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.

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  • Like farmer like pig

    13th July, 2017

    A recent study by scientists at the South China Agricultural University, China, has found that working on a pig farm can affect your gut microbiome. Comparing the bacteria in both human and pig faecal matter, the researchers noticed that swine farm workers had gut bacterial compositions that were more similar to the pigs, and were significantly less diverse than the local villagers. The study also showed that the farmhands harboured more bacteria from the groups of bacteria that include a wide variety of pathogens, such as E. coli and Salmonella. On the other hand, the villagers’ faeces contained more bacteria from the Bacteroidetes phylum, many of which are considered important for gut health.

  • Mother grows best

    13th July, 2017

    New research from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama, has revealed that young cacao plants can stay protected against a devastating pathogen if exposed to microbes from adult plants. The work showed that transplanting some of the micro-organisms living on a healthy adult plant halved the chances of seedlings getting infected by Phytophthora palmivora. Further investigation showed that the fungus Colletotricum tropicale was the most abundant microbe on the plants, suggesting that this may be the seedlings’ main protector. These findings could potentially have a massive impact on the cacao industry, as P. palmivora accounts for 10%–20% of harvest losses.

  • Beat tuberculosis with stuff from the sea

    13th July, 2017

    A new weapon to treat tuberculosis (TB) may have been found in the depths of the ocean, according to scientists at the University of Central Florida (UCF), USA. Mycobacterium tuberculosis can lie dormant during infection, making treatments ineffective, as most TB antibiotics target bacteria that are actively trying to replicate. Since natural compounds from marine sponges are known to produce compounds that might be used as treatments for various diseases, the UCF researchers looked to see if any could be used to tackle TB. Their findings show that 19 of the 26 compounds they found were able to kill dormant TB bacteria, with some better at eliminating the dormant version than the active, replicating bacteria.

  • What’s the difference in frog skin?

    13th July, 2017

    The make-up of microbial communities living on a frog’s skin can depend on its habitat, according to a new study by researchers at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. The team swabbed four species of frogs living in different types of forest and compared them for microbial diversity. As it turns out, the Proceratophrys boiei frog had significant differences in microbial diversity depending on whether they were in thick-forested areas or regions with only isolated patches of trees. The other frog species’ microbes did not differ much by forest type, suggesting that whether frogs’ skin microbiomes vary is potentially based on individual species.

  • Mysterious microbes on our skin

    6th July, 2017

    The communities of microbes on the human skin, known as the skin microbiome, are not just made up of bacteria, but other types of micro-organisms too. A team of researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA, and the Medical University of Graz, Austria, have been looking at archaea – a particular group of microbes – and have discovered that that the number present in the microbiome varies with age. Sampling people between the ages of 1 and 75, the scientists found that archaea were most abundant in people younger than 12 years of age and those older than 60. The team also noticed that people who have dry skin have more archaea too. Further studies are needed to find out what role the mysterious microbes play in the skin microbiome, but the researchers suspect they are likely to be crucial to keeping skin healthy.

  • Fat makes fat cells

    6th July, 2017

    Researchers at Washingston University in St. Louis, USA, have revealed why some bacterial cells can grow large, while others stay small – it’s all down to fat. By studying the growth of Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis when subjected to different types of antibiotics, the scientists noted that the antibiotic that targeted fat synthesis caused the bacterial cells to become stunted. Further testing suggested that it didn’t matter if the bacteria could not produce their own fat anymore; if they were given other fatty acids, the bacterial cells could continue to grow. These findings could have an impact on future research on bacteria growth, as in the past researchers have focused their studies on proteins.

  • Where did the ship come from, where did it go?

    6th July, 2017

    Previous studies have shown that people leave behind microbial ‘signatures’ – a unique set of microbes – whenever they interact with their environment, and now scientists at Michigan Technological University, USA, say that ships may do too. By analysing the water collected in ships’ bilge areas and comparing the results to samples taken from a variety of ports, the research group hope to be able to identify where each ship has been.

  • Beware of the protozoa

    6th July, 2017

    New research has shown that the pervasiveness of protozoan parasites may pose public health issues, according to scientists at the University of Zaragoza, Spain. The research group analysed drinking water from water treatment plants in the Aragon region and detected the presence of protozoa from the genera Cryptosporidium and Giardia in their dispersal stages, although in low concentrations. These two microbes can cause diarrhoeal problems if ingested, so it is important for treatment plants to monitor their concentration levels in already-treated water.

  • In urban areas, most Indonesian children have been infected by dengue

    23rd June, 2017

    A recent report by scientists at the University of Indonesia shows that dengue virus has infected more than 60% of children in urban areas of Indonesia. The report further shows that more than 80% of Indonesian children aged 10 or over will have been infected at least once. Dengue is a mosquito-borne disease that is on the rise worldwide, and knowing who is being infected is important for planning how to curb it.

  • Lingering resistant bacteria

    23rd June, 2017

    A new study by researchers at Queensland University of Technology, Australia, has revealed that Pseudomonas aeruginosa – the multidrug-resistant bacterium associated with hospital-acquired infections – can travel as far as 4 metres and remain infectious for 45 minutes after being expelled. By testing the dried droplets ejected through coughing, the team were able to show that some of the bacteria were able to survive for longer than expected. They suggest that it may be because droplets are produced in different parts of the respiratory tract, and therefore carry different amounts of bacteria. These findings could have implications for infection control in the hospital environment, especially around patients with respiratory problems.

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