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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  • Bacteria-fighting paper

    5th May, 2017

    Since developing a new antibiotic can cost up to £1.15 billion, how good would it be if there was an inexpensive antibacterial – made of paper? A team led by researchers at Rutgers University, USA, has found that they could generate a bacteria-zapping plasma, by charging thin layers of aluminium-laced paper with electricity. Initial tests have shown that the material can eliminate the spores of Saccharomyces cerevisiae – a non-dangerous species of yeast often used in experiments – as well as Escherichia coli, some of which can cause severe illness in people. However, more investigation will be needed to find out how effective the material is for killing spores, and if it can be used to sanitise things like laboratory equipment and bandages.

  • All that glitters is gold

    5th May, 2017

    According to scientists at the University of Adelaide, Australia, their recently published research may shine a light on how bacteria could help process gold ore more efficiently and make it easier to find gold deposits. Gold is a naturally occurring precious metal with its own biochemical cycle, but it may not be commonly known that part of the process involves bacteria. These microbes dissolve the bits of gold that have made their way into sediments and waterways, then reconcentrates them into gold nuggets. The new study now reveals that the bacteria can convert gold much faster than previously thought, and could help enhance current processes for extracting gold ore. The researchers also say that understanding gold’s biochemical cycle better could help with finding deposits.

  • Mutate to survive, but not too much

    5th May, 2017

    Bacteria alter their DNA in order to survive against stressors like antibiotics, but they have to find a happy medium; if they don’t mutate enough they could be killed off, but mutate too fast and they risk death. A new study by researchers at KU Leuven, Belgium, looked at Escherichia coli when it enters hypermutation mode – which sees the bacteria mutate faster than normal – and found that the pace of a microbe’s hypermutation can quickly change based on the amount of stress exerted on it. Once the stress is removed, the microbes attempt to stop mutating and go back to their normal state. A better understanding of hypermutation, and therefore how to stop it, could help to develop treatments in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

  • Who needs hosts?

    5th May, 2017

    Bubonic plague is a disease that most people think is consigned to the history books, but new research by scientists at Washington State University, USA, has revealed that Yersinia pestis – the bacterium that causes the disease – is able to survive within a common, soil-dwelling protozoan – the amoeba. Y. pestis, generally spread by rodents via their fleas, appears to be re-emerging, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), so finding out where the bacteria continue to lurk is critical to stopping the disease. Amoebae feed on bacteria by engulfing them whole and then digesting them, but the recent study showed that Y. pestis produces proteins that protect them against being digested. This then allows the bacterium to survive in the environment, a finding that could potentially be used to predict where the disease might re-emerge.

  • Mutual relationship between bees and bacteria

    31st March, 2017

    Social bees have been passing down their gut bacteria for generations, and five of these microbes have been evolving along with their hosts, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, USA. The investigation showed that the five species of bacteria entered bees’ gut microbiomes millions of years ago, and have been evolving into different strains that are specific to each species of bee. The bacteria have also shown to have adapted to only be able to live within their hosts’ guts – where the oxygen levels are much lower than in the atmosphere.

  • Just keep swimming or you won’t get dinner

    31st March, 2017

    Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus is a bacterium that preys on other bacteria, including the common human pathogen Escherichia coli, making it an ideal candidate as a potential alternative to antibiotics. However, it wasn’t really known how they target their prey until now. A research team at Purdue University, USA, has revealed that the way B. bacteriovorus swims generates swirling, whirlpool-like forces that keep the bacterium near walls and surfaces, rather than in open water. Since E. coli moves in the same way, it means B. bacteriovorus is much more likely to bump into its prey, even though its movement is essentially random.

  • Deep sea viruses

    31st March, 2017

    The rocky crust at the bottom of the sea is called the ‘ocean basement’, and this basement harbours many previously unknown viruses that are infecting the other microbes down there, according to a new study by scientists at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Not much was really known about the viruses living in the ocean basement, but after collecting uncontaminated water samples, the researchers were able to analyse just what was going on down there. The researchers found that viruses on the ocean basement looked similar in shape to those found in Yellowstone National Park in the US, which may seem counterintuitive. However, when the two habitats are compared, it makes more sense: although one location is at sea level, and the other hundreds of metres below, both are similar in that they have hydrothermal vents, although in Yellowstone, they are in the form of hot springs and geysers.

  • Walls? Not an obstacle for this parasite

    31st March, 2017

    Wouldn’t it be great to be able to walk through walls? New research by a team at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Australia, has revealed how Plasmodium falciparum – the protozoan parasite that causes malaria – can do just that. In order to multiply, the parasite needs to travel through the human body to reach the liver, but it is only transmitted through mosquito bites, which occur far away at the skin. The study identified two proteins that help P. falciparum traverse through the host’s cell walls, so that they can reach liver cells quickly and start multiplying. The scientists say that pinpointing these proteins may lead to new treatments that help break the cycle of infection, by targeting the parasites before they can spread.

  • Phages to the rescue

    17th March, 2017

    Phage therapy could be an effective, safer alternative to antibiotics in treating cystic fibrosis lung infections, say researchers from the University of Liverpool, UK. A phage (full name bacteriophage), is a virus that specifically targets certain bacteria, meaning that using them to treat Pseudomonas aeruginosa – a common cause of lung infections – would have fewer side effects than traditional antibiotics. The new research from Liverpool has shown that phage therapy is able to eliminate multi-drug resistant P. aeruginosa that is causing respiratory tract infections, which occur often in people with cystic fibrosis. The results offer a potential new treatment for individuals with difficult to treat lung infections.

  • A giant leap for HIV treatments

    17th March, 2017

    A problem with currently available HIV treatments is that the virus often lies dormant, ready to return as soon as treatment is interrupted. However, a team of scientists from The Rockefeller University and the National Institutes of Health, both USA, may have found a longer-term solution. Their research has shown that there are two antibodies that allow monkeys’ immune systems to control a simian version of the virus (SHIV) for an extended period of time – but only if used early on in the infection. The antibodies helped the animals’ immune systems to suppress SHIV to near or below detection levels, lasting for as long as six months. Although SHIV levels increased once again post-treatment, the researchers observed that several months later, some of the monkeys were able to once again keep the virus in check without further therapies for another five to 13 months. If viable in humans, this could be one giant leap for future HIV therapies.

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