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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  • Poisonous algae causes brain damage in sea lions

    17th December, 2015

    In 1998, hundreds of sick sea lions were found disorientated in California in the USA. At the time, scientists believed that toxic algae were responsible. Recently, a team of researchers from Emory University, USA, investigated the link between the poisonous algae and brain damage in sea lions, and found that the ones exposed to the toxins were unable to recall memories as well as healthy individuals – a big problem, as being able to remember good hunting areas is vital to their survival.

  • The glue that holds plant viruses together

    17th December, 2015

    A new study of the way the plant virus Cowpea Mosaic Virus (CPMV) builds itself could be the spearhead in finding new ways to carry drugs into the human body. As humans cannot be infected by plant viruses, it makes them the perfect organisms to use in developing targeted medicines. Scientists at the University of Leeds, UK, used new electron microscopes to study empty CPMV shells in detail, including a part of a protein that has never been seen before. This protein segment appears to function as a sort of molecular glue, holding together the shell as it is assembled. The finding opens doors into exploring and manipulating proteins in medical studies.

  • Potential for new antimicrobials in disease-suppressive bacteria

    17th December, 2015

    New genes have been discovered in bacteria from the Lysobacter genus, by a group of scientists from Wageningen University and Research Centre and the Nederlands Instituut voor Ecologie, both Netherlands. These as yet unknown genes could hold clues about new antimicrobials, as some species of Lysobacter have been isolated from soils that can suppress disease by Rhizoctonia fungi.

  • How cyanobacteria know when to do what

    17th December, 2015

    The circadian clock is a biological mechanism that tells living organisms what to do and when. For example, in humans, the circadian rhythm regulates when we eat and sleep during a 24-hour cycle. For simpler organisms like cyanobacteria – also known as blue-green algae – the circadian clock tells them when to photosynthesise and when to rest. It is often thought that, therefore, circadian rhythms are related to day and night, but researchers at the University of Chicago, USA, discovered that it is not explicitly so. As cyanobacteria were able to survive with regular external feeding in complete darkness as well as under constant light, the scientists surmised that their circadian clock actually responds only to metabolic activity, rather than light or dark.

  • Cold weather makes mice lose weight

    10th December, 2015

    Looking at animals like polar bears and seals may have you thinking lower temperatures cause weight gain. However, researchers at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, discovered that exposure to the cold alters the gut flora of mice, and this change can protect against obesity. In laboratory tests, exposure to lower temperatures caused a shift in the mice’s gut bacteria composition, which encouraged the formation of “beige” fat – a type of fat that increases metabolism, and in turn, weight loss. 

  • Using yeasts to make different flavours of chocolate

    10th December, 2015

    New yeast strains have been cultivated to offer a wider variety of flavours in wine and beer, and now scientists at Leuven University and Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie (VIB), both Belgium, have identified how to give chocolate a similar opportunity. Cocoa beans are left to ferment by yeasts and bacteria, but this process is not usually controlled, meaning the flavour can vary depending on which species gets into the mix. The researchers noticed that different robust yeast strains produce different aromas in the chocolate, even though the exact same recipe was used. Armed with this knowledge, the team have worked with the world's leading chocolate producer to tweak with different yeast strains and fine-tune different flavours.

  • Looking in the guts of Native Americans

    10th December, 2015

    A new study on the human gut microbiome gave the scientific world a look into the unknown – the microbiota of Native Americans. Most human microbiome data in the US has been taken from Euro-Americans – those that migrated from Europe in the 1600s. Researchers at the University of Oklahoma, USA, found that the studied Cheyenne and Arapaho tribespeople showed a lower number of bacteria from the genus Faecalibacterium, which are known for their anti-inflammatory effects. It also seemed that the hormones and chemicals produced by the Native Americans’ metabolisms showed similarities to people with metabolic disorders, such as obesity and inflammatory bowel disease.

  • The virus–host arms race

    10th December, 2015

    As discovered by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, a member of the herpesvirus family has developed a way to outsmart the body’s natural defences, in the virus–host “arms race”. The immune system is very good at fighting active viruses, so human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) has evolved to sneak into cells to then turn itself “off”, so it is in a dormant state and unfindable. Once the immune system realised this, it attempts to re-activate it, in order to combat it. However, HCMV can now prevent this from happening by blocking access to the virus’s genetic material. So far, the researchers are not sure how HCMV is doing this and hope to investigate further.

  • Microbes and the immune system: a constant battle

    3rd December, 2015

    Viruses and bacteria are everywhere, so why don’t we get ill all the time? Things like a runny nose and fever were thought to be the first signs that our bodies are fighting off infection, but new research from Aarhus University, Denmark, shows that our immune systems start the fight against viruses way before these symptoms start. The study shows that when a virus tries to infect us, the immune system starts to produce a group of antiviral proteins called chemokines, which attempt to neutralise the microbe. If this process does not stop the invaders, infection takes hold, we get the fever and runny nose, and the immune system rolls out its next tactic to defeat the virus.

  • Viruses from the past? Just check the bones

    3rd December, 2015

    A team of researchers from the University of Helsinki, Finland, and the University of Edinburgh, UK, discovered that the ‘fingerprint’ of viruses stay in the DNA of people that have been infected. The group found evidence of viral genetic material still present in the bones of people who died in World War II, like an archive of all the viruses those people had ever encountered. This breakthrough means that it may be possible to study viruses that circulated in the past, and could help identify any unknown human remains.

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