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Tuesday, 04 October 2016 12:24

Metagenomics for Foodies

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Kefir is a viscous, sour-tasting, slightly alcoholic, milk-based beverage that's been consumed for centuries. It's made by adding a starter mix of bacteria and yeast – called the kefir “grain” – to pasteurized cow milk, though brewers have reported success with milk from goats, sheep, buffalo, and soy. As fermented dairy products go, it still lags behind yogurt and cheese in popularity, but in recent years kefir has enjoyed a surge in global sales.
Tuesday, 04 October 2016 10:00

Global Warming Damages Symbiotic Organisms

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Ten years ago, Takema Fukatsu, PhD, prime senior researcher and leader, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan, was invited to Kyoto University as a symposium speaker of a meeting organized by Kenji Fujisaki, PhD, a researcher in the University's Graduate School of Agriculture, who had been working on the effects of global warming and other environmental fluctuations on insects for decades. Professor Fujisaki's group invented and was operating a special incubator for simulating global warming conditions.
Bacillus anthracis had been studied by multiple countries as a potential biological weapon because of the stability of its spores and its ability to cause acute pulmonary disease. While offensive anthrax weapons development programs were halted in the United States and United Kingdom in the 1960s, they continued covertly in the former Soviet Union for at least another 20 years. The Russian research included projects to genetically modify the organism to be antibiotic-resistant and to introduce novel virulence genes that defeated vaccines.
Friday, 26 August 2016 12:12

The inflammatory nature of a bad recycler

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Being a bad recycler implies creating more waste because items aren’t being reincorporated into the production chain. Plastic water bottles can be broken down and turned into new plastic bottles, gardening gloves, or fleece – any of which means less oil needs to be harvested and refined to the polymers that constitute these different items. Bacteria, in general, also tend to be very good recyclers. The energy it takes to reuse a compound is generally less than to build the molecular structure from scratch.
Tuesday, 23 August 2016 12:07

Improving the Quality of Dairy Products

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Bitter tasting yogurt or cheese may not make it to your refrigerator, but it is produced and the result of pesky bacteria. The microbial composition of raw milk impacts the quality, shelf life, and safety of processed milk and other dairy products. Controlling the quality of these products is tricky—bacteria can enter milk on the farm, during transport, storage, and processing. While pathogens are destroyed by pasteurization, not all bacteria are eliminated and some can cause defects, such as bad tastes or holes in cheese, which can lead to food waste.
Tuesday, 23 August 2016 12:00

Onward toward a Zika vaccine

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On Monday, August 1, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that pregnant women not travel to Wynwood, a neighborhood north of downtown Miami, because health officials in Florida had found that mosquitoes there are actively transmitting Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that can cause birth defects. (It can also be spread through sexual contact.) The recommendation also included guidance on mosquito avoidance for pregnant women who live in the area, as well as people planning to conceive a baby.
One of the important tasks of Public Health England’s Mycology Reference Laboratory is to identify any newly emerging fungal pathogens that could become a public health risk. In recent months, the lab had tracked several clusters of Candida auris infections in British hospitals. The multidrug-resistant C. auris yeast, first described in 2009 after being isolated from external ear discharge of a patient in Japan, has caused bloodstream infections, wound infections and ear infections (including some fatal infections in hospitalized patients) in South Korea, India, South Africa and Kuwait, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The organism also…
Robots help sort patient samples, test clinical specimens, and analyze the results. Now a study shows that robots, in the form of drones, can help move our samples from place to place, with little effect on the analytical outcome.
Clostridium difficile is a dangerous bug. Infections with this bacterium can cause life-threatening diarrhea, and they are most likely to affect the elderly or people with health problems who spend a lot of time in hospitals (where C. difficile flourishes). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2011 alone, hundreds of thousands of people were infected and 29,000 died from C. difficile infections or CDIs.
How do you identify an unknown microbe? If you’ve taken an introductory microbiology lab course in the past twenty years, chances are you were assigned an unknown bacterium that you had to identify through differential media and biochemical assays. Newer techniques like qPCR are being standardized to identify human-associated fecal bacteria for water safety surveillance. But in the wake of the next-generation sequencing revolution, there is no substitute for whole-genome sequencing as a method to pinpoint the exact strain of an unknown microbial species. As NGS technology has advanced, sequencing costs have decreased and applications of the technology have broadened.
Though both gingivitis and periodontitis are diseases of the gums, the related ailments are not simply different severities of the same disease, finds a new study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Researchers confirmed this by investigating the bacterial composition of the supragingival plaque through high- throughput sequencing.
Tuesday, 09 August 2016 11:09

