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.

More about microbes


Microbes are always hitting the headlines. Keep up to date with the latest microbiology news. Most stories are linked to the full article.

News Filter

  • A CF saviour

    1st September, 2017

    Researchers at Michigan State University, USA, believe they have a solution to help cystic fibrosis (CF) patients battle mucosal bacteria, which bind together and produce a substance that protects them from antibiotics. Currently, infections often return after a course of antibiotics as a small number of bacteria survive – aptly named ‘persisters’. These remaining microbes spread again after the treatment has ended, starting the cycle all over again and causing further damage to the organs they build up on each time. This new study suggests that using two existing drugs, triclosan and tobramycin, to target the persisters could be enough to eliminate them. When triclosan – commonly found in toothpaste and soap – was used in conjunction with an antibiotic used to treat mucosal bacteria called tobramycin, the triclosan seemed to enhance tobramycin’s ability to kill persisters in lab tests, including a tobramycin-resistant strain of bacteria.

  • Moth-killing fungal spores

    1st September, 2017

    An airborne fungus that devastates gypsy moth populations could help us predict the damage to forests across the United States, according to scientists at Cornell University, USA. Gypsy moth caterpillars adore trees like oak and aspen, gorging themselves on the leaves and destroying acres of forest at a time. New research is now able to track the geographic range of Entomophaga maimaiga, a fungus that only infects gypsy moths, as the creatures can carry the pathogen for days before it kills them and shoots spores up into the air to be spread by the wind. Being able to figure out how far the fungus’ spores travel based on weather patterns could help estimate just how much damage the moths will do in a given year.

  • Get ready for rush hour

    24th August, 2017

    The hijacking of transport systems sounds more like a 90s film plot, but some microbes have adapted to be able to do just that. However, they may no longer be able to enjoy such perks, thanks to research led by a team at the University of Birmingham, UK. The immune system’s first line of defence against invading micro-organisms are white blood cells called macrophages, which identify an intruder and consume it in order to destroy it. However, some pathogens – like the fungus that causes cryptococcosis – have adapted to be able to survive inside macrophages, and use them to move around the body. Some white blood cells have developed a mechanism called ‘vomocytosis’ to eject these hijackers, but it wasn’t clear how vomocytosis worked, until now. The Birmingham research group identified the signal that told the macrophage whether it should expel a pathogen or not. With this knowledge in hand, they were able to manipulate vomocytosis rates. Through understanding the mechanism, future research could help towards developing therapies that target vomocytosis rates, and prevent potentially fatal infections from spreading.

  • Slow and steady defeats the infection

    24th August, 2017

    It may be more beneficial to slow down infections than to kill them, say scientists at the University of Illinois, USA. Their new study has identified the mechanism that bacteria use to slow growth, which they use to enter a dormant state to avoid the antibiotics naturally produced by competing microbes when resources are low. Then, when more nutrients become available, they re-emerge more virulent than before. When threatened by antibiotics, bacteria adapt by evolving resistance. Based on this, the new research suggests that targeting bacteria’s growth rate may allow the immune system to naturally defeat an infection, without encouraging resistance through antibiotic use.

  • Wastewater microbes to the rescue

    24th August, 2017

    Scientists at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, believe that wastewater bacteria may be key to helping us fight antibiotic resistance, after noticing that some of the microbes produced compounds that could kill two major disease-causing bacteria. Two strains of bacteria isolated from wastewater samples produce antimicrobial compounds called biosurfactants, which appeared to be effective against meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and E. coli. Biosurfactants are naturally produced by certain microbes, and are commercially used in things like house-cleaning products.

  • Sharing homes and microbiomes

    24th August, 2017

    When you live with someone, you share many things – including the microbial communities living on your skin, according to a study by researchers at the University of Waterloo, Canada. The group swabbed various body sites from the study participants, and put the data into their computers. The machines were then able to match cohabiting couples with 86% accuracy, based solely on their skin microbiome signatures. Results from this study will help improve our understanding of how skin microbiomes adapt – particularly if these microbes co-evolve with their hosts.

  • Where on the tree of life?

    21st July, 2017

    Dicyemida are strange-looking, very simple little parasites found in cephalopods – like octopuses, squid and cuttlefish – and scientists have long debated their classification since they were first discovered. Now, a research team from Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), Japan, believe they have cracked it – unlike previous studies, they used modern sequencing technology to focus on the oddball parasite’s amino acids, rather than its DNA. In the end, the researchers determined that Dicyemida belong in the Spiralia group, with their closest relatives being another kind of marine parasite called Orthonectida. This placement means that researchers may be able to track back over the parasite’s evolutionary history, and perhaps that of Spiralia as well.

  • Vertically is better than horizontally

    21st July, 2017

    The way beneficial microbes are acquired is key to how good the relationship is between host and micro-organism, according to researchers at the University of Oxford, UK. Their study has shown that when bacteria are passed vertically – from mother to offspring – the microbes play a much stronger role in helping the recipient thrive, as the bacteria can then pass down to further offspring, continuing the cycle. In the case of aphids, the study showed that they cannot survive if these bacteria are removed. On the other hand, plants that acquire bacteria from their environment – most notably the microbes living in the soil around their roots – don’t do as well without them, but also do not die. These results give an insight into the symbiotic relationships between microbes and their hosts, and could be used to inform medical understanding in the future.

  • Leishmaniasis on the (high) rise

    21st July, 2017

    Leishmaniasis is a disease normally confined to more rural parts of tropical and subtropical countries, so scientists from the University of Campinas and Instituto Adolfo Lutz, both Brazil, have been investigating why it seems to be spreading into urban areas. Leishmaniasis is spread by sandflies, whose bites transit the Leishmania protozoa that cause the disease. In 2009, the first case of visceral leishmaniasis (VL) – the most severe and sometimes fatal form of the disease – was reported in a dog living in condominiums built in the environmentally protected area around the Campinas municipality in São Paulo, Brazil. Following on from this, the research team sampled domestic dogs living in the development, as well as wild mammals and insects from the surrounding area, and found that over 1% of dogs, some opossums and several insects carried the parasite responsible for VL. Understanding the transmission paths of leishmaniasis and being able to track it is key to controlling the spread of the disease.

  • Epstein–Barr-like virus found in gorillas

    21st July, 2017

    Scientists from the University of California, Davis, USA, have recently discovered a virus in wild mountain gorillas that is very similar to the human Epstein–Barr virus (EBV), which causes glandular fever and is associated with different sorts of cancer. The research showed that infant gorillas seem to have the highest rate of infection, but do not show symptoms – similar to HPV infections in children. However, after studying baby gorillas that died of natural causes, the research team noticed that some of them had pulmonary reactive lymphoid hyperplasia, a lung condition linked to HIV-infected human children with a secondary EBV infection. These findings may have implications in gorilla conservation efforts, and could also impact EBV research in humans.

Back to top