horizontal Untitled-3 gene transfer to move genes from one cell to another. One way to get this done between cells in contact with one another is using integrative and conjugative elements (ICEs), DNA segments that normally reside within the host genome but are excised and form a circle before moving on to a recipient cell. Because they can move genes quickly within a community, ICEs contribute to the spread of genes involved in pathogenesis, symbiosis, metabolism, and antibiotic resistance.
Of the many things that have been said about gonorrhea, here’s one thing no one ever guessed: gonorrhea is a little bit human. A study published in mBio today reveals that the genomes of some strains of Neisseria gonorrhoeae carry a piece of the human long interspersed nuclear element (LINE) L1.
Wednesday, 02 February 2011 15:18

Metabolite bait-and-switch to fight tuberculosis

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There is a public health crisis brewing in medicine: in short, there are too many bad bugs and not Schematic enough drugs. Many pathogens have evolved resistance to our most potent antibiotics, and as of 2009, only fifteen antibacterial agents were under development, most of which are only in the early stages of the process. Think about that: of all the bacterial and fungal diseases out there, some of which have evolved resistance to even our second-line drugs, there are only 15 new drugs in the pipeline to treat them. Tuberculosis is particularly alarming when it comes to antibiotic resistance,…
Can you create an extremophile? The microbes living and thriving at the fringes of the biosphere manage to get by in spite of extreme temperatures, radiation levels, and pressures (did I miss any?) that most other life forms would choke on. But how easy would it be for an organism that prospers in the warm embrace of our digestive tract to make a change in lifestyle and become an extremophile? Pretty easy, as it turns out.
Reduce, reuse, recycle? Candida albicans is a reuser. No, it doesn’t use its old grocery bags over and over – it puts one set of proteins to work in two different jobs.
Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium is one of the major pathogens responsible for food poisoning in this country, and it has a thing for hydrogen gas. In mice, when you take away the proteins that allow S. Typhimurium to respire H2, the bacterium loses all virulence and no longer causes the gastrointestinal problems it is so well known for. But why is hydrogen so important?
A study published in mBio this week reveals a novel system for turning plant materials into biofuels using a designer cellulosome, an enzyme complex that is like the fantasy football team of biological processes.
Many urinary tract infections (UTIs) can be cleared up with a big bottle of cranberry juice, but when these infections go bad, they can be really, really bad. Uropathogenic E. coli is the leading cause of uncomplicated UTIs, and if left untreated it can proceed right up the urinary tract to the kidneys and sometimes even into the bloodstream. Although the results are usually devastating for patients, the specifics of what E. coli does once it reaches the bloodstream are mostly unknown.
Humans have been getting microbes to do our bidding for millennia by taking their inherent processes (or engineered new processes) and applying them to making foods, drinks, drugs, biofuels, and other products. In most approaches, we feed them the right ingredients and wait for the good stuff to come out the other side. A study appearing in the latest issue of mBio reveals an electrifying new way to get what we want from bacteria: researchers manipulated bacterial metabolism by pulling excess electrons out of the mix and into an electrode.
Mutually-beneficial cooperation is a high ideal, but for bacteria and archaea, working together isn’t always a good solution. Now a team at Pennsylvania State University has worked out a system that could work better than inter-domain cooperation: by putting genes from a bacterium into an archaeon, they got the archaeon to do all the work on its own. The study appears in the latest issue of mBio. Mutually-beneficial cooperation is a high ideal, but for bacteria and archaea, working together isn’t always a good solution. Now a team at Pennsylvania State University has worked out a system that could work…
Pseudomonas aeruginosa is one tough nut to crack, but a new paper coming out in mBio sheds some light on how that cracking might be done, and adds to our knowledge of an opportunistic pathogen that strikes in homes and hospital wards every day.
Wednesday, 13 October 2010 13:37

The Catch of the Day: Bacterial Lobster Traps

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It’s the kind of microbiology that would make Steve Irwin proud: tracking and trapping the wild Pseudomonas aeruginosa to study its habits. In mBio’s latest paper, the authors describe using “bacterial lobster traps”, picoliter-scale, permeable protein cages, to study quorum-sensing among small groups of cells.
Could an immune reaction to a virus cause autism? We still don’t know the answer to that question, but a new study shows that, in mice, infecting a pregnant mother with an artificial virus can spark a chain of events that leads to autism-like disorders in her offspring.
The influenza virus behind the global pandemic of 2009, often referred to as “swine flu”, faces two probable fates: it will either continue to cause low or moderate mortality or it will go extinct. That’s the judgement of the authors of a new Perspectives piece in mBio, which points out that the impact of the virus this flu season will depend largely on the degree of immunity in the population, and since the virus was quick to spread last year and H1N1 vaccines have been effective, population immunity is high.
Every choice has its trade-offs. That second slice of pizza might taste good, for example, but it does pack a lot of calories. The low road is easier than the high road, but it’s also longer. Generic brands are cheaper, but they may not be as high quality as name-brand goods. And so on.
A family tree can be very illuminating, but there can be some surprises in those branches, too. A recent mBio paper delves into the ancestry of Streptococcus agalactiae, a.k.a. Group B Strep (GBS), one of the more recent additions to the lineup of human pathogens, and uncovers some unexpected facts about the bacterium’s family history.
Searching for novel viruses in environmental samples is a lot like searching for a needle in a haystack, but harder. After all, with hay, you can pick up a straw, look it over, and quickly make the judgement (piece of hay or needle?) then move on to the other pieces. With viruses, researchers are usually forced to extract genetic material from a sample, then sequence and align those genes against a database of known sequences. Aligning genes is difficult and laborious, and for various biological and technical reasons, it isn’t always possible.
Sometimes a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down; or in this case, the vaccine. A new study released by mBio shows that combining β-(1-3)-D-glucans (long chains of the sugar glucose) with an antigen creates a potent vaccine platform that could eventually be put to clinical use.
Ear infections: almost every kid has suffered through them at least once, making otitis media the most common reason for pediatric visits and new antibiotic prescriptions in children. But those little bottles of sweet pink antibiotics don’t always clear up ear infections. Bacteria often form mixed-species biofilms inside the ear, which afford the bacteria some protection from chemical onslaughts. A new paper just released by mBio reveals another reason these chronic biofilm infections are so recalcitrant: the bacteria may be cheering one another on.

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