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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  • It’s a bacterium eat bacterium world

    8th December, 2016

    Researchers at the Centre for Biological Research (CIB-CSIC), Spain, have developed a new way of using predatory bacteria to extract materials from other bacteria that can be used to create plastic. Polyhydroxyalkanoates, or PHAs, are compounds naturally produced by certain types of bacteria to store energy, and being able to harvest PHAs has been a great step forward for environmentally-friendly, cost effective plastic production. The new system uses Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus, which has been engineered to kill PHA-producing bacteria without degrading the bioplastic compounds produced by its prey.

  • What makes an easy journey?

    8th December, 2016

    A team of scientists at Iowa State University, USA, have identified what it is that makes Campylobacter jejuni so infectious among animals like sheep and cows, and could inspire new ideas for preventing the loss of livestock. C. jejuni is a bacterium that spreads easily among herds of ruminants, often causing miscarriages in pregnant animals, but it was previously unknown why it’s so virulent. Using modern sequencing technology, the research team were able to isolate the specific mutations that allowed the bacterium to spread so easily. Understanding these could mean new treatments or even potentially the development of a vaccine for livestock.

  • Helping things along

    8th December, 2016

    Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, USA, have found that by releasing an enzyme, a bacterium called Vibrio fischeri sends the protozoa Salpingoeca rosetta into a mating frenzy. As S. rosetta is considered to be one of the closest genetic relatives to animals, these findings suggest that environmental bacteria and potentially even symbiotic bacteria may be able to influence mating in animals as well.

  • Build your own fish guts

    8th December, 2016

    A new project led by researchers at the University of Glasgow, UK, will investigate the relationship between a salmon’s digestive health and its microbiome – by building an artificial salmon gut. The project, called SalmoSim, will look into how the fish’s gut microbes can help to efficiently absorb nutrients from new types of feed. The team hope that better understanding of the salmon gut microbiome could help improve future farming and aquaculture practices.

  • There be dragons (and microbes)

    2nd December, 2016

    A new study by researchers from various institutions in the USA has found that captive Komodo dragons transfer microbes from their environment in a cyclical nature – the same way as humans and their pets do within the home. Sampling Komodo dragons and their zoo enclosures showed that the reptiles spread a lot of bacteria and other micro-organisms around their environment, but also reacquire these microbes in an ongoing exchange where micro-organisms from outside their enclosures do not have a huge influence on their microbiome, as would be the case with their wild counterparts. The study findings shed some light on our understanding of the effects of captivity and an animal’s microbial diversity, and could help zookeepers and vets in their care of captive animals.

  • Ancient Antarctic microbes

    2nd December, 2016

    A group of scientists from Georgetown University, USA, are travelling to Antarctica in search of ancient microbes, to find out how they adapted to live in incredibly inhospitable places. The research team hope to be able to find micro-organisms in former lake beds, and then sequence them onsite. The results may help to understand what it is about the microbes’ genetic make-up that allows life to persist in this environment all this time.

  • Powered by sewage?

    2nd December, 2016

    Domestic sewage is usually thought of as simply waste, but what if microbes could help turn it into energy? Researchers at Ghent University, Belgium, have found a way to extract energy, by not giving sewage-consuming bacteria any food, then allowing them to briefly feed on the wastewater. This tactic – called contact stabilisation – means the starving bacteria do not fully digest all of the organic matter. The undigested material can then be recovered to produce the energy needed to clean up wastewater, instead of using external electricity sources. Contact stabilisation allows over half of the organic matter in sewage can be reused for other purposes, and the scientists hope that these findings could lead to energy neutral wastewater treatments.

  • Can bacteriophages lead us to cleaner water?

    2nd December, 2016

    Bacteriophages – viruses that only infect specific bacteria – living within the human gut could potentially be used to find out whether water is contaminated by pathogenic bacteria, suggest researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, USA. Instead of testing human waste-contaminated waterways for each bacterium that could cause illness, the study suggests that looking for a bacteriophage that resides in similar conditions could be a much easier way of detecting pathogens.

  • What’s killing our honey bees?

    17th November, 2016

    Recently, honey bee populations have been declining drastically over the winter months in North America and Europe, and researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria, may now be able to shine a light on the cause. The team carried out simulations of the course of a disease called deformed wing virus, using an artificial clone of the virus’s genes. Tests showed that bees infected with the cloned virus displayed discolouration, wing deformities, and other problems – the same symptoms as in natural infections. Confirming and understanding the effects of deformed wing virus infection means future research can focus on ways to treat and prevent this disease from devastating further honey bee populations.

  • Using what’s inside

    17th November, 2016

    The discovery of a new bacterium could lead to a way of a controlling crop-damaging worm without environment-damaging pesticides, suggests a research team at Oregon State University, USA. The recently identified bacterium belongs to the Wolbachia genus, a group of micro-organisms that already shows potential to be used as a form of mosquito population control. This new Wolbachia strain inhabits the Pratylenchus penetrans roundworm, which steals the nutrients from the roots of plants including raspberries, potatoes and mint. The study shows that this Wolbachia is not in a mutualistic relationship with the worm – meaning they are not relying on each other to survive – but further investigation is needed to understand exactly what the relationship between the worm host and the parasite is. Either way, scientists have the potential to use this discovery to exploit the Wolbachia since it’s already infecting the pest worm.

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