Demystifying Secondary Bacterial Pneumonia

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In some individuals, an influenza A virus infection can cause asymptomatic Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) to travel to the lungs where it can trigger severe, sometimes deadly, secondary pneumonia. S. aureus is one of the most common causes of secondary bacterial pneumonia in cases of seasonal influenza. Just how the influenza virus causes asymptomatic S. aureus infection to transition to invasive disease, however, has been unclear. A new mouse model designed by scientists at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York is helping scientists put together the pieces of this puzzle.
Recently, one of the Journal of Bacteriology Classic Spotlight series highlighted the numerous studies on bacterial spores that have been published in the journal throughout the years. Bacterial endospores, the resilient and relatively quiescent bacterial structures first identified in the 1800s, have had their genetic regulation, immunological properties, and biochemical makeup investigated for decades. The structures are incredibly resistant and produced by select members of the Gram-positive Firmicutes phylum. Despite many rigorous studies investigating these biological structures,new research published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology shows that there's always something new to learn in microbiology, including aspects that appear as straightforward…
Thursday, 28 July 2016 10:42

ASMCUE Happenings 2016

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No matter the niche field a scientist pursues, there is one aspect of almost all career paths that scientists have in common: teaching. Whether lecturing a quorum of undergraduates about bacterial genetics, mentoring a research fellow as they learn the lab protocols, or presenting an invited lecture to a group of established scientists, one must consider how to present information in an understandable and absorbable manner. The American Society for Microbiology Conference for Undergraduate Education (ASMCUE) is the annual forum for science educators to discuss learning objectives, active learning exercises, and the best applications for new technologies. This year’s meeting, held…
The Gram-positive bacterium Enterococcus faecium is a member of the ESKAPE pathogens for which drug resistance has been a growing problem. How E. faecium becomes drug resistant has been a long-standing question, and is the focus of a new study now available in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. A research team led by senior scientist Louis Rice has identified chromosomal regions where homologous recombination facilitates incorporation of genes conferring beta-lactam and vancomycin resistance.
Wednesday, 20 July 2016 10:31

Disarming a pathogen’s ability to cause disease

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The anaerobic, Gram-positive Clostridium difficile is a big problem. It causes rampant diarrhea and tissue necrosis, with more than 150,000 annual cases in the United States alone. Many of the disease manifestations of C. difficile are mediated by two exotoxins that C. difficile produces: TcdA and TcdB. Researchers have long been working at toxin inhibition as an approach to disarm C. difficile and improve treatment, and new research in Clinical and Vaccine Immunology shows promise in blocking toxin activity in vivo.
If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s likely a duck – so goes the saying that illustrates the simplest explanation is usually the right one. But what about duck decoys used in conjunction with bird calls? Misidentification can be a deadly error – and the same goes for microbes. Misdiagnosed infectious disease etiologies can be a very dangerous mistake for sick patients. Most clinical microbiology labs are able to use sophisticated biochemical and genetic tests to differentiate microbial species and strains, but newly emerging pathogens can be misidentified if they closely mimic another. That appears…
Thursday, 14 July 2016 10:22

Antibiotic stewardship - a community effort

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As we highlighted in a previous blog post, antibiotic stewardship – the careful use of appropriate antibiotic administration – can have positive effects. A small change from a difference in clinical lab reporting led to less drug use, which led to fewer drug-resistant infections. When we think of antibiotic stewardship, the onus is often thought to be on those that work in the clinic – the scientists who determine isolate susceptibility, or the clinicians who decide which antibiotic should be prescribed to a patient. These individuals certainly have an essential role to play in proper antimicrobial drug use in a…
There’s no way to avoid the news of a growing concern for drug-resistant infections. In both life-threatening and relatively superficial infections, the ability to successfully treat microbial infections with antimicrobials is decreasing. Our only recourse is to use the drugs we have carefully while researchers hunt for new drugs that must pass the stringent FDA guidelines before they can be used clinically. But here comes a bit of good news among all the doom-and-gloom: meticulous drug management programs can have a positive effect on drug-resistant infections.
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) has caused such a profound drop in honeybee populations that even the U.S. Congress is addressing the issue: Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) has proposed the Pollinator Recovery Act to preserve pollinator habitat. The rapid decline in these important pollinators affects the economy and agriculture of bee-deprived regions. Hive disappearances have been described by beekeepers before, but the large number of countries affected, and the duration of the phenomenon, have motivated scientists to concentrate on this apiary anomaly.

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