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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  • Socks before shoes in bacterium hunt

    8th June, 2017

    In a bid to find out if the natural environment is a direct source of exposure to Campylobacter, scientists at the University of Liverpool, UK, got volunteers to wear socks over their shoes while walking in the countryside. Campylobacter is a bacterium often associated with food poisoning, which can cause diarrhoeal disease, so there are fewer studies on other causes of infection. However, food-transmitted infections cannot explain the seasonal peaks across the UK, and previous studies showed that the peak appears to be more obvious in some parts of the country than others. The new citizen science study revealed that Campylobacter was more prevalent in the North West of the UK than in East Anglia – and it seems this may be linked to the higher number of livestock being raised in the North West. The results from this research could help with finding ways to reduce the risk of disease for people.

  • The link between climate change, fungal spores and allergies

    8th June, 2017

    The fungus Alternaria alternata produces spores that increase cell damage in people’s airways, according to research by a team from the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic, both USA. The scientists exposed cells taken from the airways’ lining to A. alternata, finding that the cells had higher concentrations of calcium, which triggered excess salt and fluid production. Salt and fluid secretion usually helps clear the airways of allergens, in a process called mucociliary clearance, but too much appeared to disrupt this function and consequently made allergy symptoms worse. Previous studies showed that A. alternata produces more spores when carbon dioxide levels are higher, meaning the increased levels of CO2 from climate change could make things worse for allergy sufferers.

  • Vaginal bacteria effects on Zika and herpes virus infections

    8th June, 2017

    In a recent study, a research group from the University of Texas Medical Branch, USA, has found that bacteria found inside the vagina could inhibit the herpes simplex virus-2 and Zika virus. The scientists took samples from healthy donors and grew the bacteria in the laboratory, then tried to infect the cultures with herpes or Zika virus to imitate sexual transmission. Their findings showed that the herpes virus could colonise more easily the cultures with less Lactobacillus bacteria – the most abundant microbial species found in vaginal systems and is associated with ‘healthy’ microbiomes. On the other hand, infection with Zika virus offered mixed results, implying that specific bacterial species could impact the virus’ replication.

  • Finding Mycobacterium’s secret weapon

    2nd June, 2017

    The bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB) is difficult to eliminate completely as subpopulations often persist after antibiotics have killed the majority of cells. Now, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, USA, have discovered just what it is that allows the microbes to survive: a single protein. Looking at Mycobacterium smegmatis, a close relative of TB-causing M. tuberculosis, the team were able to show that this protein allows the bacteria to be more likely to mutate when they divide. Usually, when bacterial cells reproduce by dividing, they split into two that look exactly the same. With the help of this protein, mycobacteria cells can reproduce with more variety, making them more difficult to target by the antibiotics that we have. Understanding this means that, in future, scientists could find ways to inhibit the protein, or the gene that produces it, making the micro-organism easier to combat.

  • Do fungi make wines better or worse?

    2nd June, 2017

    A new study by researchers at various institution in Germany has found that two types of fungal infection can affect the taste of wine. Surprisingly, grapes infected with Botrytis cinerea – commonly known as bunch rot – produced fruity, pleasant wines with higher sugar content. On the other hand, powdery mildew, caused by Erysiphe necator, made the resulting product less interesting; the researchers found that this was not due to any specific bad tastes, but rather an absence of positive ones. These results may help as a basis for future, more targeted studies into the effects of fungal infections in viticulture.

  • Liver’s got fungal problems

    2nd June, 2017

    Scientists at University of California, San Diego, USA, may have found a new way to treat alcohol-associated liver disease using antifungal drugs. This new study showed that fungi flourished in the intestines of mice that were constantly exposed to alcohol, and once the micro-organisms moved through the body to the liver, they would trigger inflammation. This chronic inflammation then causes liver cells to die and allows liver disease to progress. With this knowledge, the research team gave some of their mice subjects an antifungal compound and found that the treated rodents had lower levels of liver injury than those that were not treated. The results of the study suggests that fungi have a bigger role in regulating the microbiome than previously thought, and may need to be considered when treating the issues associated with alcohol abuse.

  • Radiating luminous bacteria

    2nd June, 2017

    In a recent study, researchers at Siberian Federal University, Russia, have used a type of luminous bacteria to help them understand the effects of low doses of radiation on living organisms. When the team exposed Photobacterium phosphoreum to gamma radiation, they found that low-dose radiation did not seem to have any harmful effects until the temperature was higher than 20 °C. After this point, the bacteria stopped producing light, suggesting a toxic effect. However, the scientists could not find any genetic changes in the bacteria’s DNA that would explain the change of behaviour. These findings will help researchers comprehend how low-intensity radiation affects organisms at the cellular level, and may potentially be used to monitor levels of radiation toxicity in the environment.

  • The secret to biofilms

    2nd June, 2017

    Biofilms – sticky masses of bacteria, sugar and proteins – are notoriously difficult to get rid of. Part of the reason for this is because they are water repellent – in a similar way to leaves, according to scientists at the Technical University of Munich, Germany. This new study shows that when bacteria gather they produce a protective outer layer that has a similar rough surface structure that lotus leaves have, and it is this that makes water droplets simply roll off. Understanding how biofilms repel water means that researchers can potentially target those properties, to allow antibiotics to penetrate and combat infections more effectively.

  • A crabby answer to malaria – in a good way

    2nd June, 2017

    Chitin, a natural material found in crab shells, insect eggs and bird beaks could be used to curb the spread of malaria, according to a new study by researchers at National Taiwan Ocean University. Chitin has previously been used in technologies for wound healing and biodegradable food packaging because it is strong, cheap and easy to chemically alter. The research group mixed chitin with silver nitrate, sprayed the solution over water reservoirs in India, and found that the concoction was able to kill mosquito larvae even at low concentrations. It was also tested on goldfish that fed on the larvae; with no effect on the animals, the team surmised that the solution was non-toxic. These findings could open doors to environmentally friendly, cost-effective ways to stop malaria.

  • Tree-moving soil microbes

    12th May, 2017

    Some trees in the Rocky Mountains have been shifting uphill – a strange phenomenon that scientists at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA, may now be able to explain. The new study suggests that the community of soil microbes – the soil microbiome – may have a hand in helping these trees along upwards, so that the plants can continue to survive. As there are many temperature-sensitive trees threatened by warming climates, the researchers hope that this finding could be used to design specific soil microbiomes to encourage the plants to migrate to higher elevations.

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