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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  • Japanese sushi-eating bacteria discovered

    7th April, 2010

    Genes from marine bacteria that live on the Porphyra seaweed used to wrap sushi have also been found in gut bacteria isolated from Japanese people, but not in similar microbes from North Americans. Scientists from the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris, who reported their work in Nature, sequenced the genetic makeup of Zobellia galactanivorans bacteria taken from the seaweed and searched DNA databases for matches. They analysed the 11 genes also present in the Japanese gut microbe Bacteroides plebius and found them to be responsible for breaking down carbohydrates in the seaweed. These genes enable the Bacteroides in the intestines to help digest sushi when it is eaten. Japan has a long history of eating seaweed and the researchers believe that over the centuries, the marine microbes have swapped genes with the gut organisms. There are trillions of bacteria in the human intestines, many of which help us to break down our food.

  • Increased risk of H1N1 possibly linked to seasonal flu jabs

    7th April, 2010

    Studies in Canada appear to indicate that people given the seasonal flu vaccine were more likely to contract H1N1 ‘swine flu’ than those who did not receive the jab. Despite this association, researchers said the findings, published in PLoS Medicine “do not reveal a true cause and effect relationship between seasonal flu vaccination and subsequent H1N1 illness. It may be due to differences in some unidentified factor(s) among the groups studied”. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that H1N1 is included in seasonal flu vaccines next year and thus provide protection against swine flu in the case of another pandemic.

  • Order for unwanted swine flu vaccine cancelled

    6th April, 2010

    The UK order for vaccine against H1N1 influenza has been renegotiated with suppliers GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), in the light of a sharp decline in cases of the disease. Deals had been signed for 90 million doses, but just 34.8 million will now be purchased. This includes vaccine already administered or being kept for future use. Vaccination will still be offered to patients judged to be at high risk such as pregnant women. Some of the vaccine is being donated to African countries. Under the terms of the deal with GSK, the government has agreed to buy vaccine against H5N1 avian flu, to be used if there is a future pandemic, together with replacement of the stocks of the antiviral Relenza that was prescribed during the swine flu outbreak. A cancellation agreement was made with the other vaccine supplier, Baxter, back in February. The cost of unused vaccine has been estimated at £150 million.

  • MMR hearing resumes

    6th April, 2010

    The General Medical Council (GMC) hearing into Dr Andrew Wakefield’s research into the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism has resumed. The panel will decide whether he and two colleagues were guilty of serious professional misconduct and should be struck off the medical register. The link alleged by Dr Wakefield between the triple vaccination against MMR and autism in children led to a sharp decline in uptake of the jab.

  • C diff death in Scotland

    5th April, 2010

    Four patients in Perth Royal Infirmary have contracted the hospital ‘superbug’ Clostridium difficile, one of whom has died. Infection control procedures have been implemented and the ward has been closed to new admissions. Cases of the disease in Scottish hospitals are at their lowest since records began.

  • Prompting self-destruction of TB bacteria

    22nd March, 2010

    Triggering a chemical reaction in tuberculosis (TB) bacteria that leads to their self-destruction could be a novel basis for new drugs that tackle the disease. The scientists from the John Innes Centre in Norwich and the Albert Einstein University in New York believe this reaction could even be enhanced through diet to fight infection. TB is a respiratory disease that causes 2 million deaths globally each year. New drugs are needed due to increasing resistance to existing treatments. The researchers discovered an enzyme inside Mycobacterium tuberculosis that is necessary for a reaction that leads to the build-up of a sugar, called maltose 1-phospate, within cells. The accumulation of the sugar is toxic to the bacterium and sends a suicide signal to the cell. “This pathway has never previously been targeted by antimicrobials and offers a treatment option very different from antibiotics in use,” said Dr William Jacobs, from Albert Einstein University who conducted the research. Drugs that target this pathway are at a very early stage of development and it may be many years before they are available for use.

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