Blood cell infected with malaria parasite

Malaria is caused by the single-celled parasite Plasmodium. It is transmitted from one person to another by certain species of blood sucking mosquito. The parasite spends part of its complex life cycle inside red blood cells.

More about microbes


Microbes are always hitting the headlines. Keep up to date with the latest microbiology news. Most stories are linked to the full article.

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  • Opposite ends of the Earth

    18th January, 2018

    Despite being almost 12,500 miles apart, scientists at the University of Tübingen, Germany, have discovered that the microbes living on the land areas of the Arctic and the Antarctic are largely similar. The researchers suggest that it may be that these bacteria are spread via migratory birds or by humans, but they agree that these microbes are most likely ‘generalists’ – meaning they can survive in a wide range of environmental conditions. The research also showed that there were region-specific species, with a higher abundance of them in the more isolated Antarctic. Studying patterns in where microbes thrive is important as it gives insights into how ecosystems respond to changes in the environment, such as with climate change.

  • Chimpanzee deaths caused by human cold virus

    18th January, 2018

    When chimpanzees in Uganda started dying in an unexplained outbreak in 2013, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, were shocked to find that a human common cold virus was the culprit. Until now, rhinovirus C was only known to affect humans, but after autopsying one individual, the scientists found the level of the virus to be comparable to when human children – who are more susceptible to rhinoviruses – are infected. Through examining the Ugandan chimps’ DNA in faecal samples, the University of Wisconsin-Madison team noticed that chimps have not adapted to rhinoviruses and were likely vulnerable as a species. The transmission from human to chimp could potentially have resulted from human settlements expanding into chimp territory, or when the apes leave the forest to raid human crops.

  • Using bacteria to reduce dairy waste

    18th January, 2018

    The process of making dairy products generates a lot of waste in the form of acid whey, but a team of scientists from Cornell University, USA, and University of Tübingen, Germany, have discovered a way to turn this waste into useful compounds using bacteria. Acid whey is mostly made up of sugars and acid, but is too acidic to be fed back to livestock as is. Using reactor tanks filled with bacteria found in gut microbial communities, the research team noticed that acid whey could be converted into more useful substances like caproic and caprylic acid, which are natural antimicrobials and can be used in livestock feed. Alternatively, more processing could turn the production waste into compounds that can be further refined into biofuels. In reusing waste products, both options would offer more sustainable and cost-effective alternatives than are currently used.

  • Oyster bacteria to clean up coasts

    20th November, 2017

    Oyster microbiomes may play a role in reducing the levels of nitrogen in over-fertilised coastal waters, according to scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), USA. Excess nitrogen fuels algae blooms that lead to murky water and low oxygen levels, and this excess nitrogen can enter the sea from treatment plant and farm wastewater. In a new study, the team identified bacteria in oysters’ guts and shells that are able to remove nitrogen from water efficiently – much faster than previous studies suggested. This finding has important implications for efforts to introduce oysters with certain genes that do this as efficiently as possible into over-fertilised waters, although the researchers at VIMS say that more research is needed due to the complex processes and relationships within the microbial communities.

  • The street life for microbes

    20th November, 2017

    Researchers at BOREA Research Unit, Paris-Sorbonne University, France, and the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology, Germany, have discovered a range of communities of micro-organisms in the street gutters of Paris. Analysing water samples taken from these gutters, the scientists identified that a large majority of the community’s composition were microalgae, but amoebae, fungi, sponges and molluscs were also found. The make-up of the tiny ecosystems differed depending on location, suggesting that the origins of each set of micro-organisms could be associated with human activities, or that the microbes had each adapted to very specific environments. The BOREA team explain that this discovery raises further questions like the ecological roles of these communities, and they hope to find the answer in continuing research into the ecology of gutters.

  • Rapid testing for cow Salmonella

    16th October, 2017

    Scientists at Cornell University, USA, have recently developed a new, faster test for Salmonella, a group of bacteria that commonly cause food poisoning in both humans and animals worldwide. A particular strain called Salmonella Dublin is an emerging issue: it is adapted to infect cattle, but it can also be spread to humans via contact or drinking of unpasteurised milk. The new method cuts down testing time for Salmonella Dublin from several days to 24 hours, meaning vets and farmers can isolate infected cows sooner to reduce exposing other animals and people to the bacteria.

  • Using ‘living antibiotics’ to battle AMR

    16th October, 2017

    Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) means normally treatable infections are becoming difficult to cure with antibiotics. However, researchers at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), Japan, may have a solution using bacteria that preys on other bacteria. Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus is a bacterium that feeds on Gram-negative bacteria, which include well-known, disease-causing bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella. In lab tests, the OIST team have successfully been able to manipulate B. bacteriovorus’ genes to attack its prey faster in the presence of a drug called theophylline. Manipulating the bacterium’s natural behaviour in this way could lead to potential new treatments for a variety of different infections.

  • Frogs feel the heat

    15th September, 2017

    A recent study by an international team across Australia and the US has some bad news for frogs – chytridiomycosis, a fungal skin disease caused by Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, decreases the amphibians’ tolerance for heat. Since frogs rely on external heat sources to control body temperature, they bask in the sun, behaviour that may help to kill parasites or improve their immune systems. As global temperatures rise due to climate change, infected frogs are more likely to feel the heat and avoid sunbathing, giving parasites like B. dendrobatidis a chance to thrive. The researchers at Florida suggest that this is an unexpected consequence of climate change, where the change in temperature and an emerging disease go hand-in-hand in driving many species of frog to extinction.

  • Microbial vandals

    15th September, 2017

    When an 800-year-old scroll from the Vatican Secret Archives was found vandalised with purple splodges, no one expected the culprit to be so tiny and microbial. However, researchers from various institutions in Italy were able to piece together whodunit, with the fingers pointing to two main perpetrators – species of salt-loving Gammaproteobacteria and Pseudonocardiales bacteria. The research team hopes that knowing the cause of the damage might support parchment preservation efforts, and maybe even help towards restoring already damaged documents.

  • Antibiotic potential in bee-made compound

    15th September, 2017

    An antimicrobial compound produced by bees and wasps could help in the fight against antibiotic resistance, according to a study led by scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago, USA. In lab tests, a molecule called Api137 – derived from the insect-produced antibiotic apidaecin – was able to interfere with Escherichia coli’s ability to produce proteins, therefore blocking the microbe’s growth mechanism. Further research into understanding how Api137 works could potentially lead to new antibiotics able to kill bacteria that are becoming increasingly resistant to the drugs we currently have.

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