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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  • Further flaws in controversial Wakefield Lancet paper

    15th April, 2010

    A bowel disorder that Dr Andrew Wakefield described as being linked to the MMR vaccine has been called into question by experts. In the infamous Lancet paper, published in 1998 and retracted in February this year, Dr Wakefield reported incidences of ‘non-specific colitis’ in children that had been injected with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. Now, a pathologist who tested the original bowel biopsies has said that results were normal. Scientists say this is yet another example of a flaw in the research whose publication caused uptake of the MMR vaccination to plummet, leading to a rise in the incidence of measles outbreaks.

  • NHS use of silver wound dressings unjustified

    14th April, 2010

    Experts say that the NHS is wasting millions on dressings containing silver, when the evidence to justify their use is not robust enough. Silver is known to have antimicrobial properties, although exactly how it works is still relatively unclear. It is used in many types of dressings for wounds, ulcers and burns. The NHS spent around £25 million on dressings containing the metal in 2006/7 - accounting for a quarter of the total cash spent on wound dressings. An editorial in the latest Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin describes how trials on effectiveness of silver-containing dressings have had small sample sizes and have not assessed the long-term effects of such products. The authors concluded, “Silver dressings are expensive and there have been few high-quality clinical trials to establish whether they have advantages over other, cheaper alternatives.”

  • Swine flu jab not linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome

    13th April, 2010

    Fears that the H1N1 swine flu vaccination may increase incidence of a potentially lethal neurological condition are unfounded says a new study. Figures released by researchers from New Jersey Medical School say that there was no increase in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) after the jab was introduced last year. Doctors were told to monitor patients who received the jab for signs of GBS, after the condition was linked to a similar vaccination for pandemic flu in 1976. More than five million people in Britain have now been given the H1N1 vaccination, which is still being offered to those considered to be at high risk from the infection.

  • Protozoan infection increases stroke risk

    13th April, 2010

    A tropical protozoan disease could increase an individual’s risk of suffering a stroke, according to Spanish scientists. Chagas’ disease is endemic in parts of South America and is caused by the micro-organism Trypanosoma cruzi. A new study shows infection by the protozoan increases stroke risk through heart complications and blood clots. T. cruzi is transmitted through the bites of infected triatomine insects (also known as ‘kissing bugs’). Infections with T. cruzi are often asymptomatic, with acute infections more common in children. Symptoms of Chagas’ disease include high fever, muscle pain, rashes, liver and heart problems. As many patients with Chagas’ disease do not know they are infected, the Spanish scientists warn that doctors should be vigilant and say that screening stroke patients for Chagas’ disease should be considered.

  • GM viruses offer renewable energy hope

    12th April, 2010

    Genetically modified viruses capable of splitting water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen atoms using sunlight could be used to produce high quantities of hydrogen fuel. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have replicated the first step of the method that plants use to photosynthesise, in the hope of producing unlimited amounts of green energy from water and sunlight alone. The scientists genetically engineered a harmless virus, called M13, which normally infects bacteria (a bacteriophage) to bind to a catalyst called iridium oxide and a biological pigment – zinc porphyrins. The viruses spontaneously arranged themselves into wire-like structures around these molecules, allowing the catalyst and pigment to effectively harvest sunlight to split water molecules. So far, the team has managed to use the viruses to split off oxygen and the next stage is to bring the hydrogen atoms together so they form hydrogen gas.
    Professor Angela Belcher who led the research said that although there was much work to do on increasing the efficiency of the process, a prototype of a commercial product that carries out the water-splitting reaction could be developed within the next two years.

  • Norovirus levels twice as high this year

    11th April, 2010

    The number of cases of norovirus was almost twice as high in the first three months of 2010 compared to the same period last year. Outbreaks of the virus –known as the ‘winter vomiting bug’ – have caused temporary closures of many schools and hospital wards all over the UK. Norovirus causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea in infected individuals. Experts believe that high levels of norovirus infection this winter could be due to a combination of a very cold winter and a highly infectious strain of the virus. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) warns that up to a million people could be affected by norovirus this year.

  • Grazing livestock can reduce greenhouse gas emissions

    7th April, 2010

    German researchers studying emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide from grassland in Inner Mongolia have found that levels were reduced when sheep and cattle were grazed on the land. The gas is produced by microbes in the soil and when the grass is long, snow settles, keeping the ground warm and protecting the microbes. If the grass is kept short by grazing animals, the soil freezes and the microbes die out. Up to now environmentalists have believed that people should eat less red meat because ruminants such as cattle produce methane, another important greenhouse gas. The current study, published in the journal Nature, shows that allowing animals to graze on grasslands in certain countries is not necessarily bad for global warming. Nitrous oxide emissions from temperate grasslands are estimated to account for up to a third of the total amount of the gas produced annually.

  • Japanese sushi-eating bacteria discovered

    7th April, 2010

    Genes from marine bacteria that live on the Porphyra seaweed used to wrap sushi have also been found in gut bacteria isolated from Japanese people, but not in similar microbes from North Americans. Scientists from the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris, who reported their work in Nature, sequenced the genetic makeup of Zobellia galactanivorans bacteria taken from the seaweed and searched DNA databases for matches. They analysed the 11 genes also present in the Japanese gut microbe Bacteroides plebius and found them to be responsible for breaking down carbohydrates in the seaweed. These genes enable the Bacteroides in the intestines to help digest sushi when it is eaten. Japan has a long history of eating seaweed and the researchers believe that over the centuries, the marine microbes have swapped genes with the gut organisms. There are trillions of bacteria in the human intestines, many of which help us to break down our food.

  • Increased risk of H1N1 possibly linked to seasonal flu jabs

    7th April, 2010

    Studies in Canada appear to indicate that people given the seasonal flu vaccine were more likely to contract H1N1 ‘swine flu’ than those who did not receive the jab. Despite this association, researchers said the findings, published in PLoS Medicine “do not reveal a true cause and effect relationship between seasonal flu vaccination and subsequent H1N1 illness. It may be due to differences in some unidentified factor(s) among the groups studied”. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that H1N1 is included in seasonal flu vaccines next year and thus provide protection against swine flu in the case of another pandemic.

  • Order for unwanted swine flu vaccine cancelled

    6th April, 2010

    The UK order for vaccine against H1N1 influenza has been renegotiated with suppliers GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), in the light of a sharp decline in cases of the disease. Deals had been signed for 90 million doses, but just 34.8 million will now be purchased. This includes vaccine already administered or being kept for future use. Vaccination will still be offered to patients judged to be at high risk such as pregnant women. Some of the vaccine is being donated to African countries. Under the terms of the deal with GSK, the government has agreed to buy vaccine against H5N1 avian flu, to be used if there is a future pandemic, together with replacement of the stocks of the antiviral Relenza that was prescribed during the swine flu outbreak. A cancellation agreement was made with the other vaccine supplier, Baxter, back in February. The cost of unused vaccine has been estimated at £150 million.

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