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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  • Mutual relationship between bees and bacteria

    31st March, 2017

    Social bees have been passing down their gut bacteria for generations, and five of these microbes have been evolving along with their hosts, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, USA. The investigation showed that the five species of bacteria entered bees’ gut microbiomes millions of years ago, and have been evolving into different strains that are specific to each species of bee. The bacteria have also shown to have adapted to only be able to live within their hosts’ guts – where the oxygen levels are much lower than in the atmosphere.

  • Just keep swimming or you won’t get dinner

    31st March, 2017

    Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus is a bacterium that preys on other bacteria, including the common human pathogen Escherichia coli, making it an ideal candidate as a potential alternative to antibiotics. However, it wasn’t really known how they target their prey until now. A research team at Purdue University, USA, has revealed that the way B. bacteriovorus swims generates swirling, whirlpool-like forces that keep the bacterium near walls and surfaces, rather than in open water. Since E. coli moves in the same way, it means B. bacteriovorus is much more likely to bump into its prey, even though its movement is essentially random.

  • Deep sea viruses

    31st March, 2017

    The rocky crust at the bottom of the sea is called the ‘ocean basement’, and this basement harbours many previously unknown viruses that are infecting the other microbes down there, according to a new study by scientists at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Not much was really known about the viruses living in the ocean basement, but after collecting uncontaminated water samples, the researchers were able to analyse just what was going on down there. The researchers found that viruses on the ocean basement looked similar in shape to those found in Yellowstone National Park in the US, which may seem counterintuitive. However, when the two habitats are compared, it makes more sense: although one location is at sea level, and the other hundreds of metres below, both are similar in that they have hydrothermal vents, although in Yellowstone, they are in the form of hot springs and geysers.

  • Walls? Not an obstacle for this parasite

    31st March, 2017

    Wouldn’t it be great to be able to walk through walls? New research by a team at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Australia, has revealed how Plasmodium falciparum – the protozoan parasite that causes malaria – can do just that. In order to multiply, the parasite needs to travel through the human body to reach the liver, but it is only transmitted through mosquito bites, which occur far away at the skin. The study identified two proteins that help P. falciparum traverse through the host’s cell walls, so that they can reach liver cells quickly and start multiplying. The scientists say that pinpointing these proteins may lead to new treatments that help break the cycle of infection, by targeting the parasites before they can spread.

  • Phages to the rescue

    17th March, 2017

    Phage therapy could be an effective, safer alternative to antibiotics in treating cystic fibrosis lung infections, say researchers from the University of Liverpool, UK. A phage (full name bacteriophage), is a virus that specifically targets certain bacteria, meaning that using them to treat Pseudomonas aeruginosa – a common cause of lung infections – would have fewer side effects than traditional antibiotics. The new research from Liverpool has shown that phage therapy is able to eliminate multi-drug resistant P. aeruginosa that is causing respiratory tract infections, which occur often in people with cystic fibrosis. The results offer a potential new treatment for individuals with difficult to treat lung infections.

  • A giant leap for HIV treatments

    17th March, 2017

    A problem with currently available HIV treatments is that the virus often lies dormant, ready to return as soon as treatment is interrupted. However, a team of scientists from The Rockefeller University and the National Institutes of Health, both USA, may have found a longer-term solution. Their research has shown that there are two antibodies that allow monkeys’ immune systems to control a simian version of the virus (SHIV) for an extended period of time – but only if used early on in the infection. The antibodies helped the animals’ immune systems to suppress SHIV to near or below detection levels, lasting for as long as six months. Although SHIV levels increased once again post-treatment, the researchers observed that several months later, some of the monkeys were able to once again keep the virus in check without further therapies for another five to 13 months. If viable in humans, this could be one giant leap for future HIV therapies.

  • Don’t let a sleeping bug lie

    17th March, 2017

    New research from the collaborated efforts of scientists at iMM Lisboa, Portugal, and Southwestern University, USA, has revealed that the parasite responsible for sleeping sickness has its own internal clock. Trypanosoma brucei was already known to disrupt its hosts’ internal clocks – also known as circadian rhythms – but this study has shown that the parasite also has its own, which allows it to change its cellular functions based on the time of day. Further investigation found that the alterations meant that T. brucei becomes more sensitive to a specific drug in the evening. The results could potentially allow doctors to understand when it would be best to target the parasite while treating patients affected by sleeping sickness.

  • Virus evolution will make you jump jump

    17th March, 2017

    Viruses jump between host species more often than previously thought, which may have an impact on virus evolution, according to researchers at the University of Sydney, Australia. By comparing ‘virus trees’ that show how virus families and their hosts evolved, the scientists found that cross-species jumps occurred much more commonly than co-divergence – when the virus evolved alongside its host. The study showed that cross-species transmission was particularly likely in virus families that use RNA rather than DNA as their genetic material. These findings mean that researchers are potentially better equipped to predict which viruses are more likely to jump hosts in the future.

  • Sponge bacterium might save the day

    3rd March, 2017

    Arsenic is a difficult substance to remove from groundwater, but researchers at Tel Aviv University, Israel, may have found the solution in the form of a bacterium that lives within sea sponges. According to a new study, the Entotheonella bacterium protects its host – a species of sponge called Theonella swinhoei – from metal poisoning, including arsenic. Further investigation showed that Entotheonella collects high levels of environmental metals like arsenic and barium, then it detoxifies them into a harmless, inert version. The scientists note that there is still plenty of work to be done to be able to exploit these natural processes, but it may perhaps one day lead to efficient, cost-effective bioremediation.

  • Aging makes specialist yeast a better generalist

    3rd March, 2017

    Many people dread aging, but for yeast it might not be a huge issue, according to scientists at the Babraham Institute, UK. New research suggests that the changes that happen when yeast cells age might in fact be beneficial to them. Yeast specialise on consuming glucose and, with age, their systems to convert glucose start to degrade. However, losing their specialised ability caused the yeast cells to be more efficient when processing other foods – older cells were outcompeting younger ones when growing in a different kind of sugar called galactose.

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