Spores of fungus, Candida albicans

The long strands are the tubular filaments (hyphae) that have developed from the fungal spores. Yeast cells (rounded, yellow) are budding from the ends of the hyphae (red). Candida albicans causes the infection known as candidiasis which affects the moist mucous membranes of the body, such as skin folds, mouth, respiratory tract and vagina. Oral and vaginal conditions are known as thrush.

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News

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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  • Sleep and mutate

    16th February, 2017

    In the antibiotic arms race between bacteria and scientists, the microbes appear to have upped their game once again, according to a research team at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Previous studies showed that, in a bid to avoid being killed by antibiotics, some bacteria were able to evolve a mechanism that kept them dormant until the course of treatment was finished. The solution to this was simply to extend the treatment, but a new study shows that bacteria are now able to lie dormant, then develop resistance 20 times faster than normal as soon as they awaken, rendering longer antibiotic treatments useless. Through further testing, the study suggests that the dormant mode both protects the bacteria from antibiotics, and also acts as a stepping stone for the mutations needed for the microbes to develop resistance. These findings could have important implications for the design and development of new antibiotics, in order to avoid this.

  • Manipulating ticks to stop diseases

    16th February, 2017

    Many severe bacterial and parasitic diseases are transmitted to us through tick bites, but what makes ticks so resilient to these microbes that they themselves are not harmed when infected? Scientists at the University of Maryland, USA, believe they have the answer in their new study: a molecular pathway that recognises and protects the tick against Borrelia burgdorgeri, the cause of Lyme disease; and Anaplasma phagocytophilum and A. marginale, two bacterial species that cause rickettsial infections. The research team were able to both deactivate the pathway – making the ticks vulnerable to the bacteria – and over-activate it – making the ticks’ immune systems combat the bacteria even more efficiently. The ability to manipulate this immune response could mean a decline in tick-borne diseases in humans and animals, if the arachnids can be made to be less vulnerable to infection altogether.

  • Healers from the Amazon onto something

    16th February, 2017

    Healers from indigenous groups living in the Amazon have been using Brazilian peppertree berries in their medicines for years, and new research by a team from Emory University, USA, shows that they might be onto something. By breaking the berries’ chemical components down and testing them on mice, the researchers discovered that the berries contained a compound that can inhibit methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA – a ‘superbug’ that has become resistant to many currently available antibiotics. The compound works by disarming MRSA so that the bacteria cannot produce the toxins that damage skin tissue, allowing the immune system to heal wounds. This discovery may hold potential for new antibiotics that do not kill bacteria, but merely disable them, so that they do not get the chance to evolve resistance as they do with current treatments.

  • Sea bacteria to help combat climate change?

    16th February, 2017

    Researchers the University of East Anglia, UK, and Ocean University of China have discovered that many ocean-dwelling bacteria can synthesise a molecule (DMSP), which when broken down by other microbes produces dimethyl sulfide (DMS) – a gas that scientists believe have a role in regulating climate, as it helps form clouds. It was previously thought that only more complex organisms like seaweeds and phytoplankton were able to produce DMSP. Finding that marine bacteria are also able to suggests that the environmental role the compound and its producers play in climate regulation has been very much underestimated. Additionally, as these bacteria do not need sunlight for growth, DMSP production does not need to be limited to the surface waters of the sea, as was previously believed.

  • Extreme temperatures, radiation and no air – no problem

    9th February, 2017

    Radiation, extreme temperatures and the vacuum of space – just one of these is usually enough to kill the majority of the inhabitants of Earth. However, two microbes sent to the International Space Station (ISS) by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology IZI, Germany, were able to withstand all three combined. Sphaerocystis sp., an alga isolated from Svalbard in Norway, and Nostoc sp., a cyanobacterium found in Antarctica, survived temperature fluctuations of between -20 °C and 50 °C, the lack of oxygen and various types of UV radiation while suspended for 16 months outside of the ISS. The research team are now keen to look into the adaptations that allow the two micro-organisms to endure such extreme environments.

  • Sharing is caring, if you’re family

    9th February, 2017

    Some bacteria kill distant relatives so that their immediate families can thrive, a study by scientists at the University of Edinburgh, UK, has found. The new research shows that Vibrio cholerae, the bacterium responsible for cholera, cooperates and shares resources with closely-related microbes, but kills off rival strains by injecting them with toxins via a mechanism called the type VI secretion system. Further investigation demonstrated that genetically similar bacteria are not affected by the toxins, allowing them to cooperate and flourish together.

  • Stopping resistant bacteria through brute force

    9th February, 2017

    A new study by researchers at University College London, UK, has shown that currently available antibiotics can still stop resistant bacteria – by pushing harder. Antibiotics work by binding to bacterial cells using molecular ‘keys’ that lock on to the microbes’ surfaces, and when bacteria become resistant, they essentially change their ‘locks’ to stop the drugs from working. The scientists found that the antibiotic oritavancin could exert enough force to still inhibit the growth bacteria like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA. The study showed that oritavancin simply pushed harder against MRSA’s ‘locks’ to force its ‘key’ in. These findings could help towards both designing new treatments as well as modifying existing ones.

  • Antibiotics from a sponge

    9th February, 2017

    A deep sea-inhabiting sponge may be able to help us defeat a superbug, according to researchers at Florida Atlantic University, USA. A compound isolated from a sponge of the Spongosorites genus has been shown to be able to inhibit: methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA); Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes tuberculosis; and Plasmodium falciparum, the protozoan parasite that can cause malaria. The research team hope that these preliminary results might lead to much needed broad-spectrum treatments for increasingly resistant bacteria.

  • The secret to longer life?

    3rd February, 2017

    Aging has always been somewhat of a mystery, but who would have known that yeast may help us better understand the process? Researchers at Concordia University, Canada, exposed yeast to lithocholic acid – a molecule naturally found in the environment – and found that the microbes lived five times longer than normal. The study found that lithocholic acid encouraged the yeast to consume more oxygen and produce more energy, allowing them to live longer and defying its usual lifespan. Further tests showed that the long-lived yeast were able to reproduce just as efficiently as normal yeast. These results could help us understand human aging, and may open the door to new methods of improving health.

  • Potential to stop superbugs

    3rd February, 2017

    A joint study by researchers at the Centro Nacional de Biotecnología, Spain, and University of Sussex, UK, has discovered a gene that decreases the mutation rate of Mycobacterium smegmatis, a microbe related to the pathogen that causes tuberculosis. Mutations are often what gives rise to ‘superbugs’ – bacteria that have developed resistance to multiple, currently-available antibiotics. The nucS gene encodes an enzyme that helps repair DNA, and it is this that appears to limit gene mutation. Identifying this gene is an important step towards understanding antibiotic resistance mutations and how we can potentially slow its course.

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