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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  • 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.

  • Liver’s got fungal problems

    2nd June, 2017

    Scientists at University of California, San Diego, USA, may have found a new way to treat alcohol-associated liver disease using antifungal drugs. This new study showed that fungi flourished in the intestines of mice that were constantly exposed to alcohol, and once the micro-organisms moved through the body to the liver, they would trigger inflammation. This chronic inflammation then causes liver cells to die and allows liver disease to progress. With this knowledge, the research team gave some of their mice subjects an antifungal compound and found that the treated rodents had lower levels of liver injury than those that were not treated. The results of the study suggests that fungi have a bigger role in regulating the microbiome than previously thought, and may need to be considered when treating the issues associated with alcohol abuse.

  • Radiating luminous bacteria

    2nd June, 2017

    In a recent study, researchers at Siberian Federal University, Russia, have used a type of luminous bacteria to help them understand the effects of low doses of radiation on living organisms. When the team exposed Photobacterium phosphoreum to gamma radiation, they found that low-dose radiation did not seem to have any harmful effects until the temperature was higher than 20 °C. After this point, the bacteria stopped producing light, suggesting a toxic effect. However, the scientists could not find any genetic changes in the bacteria’s DNA that would explain the change of behaviour. These findings will help researchers comprehend how low-intensity radiation affects organisms at the cellular level, and may potentially be used to monitor levels of radiation toxicity in the environment.

  • The secret to biofilms

    2nd June, 2017

    Biofilms – sticky masses of bacteria, sugar and proteins – are notoriously difficult to get rid of. Part of the reason for this is because they are water repellent – in a similar way to leaves, according to scientists at the Technical University of Munich, Germany. This new study shows that when bacteria gather they produce a protective outer layer that has a similar rough surface structure that lotus leaves have, and it is this that makes water droplets simply roll off. Understanding how biofilms repel water means that researchers can potentially target those properties, to allow antibiotics to penetrate and combat infections more effectively.

  • A crabby answer to malaria – in a good way

    2nd June, 2017

    Chitin, a natural material found in crab shells, insect eggs and bird beaks could be used to curb the spread of malaria, according to a new study by researchers at National Taiwan Ocean University. Chitin has previously been used in technologies for wound healing and biodegradable food packaging because it is strong, cheap and easy to chemically alter. The research group mixed chitin with silver nitrate, sprayed the solution over water reservoirs in India, and found that the concoction was able to kill mosquito larvae even at low concentrations. It was also tested on goldfish that fed on the larvae; with no effect on the animals, the team surmised that the solution was non-toxic. These findings could open doors to environmentally friendly, cost-effective ways to stop malaria.

  • Tree-moving soil microbes

    12th May, 2017

    Some trees in the Rocky Mountains have been shifting uphill – a strange phenomenon that scientists at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA, may now be able to explain. The new study suggests that the community of soil microbes – the soil microbiome – may have a hand in helping these trees along upwards, so that the plants can continue to survive. As there are many temperature-sensitive trees threatened by warming climates, the researchers hope that this finding could be used to design specific soil microbiomes to encourage the plants to migrate to higher elevations.

  • Warmer temperatures bad for lizard gut health

    12th May, 2017

    A team of researchers from the University of Exeter, UK, and the University of Toulouse, France, have discovered that a small rise in temperature can negatively affect the common lizard’s gut microbiome. The new study showed that even just a 2–3°C increase in their environment, which could be a very real possibility with climate change, caused the lizards to lose over a third of the microbial diversity within their guts. The scientists warn that this could also be the case with other cold-blooded animals that need external sources of heat, like reptiles and amphibians.

  • Resistance acquired across eras by ancient bacteria

    12th May, 2017

    Enterococci, a group of bacteria that include many resistant superbugs, can be traced back to the Palaeozoic Era – around 425–500 million years ago – according to a new study by a team led by Harvard Medical School, USA. Through genome analysis, the researchers were able to tell which genes were gained by this group of microbes and how they were acquired, particularly the ones that helped them become more resistant to antibiotics and disinfectants. Being able to piece together how enterococci evolved into the micro-organisms we know now is important for understanding how they might adapt in the future, and help scientists predict and prevent their potential spread.

  • Defence against the dark bacteria

    12th May, 2017

    When our skin is pierced, bacteria get the chance to try to get into our body. So why is the human body so good at preventing infections from spreading uncontrollably? Scientists at Lund University, Sweden, believe they’ve unveiled the mystery: a blood protein found at wound sites is able to gather bacteria quickly, so that the invading microbes can be efficiently eliminated by inflammatory cells. The researchers believe that this knowledge could be used in the development of new methods for fighting bacterial infections.

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