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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  • 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.

  • Where did the virus come from, where will it go?

    15th September, 2017

    Pacific salmon and trout, and juvenile fish in particular, are vulnerable to infectious haematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV), and its expanding spread is a real threat to both conservation efforts and the aquaculture industry. A new study has now analysed the incidences of IHNV throughout the Columbia River Basin and traced the potential routes of transmission, allowing the research team from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, USA, to map where the disease has been and where it could go in the future. The study suggested that infected adult fish returning to hatcheries were most likely to introduce the virus to juveniles, and infected juveniles play an important role in spreading the virus within hatcheries themselves. A better understanding of how IHNV spreads will be critical to stopping the virus in its tracks.

  • Who needs neighbours when you’ve got resistance?

    1st September, 2017

    ‘Lonely’ microbes are more likely to develop antimicrobial resistance (AMR), according to new research led by scientists at the University of Manchester, UK. After looking at microbial mutation data taken from other studies across 70 years, the Manchester team noticed that micro-organisms living at lower population densities were more likely to mutate and develop resistance than those in denser groups. A better understanding of how microbes evolve to be resistant to antibiotics could help drive future research for more effective ways to fight AMR.

  • Change with the times (and the gut)

    1st September, 2017

    A new gut microbiome study by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine, USA, supports the existing idea that the microbes living in our guts are highly influenced by the food we eat. Analysing the gut microbes of the Hadza, a hunter-gatherer community in Tanzania, the Stanford research group noticed that the Hadza had much more diverse intestinal microbiota than people living in urban areas. The same study also showed that the Hadza’s gut microbiomes changed seasonally – along with their changing diet across the year. This study shows that massive changes in type of diet – from hunter-gatherer style food to convenience food, for example – may be to blame for the loss of microbial diversity in the typical modern human’s guts. However, research still needs to be done to understand to understand whether this loss of diversity has any direct impact on health.

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