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.

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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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  • Using bacteria to battle TB

    16th June, 2017

    As drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) continues to persist around the world, researchers have been trying to find a way to curb its spread. Now, a research team from a number of institutions across the UK may have found an answer in bacteria found in a cystic fibrosis patient. Bacteria from the Burkholderia genus have adapted to their wide-ranging environments by producing antibiotics to fight off their competition. With this knowledge in hand, the research group discovered that a strain of Burkholderia gladioli bacteria, found in the mucus of a child with cystic fibrosis, produces an antibiotic called gladiolin. In initial tests, gladiolin was able to inhibit the growth of four different drug-resistant strains of TB, and so could potentially be a viable candidate for a new drug.

  • A little bit of fungi help

    16th June, 2017

    A new study by scientists at the Helmhotz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Germany, has demonstrated how fungi can keep the soil ecosystem going in drought conditions – including giving the bacteria there a burst of life. Many fungi spread thin, filamentous branches – known as hyphae – through soil to search for nutrients and water, and then bring these back to nutrient-poor and drier areas of the fungal network. The new research was able to show that this injection of life also wakes up slumbering bacteria, which go into a dormant state until there is sufficient food and water again to thrive. These results suggest that as fungi play a much bigger role in the soil ecosystem than previously thought, it is important to have a better understanding of these micro-organisms and how they interact with other microbes.

  • Meerkats and their microbial scent signatures

    16th June, 2017

    Meerkats smell, but it’s not their fault – it’s odour-producing microbes, according to new research by scientists at Duke University, USA. Like many other animals, meerkats mark their territory by smell – these creatures secrete a kind of paste in their scent pouches that can afterwards help other meerkats identify who was where. Looking into where animals’ distinct scents come from, the research team decided to take swabs of these secretions from a wild group living in the South African Kalahari. Analysis of the samples showed that there are over 1,000 types of bacteria living in meerkat paste, and individuals with similar microbial groups also smelled similar. These findings suggest that their scent isn’t due to shared genetics, but rather shared bacterial communities.

  • Faecal transplants stick around

    16th June, 2017

    Recent research by a team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), USA, can demonstrate that donor microbes continued to thrive for months, sometimes years, after a faecal transplant. These transplants are usually performed to replenish a patient’s bacterial gut flora after they’ve been suffering from chronic Clostridium difficile infections, though there had never been any definitive studies on how it works. The scientists at UAB have now been able to show that it’s no longer just a hypothesis, by tracking donor microbe strains through seven recipients. For all of them, the donor microbes could still be found in their guts six months after the procedure, and for the two patients who were sampled again after two years, the transplanted strains were still noticeable.

  • Microbial involvement in cats’ skin allergies?

    8th June, 2017

    While investigating the cat skin microbiome, researchers at Texas A&M University, USA, recently found that there are more species of bacteria living on the skin of cats than previously thought. Comparing skin swabs from healthy cats and those with allergies, the scientists noticed that the allergic animals had skin microbiomes more unique to each individual, and were more likely to harbour higher numbers of Staphylococcus bacteria. The findings suggest that there could be a link between skin disease and imbalances in the microbial communities living on the skin.

  • Socks before shoes in bacterium hunt

    8th June, 2017

    In a bid to find out if the natural environment is a direct source of exposure to Campylobacter, scientists at the University of Liverpool, UK, got volunteers to wear socks over their shoes while walking in the countryside. Campylobacter is a bacterium often associated with food poisoning, which can cause diarrhoeal disease, so there are fewer studies on other causes of infection. However, food-transmitted infections cannot explain the seasonal peaks across the UK, and previous studies showed that the peak appears to be more obvious in some parts of the country than others. The new citizen science study revealed that Campylobacter was more prevalent in the North West of the UK than in East Anglia – and it seems this may be linked to the higher number of livestock being raised in the North West. The results from this research could help with finding ways to reduce the risk of disease for people.

  • The link between climate change, fungal spores and allergies

    8th June, 2017

    The fungus Alternaria alternata produces spores that increase cell damage in people’s airways, according to research by a team from the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic, both USA. The scientists exposed cells taken from the airways’ lining to A. alternata, finding that the cells had higher concentrations of calcium, which triggered excess salt and fluid production. Salt and fluid secretion usually helps clear the airways of allergens, in a process called mucociliary clearance, but too much appeared to disrupt this function and consequently made allergy symptoms worse. Previous studies showed that A. alternata produces more spores when carbon dioxide levels are higher, meaning the increased levels of CO2 from climate change could make things worse for allergy sufferers.

  • Vaginal bacteria effects on Zika and herpes virus infections

    8th June, 2017

    In a recent study, a research group from the University of Texas Medical Branch, USA, has found that bacteria found inside the vagina could inhibit the herpes simplex virus-2 and Zika virus. The scientists took samples from healthy donors and grew the bacteria in the laboratory, then tried to infect the cultures with herpes or Zika virus to imitate sexual transmission. Their findings showed that the herpes virus could colonise more easily the cultures with less Lactobacillus bacteria – the most abundant microbial species found in vaginal systems and is associated with ‘healthy’ microbiomes. On the other hand, infection with Zika virus offered mixed results, implying that specific bacterial species could impact the virus’ replication.

  • Finding Mycobacterium’s secret weapon

    2nd June, 2017

    The bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB) is difficult to eliminate completely as subpopulations often persist after antibiotics have killed the majority of cells. Now, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, USA, have discovered just what it is that allows the microbes to survive: a single protein. Looking at Mycobacterium smegmatis, a close relative of TB-causing M. tuberculosis, the team were able to show that this protein allows the bacteria to be more likely to mutate when they divide. Usually, when bacterial cells reproduce by dividing, they split into two that look exactly the same. With the help of this protein, mycobacteria cells can reproduce with more variety, making them more difficult to target by the antibiotics that we have. Understanding this means that, in future, scientists could find ways to inhibit the protein, or the gene that produces it, making the micro-organism easier to combat.

  • Do fungi make wines better or worse?

    2nd June, 2017

    A new study by researchers at various institution in Germany has found that two types of fungal infection can affect the taste of wine. Surprisingly, grapes infected with Botrytis cinerea – commonly known as bunch rot – produced fruity, pleasant wines with higher sugar content. On the other hand, powdery mildew, caused by Erysiphe necator, made the resulting product less interesting; the researchers found that this was not due to any specific bad tastes, but rather an absence of positive ones. These results may help as a basis for future, more targeted studies into the effects of fungal infections in viticulture.

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