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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  • 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.

  • A CF saviour

    1st September, 2017

    Researchers at Michigan State University, USA, believe they have a solution to help cystic fibrosis (CF) patients battle mucosal bacteria, which bind together and produce a substance that protects them from antibiotics. Currently, infections often return after a course of antibiotics as a small number of bacteria survive – aptly named ‘persisters’. These remaining microbes spread again after the treatment has ended, starting the cycle all over again and causing further damage to the organs they build up on each time. This new study suggests that using two existing drugs, triclosan and tobramycin, to target the persisters could be enough to eliminate them. When triclosan – commonly found in toothpaste and soap – was used in conjunction with an antibiotic used to treat mucosal bacteria called tobramycin, the triclosan seemed to enhance tobramycin’s ability to kill persisters in lab tests, including a tobramycin-resistant strain of bacteria.

  • Moth-killing fungal spores

    1st September, 2017

    An airborne fungus that devastates gypsy moth populations could help us predict the damage to forests across the United States, according to scientists at Cornell University, USA. Gypsy moth caterpillars adore trees like oak and aspen, gorging themselves on the leaves and destroying acres of forest at a time. New research is now able to track the geographic range of Entomophaga maimaiga, a fungus that only infects gypsy moths, as the creatures can carry the pathogen for days before it kills them and shoots spores up into the air to be spread by the wind. Being able to figure out how far the fungus’ spores travel based on weather patterns could help estimate just how much damage the moths will do in a given year.

  • Get ready for rush hour

    24th August, 2017

    The hijacking of transport systems sounds more like a 90s film plot, but some microbes have adapted to be able to do just that. However, they may no longer be able to enjoy such perks, thanks to research led by a team at the University of Birmingham, UK. The immune system’s first line of defence against invading micro-organisms are white blood cells called macrophages, which identify an intruder and consume it in order to destroy it. However, some pathogens – like the fungus that causes cryptococcosis – have adapted to be able to survive inside macrophages, and use them to move around the body. Some white blood cells have developed a mechanism called ‘vomocytosis’ to eject these hijackers, but it wasn’t clear how vomocytosis worked, until now. The Birmingham research group identified the signal that told the macrophage whether it should expel a pathogen or not. With this knowledge in hand, they were able to manipulate vomocytosis rates. Through understanding the mechanism, future research could help towards developing therapies that target vomocytosis rates, and prevent potentially fatal infections from spreading.

  • Slow and steady defeats the infection

    24th August, 2017

    It may be more beneficial to slow down infections than to kill them, say scientists at the University of Illinois, USA. Their new study has identified the mechanism that bacteria use to slow growth, which they use to enter a dormant state to avoid the antibiotics naturally produced by competing microbes when resources are low. Then, when more nutrients become available, they re-emerge more virulent than before. When threatened by antibiotics, bacteria adapt by evolving resistance. Based on this, the new research suggests that targeting bacteria’s growth rate may allow the immune system to naturally defeat an infection, without encouraging resistance through antibiotic use.

  • Wastewater microbes to the rescue

    24th August, 2017

    Scientists at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, believe that wastewater bacteria may be key to helping us fight antibiotic resistance, after noticing that some of the microbes produced compounds that could kill two major disease-causing bacteria. Two strains of bacteria isolated from wastewater samples produce antimicrobial compounds called biosurfactants, which appeared to be effective against meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and E. coli. Biosurfactants are naturally produced by certain microbes, and are commercially used in things like house-cleaning products.

  • Sharing homes and microbiomes

    24th August, 2017

    When you live with someone, you share many things – including the microbial communities living on your skin, according to a study by researchers at the University of Waterloo, Canada. The group swabbed various body sites from the study participants, and put the data into their computers. The machines were then able to match cohabiting couples with 86% accuracy, based solely on their skin microbiome signatures. Results from this study will help improve our understanding of how skin microbiomes adapt – particularly if these microbes co-evolve with their hosts.

  • Where on the tree of life?

    21st July, 2017

    Dicyemida are strange-looking, very simple little parasites found in cephalopods – like octopuses, squid and cuttlefish – and scientists have long debated their classification since they were first discovered. Now, a research team from Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), Japan, believe they have cracked it – unlike previous studies, they used modern sequencing technology to focus on the oddball parasite’s amino acids, rather than its DNA. In the end, the researchers determined that Dicyemida belong in the Spiralia group, with their closest relatives being another kind of marine parasite called Orthonectida. This placement means that researchers may be able to track back over the parasite’s evolutionary history, and perhaps that of Spiralia as well.

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