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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.
Wednesday, 06 July 2016 10:11

False impersonations in predatory publishing

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Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it can also be the easiest way to make a buck. That’s the primary motivation for camouflaging within an already-established brand: Sunbucks, McDowell’s, and Mountain Lightening all rely on brand recognition – of a brand that isn’t their own. While ASM Journals are by no means the only imitated journals, the well-established credibility of the journals published by ASM makes them an easy target for unscrupulous publishers.
Although the Gram-negative bacterium Vibrio cholerae (right) is normally associated with human pathogenic disease, most V. cholerae cells spend their lives in an aquatic environment, and only a few of the many serotypes are able to cause disease. When strains acquire the right genetic makeup – such as the cholera toxin and toxin coregulated pilus associated with pathogenesis - they can cause cholera outbreaks through contamination of human food and water sources. The pandemic O1/O139 serogroups are the best-known of this species, responsible for worldwide pandemic cholera outbreaks (including the recent outbreak in Haiti), but non-O1/O139 serogroups can cause smaller outbreaks…
As part of its Microbiology of the Built Environment initiative, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation started funding projects a few years ago that touched on the interaction of microbiology with architecture, buildings or, in the case of Curtis Huttenhower, PhD, an associate professor of computational biology and bioinformatics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, transit.
Microbiome research has revealed that there are good guy and bad guy bacteria living together in complex communities on our skin, in our mouths, throughout our guts and pretty much everywhere in between. But what do you call a good guy bacterium that is aiding and abetting a disease culprit?
Tuesday, 28 June 2016 10:00

Tracking How Bacteria Threaten Newborns

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For years, researchers have struggled to get a handle on Group B streptococcus (GBS), in the hopes of improving neonatal outcomes. GBS are a bacteria commonly found in the vagina, rectum, and urinary tract of women. In healthy women, the bacteria are commensal, simply living without causing disease; however, when a woman is pregnant, there is concern that GBS will travel to the uterus, where it can harm the fetus.
Monday, 27 June 2016 09:39

Small RNAs regulate Bacteroides nutrient use

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Just like you and me, bacteria have ‘favorite’ foods – though in the case of bacteria, 'favorite' translates to those which are energetically favorable or most accessible. Different bacteria have different preferences, based on their environments and the neighboring microbes that compete for or complement energy sources. Given a niche where many different carbohydrate resources are available, how do bacteria regulate their preferential food source? New research published in the Journal of Bacteriology shows a system of small RNAs help regulate polysaccharide usage in the human gut-residing Bacteroides genus.
Friday, 24 June 2016 09:34

Dispatches from ASM Microbe

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Things have been quiet on mBiosphere lately. We've been busy updating from ASM Microbe, covering some of the fascinating research presented there. The first Microbe meeting, which combines the former general meeting and ICAAC, was a whirlwind of poster presentations, lectures, seminars, book signings, career-building and networking events, Wikipedia editing, microbial sing-a-longs, and, of course, research talks. Many of these events were cataloged on our Facebook page, but these posts don't encapsulate the depth and richness of scientific endeavors discussed over the course of five days.
Last month’s announcement of an mcr1-bearing plasmid in a U.S. patient isolate caused quite a stir, and for good reason. This gene confers resistance to colistin, an antibiotic of last resistance, and its existence on a plasmid means relatively easy transfer between bacterial types. The possibility (or probability, given drug-resistant infection history) of colistin resistance spreading among other bacteria is one of the reasons this story received so much attention.
How do chronic infections change over time? This is the broad question addressed in recent research published in the Journal of Virology. In their study, a team of scientists headed by Fabio Luciani investigated a hepatitis B virus infection over a course of 15 years.
Thursday, 02 June 2016 16:43

New tools to detect new virus

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In fall 2015, a new human hepegivirus (HHpgV-1) was identified by using a novel, high throughput sequencing technique. Concerns were raised that this virus was found in blood to be used for transfusions, potentially passing on the infection. But without tools to test for its presence, there was no way to know how widespread HHpgV-1 infection is, or whether it is associated with human disease.
Tuesday, 31 May 2016 16:35

ASM holds Zika press conference

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Tomorrow begins a Special President’s Edition ASM Conference, hosted by the American Society for Microbiology in collaboration with the American Society for Virology. The conference, “What Does the Biology of Flaviviruses Tell Us About Zika: The Importance of Fundamental Virus Biology” highlights the value of fundamental virology. In this evening prior to the one-day conference, a panel of flavivirus experts convened before members of the press to briefly outline their research, its application to Zika virus and disease, and then opened the floor to questions related to recent research developments.
Friday, 27 May 2016 16:30

Predicting UTI antibiotic resistance

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By now, the news of a colistin-resistant E. coli isolate from a patient in the United States is widespread, with many major news sources covering the story. Most outlets highlighted the ease of future transfer of the plamid-borne mcr-1 gene between bacteria, the role of agricultural antibiotic use in generating resistant strains, and the looming antibiotic crisis once this gene spreads to carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae. This particular strain was identified as part of a routine screen for all extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL)-producing clinical isolates, and was found to harbor fifteen different resistance genes – but fortunately remained susceptible to carbapenem-class antibiotics, and…
Thursday, 26 May 2016 16:26

A microbial mystery in the Namib desert

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The Namib Desert is different than other deserts: it has an unusual geographic feature that differentiates it from most others. This desert (map, right) is where you can find ‘fairy circles,’ or circular areas absent of growth in an already plant-scarce environment. These deadened circles are surrounded by tall grass rings, a surprising sight in the arid land. This unexplained phenomenon has captured people’s imaginations, leading to mythological explanations for their origins. Scientists are also captivated by this geographic feature, and are working to discover what causes these unusual formations. A new study on the fairy circle microbial makeup, published…

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