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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  • 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.

  • ‘Corpse’-eating bacteria

    3rd March, 2017

    In a macabre new study, researchers at The Francis Crick Institute, UK, have discovered that Mycobacterium tuberculosis – the bacterium that causes TB – can kill immune cells from the inside, then hide inside them for days. Macrophages are white blood cells that hunt down and consume invading microbes like M. tuberculosis. However, previous studies showed that the TB-causing bacterium is able to survive inside macrophages only to burst out of them later, and supposed that it was this rupturing that killed the immune cells. Further investigation by The Francis Crick Institute team revealed that M. tuberculosis in fact kills the macrophages, then feasts on the remnants of the dead cell from inside it before emerging. Better understanding of how M. tuberculosis infects and spreads will be key in finding better treatments.

  • Urgent: antibiotics needed

    3rd March, 2017

    The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently published a list of high priority bacterial families that we need to urgently develop antibiotics for. Split into three priority categories, the list includes Enterobacteriaceae, which contains familiar pathogens like Escherichia coli and Salmonella, as a ‘critical’ priority. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus, better known as MRSA, and Campylobacter, a common cause of food poisoning, are listed as ‘high’ priority; Streptococcus pneumoniae – the main cause of community-acquired pneumonia and meningitis – is among the bacteria listed as ‘medium’ priority. The WHO hopes this list will help to direct research and development efforts towards the increasingly resistant bacteria that are posing the biggest threats to humanity.

  • A Salmonella cause for deadly epidemic

    24th February, 2017

    In the 16th century, up to 80% of Mexico’s native population died from an unknown plague. In a new study, researchers at the Natural History Museum of Denmark report that the microbe responsible for killing a huge proportion of Mexican highland inhabitants in 1545 and 1576 may have been a form of Salmonella. Various scientists had previously suggested that the major disease outbreaks in the region could have been measles, smallpox, typhus or even a viral haemorrhagic fever. However, by comparing the bacterial DNA extracted from people buried in the region with a database of modern bacterial genomes, the Danish research team were able to reconstruct two genomes of a strain called Salmonella Paratyphi C. As this now-rare strain is transmitted through faecal matter, the chaos that occurred during the Spanish conquest may have allowed S. Paratyphi C to run rampant.

  • Baby asthma risk from yeast?

    24th February, 2017

    A yeast found in the guts of newborns in Ecuador could be used to predict if the children will develop asthma, says a team of scientists from the University of British Columbia, Canada. In the new study, there seemed to be a link between the presence of a yeast from the Pichia genus and asthma – three-month-olds identified with Pichia in their faecal samples appeared to be more likely to develop the disease by the time they reached five years of age. The research group is not yet sure why this may be the case, but suggest that it might be the way in which Pichia interacts with other microbes in the newborns’ guts.

  • The mine life for ancient microbes

    24th February, 2017

    NASA scientists have recently found microbes inside crystals that have been in a Mexican lead, zinc and silver mine for up to 60,000 years. The surprising part? They were still alive. The study shows that these micro-organisms – which were mostly bacteria – seem to have adapted to survive on sulphite, manganese and copper oxide. Excitingly, the vast majority of these microbes have never been seen before. Their extreme survival skills mean that there could be many other undiscovered microbes living in hostile environments where researchers would never have thought to look for them.

  • Combat antibiotic resistance with dragon blood

    24th February, 2017

    Komodo dragons have a reputation for being impressive, not least due to their size and fearsomeness. New research by a team from George Mason University, USA, now suggests that these giant lizards are even more incredible than previously thought – they seem to have antimicrobial elements in their blood to help protect them from potentially deadly infections. Most animals’ immune systems make compounds called cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMPs), which help protect them from a variety of different pathogens. The recent study found that some CAMPs produced by komodo dragons were able to combat Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus – species of bacteria that are becoming increasingly resistant to currently available drugs. The findings suggest that these peptides may potentially lead to new much-needed antibiotic treatments.

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