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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  • The importance of vitamins

    3rd February, 2017

    Vitamin B12 is more important to microbial communities than previously thought, says a research team from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, USA. While the vitamin was known for its role in guiding the enzymes that build DNA and proteins, the new study shows that B12 also regulates the production of the two growth- and repair-related substances folate and ubiquinone, as well as another called methionine. This discovery suggests that vitamin B12 has a much larger role in bacteria’s growth processes than we thought.

  • A phage cocktail to battle cholera

    3rd February, 2017

    A new study by scientists at Tufts University, USA, has found that giving a combination of three cholera-targeting viruses – also known as bacteriophages – stops the pathogen from taking hold in small animals. Previous work by the research team had identified three different phages that were able to kill Vibrio cholerae, the microbe responsible for causing cholera, specifically within the small intestine. In the latest study, they tested using these bacteriophages together and found that more than half of the animals that were given the dose three hours before infection were able to completely eliminate V. cholerae. The rest had reduced numbers of the bacterium remaining compared to untreated animals. The researchers hope that these findings could help fill a gap in immediate preventative cholera treatment.

  • Could we use a virus to battle fungi?

    27th January, 2017

    Viruses that specifically target fungi, or mycoviruses, could potentially be used to control fungal diseases affecting crops, say researchers at the University of Illinois, USA. Their new study targeted mycoviruses that make fungi less virulent, particularly ones that can survive and spread without a host, as the scientists believe these traits are key to using mycoviruses as a biocontrol. Since fungal infections can account for around 10% of yield losses in crops like soybean and corn, this may be welcome news for farmers.

  • Seoul virus in the USA

    27th January, 2017

    Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USA, are looking into a recent outbreak of Seoul virus infection in rat breeders in the US. The investigation showed that the infected individuals either bred rats at home or were family members in close contact with the animals. Since Seoul virus – from the Hantavirus genus – is a rodent-borne disease not usually found in humans outside of Asia, it is important to monitor its spread into the North American continent, especially as other hantaviruses can cause severe illness in people.

  • A dog’s food and its gut microbiome

    27th January, 2017

    New research into dogs’ gut microbiomes by scientists at Nestle Purina PetCare Company, USA, may be able to help us monitor the growing problem of pet obesity. The study showed that a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet led to higher numbers of Bacteroides uniformis and Clostridium butyricum, whereas a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet meant a drop in B. uniformis but increased levels of Clostridium hiranonis, C. perfringens and Ruminococcus gnavus. The research team note that the different diets’ effects were more obvious in the overweight subjects, suggesting they are more susceptible to changes in their food. These results could potentially be used to develop ways to manage obesity in our pet dogs.

  • Bacteria in the fight against other bacteria

    27th January, 2017

    A study by researchers at Zheijiang University, China, shows that the larvae of Spodoptera littoralis, a species of moth colloquially known as ‘cotton leafworm’, have gut bacteria that protect them from pathogens they might ingest. The scientists found that older cotton leafworm larvae harboured high levels of Enterococcus mundtii in their guts, and this bacterium produced an antimicrobial compound to fight off competitors for nutrients. Conveniently for the insect, this includes invading pathogenic bacteria.

  • Some new phytoplankton like it hot

    19th January, 2017

    Researchers from a group of international institutions have recently discovered two groups of phytoplankton that are not like any other known species, and these new discoveries seem to prefer warmer climes. The study found that the new phytoplankton thrived in warm surface water that lack nutrients, such as the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean and the Sargasso Sea, a region in the North Atlantic Ocean surrounded by currents that keep its temperatures higher than other parts of an ocean known to be rather chilly. Other phytoplankton species prefer cooler waters that are more nutrient-rich, meaning the two new groups barely have any competition in what is the ocean equivalent of a desert.

  • Sensitivity is contagious

    19th January, 2017

    Some bacteria have developed a resistance to their viral predators – known as bacteriophages – but scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, have discovered some bacteria can become susceptible after spending time with phage-sensitive bacteria. As bacteriophages invade bacterial cells by attaching to receptors on the bacterium’s surface, they cannot attack ones that are missing these receptors. The study found that phage-sensitive bacteria are able to transfer receptors to phage-resistant ones, through a process they called ‘acquisition of sensitivity’ (ASEN). In this way, phages are able to incapacitate new species that are not usually hosts to those specific phages.

  • A new way to fight dengue?

    19th January, 2017

    There are many diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes, so it can only be good news that researchers at Johns Hopkins University, USA, have now genetically engineered some mosquitoes to be more resistant to dengue virus infection. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes pick up the virus by biting infected humans, and previous studies revealed that the insects rely on a molecular pathway that produces certain proteins to try and fight the infection from taking hold. If unsuccessful though, the mosquitoes can then transmit the virus to the next person they feed on, and this is how dengue spreads. Armed with this information, the research team altered the pathway so that it would make more of the proteins and found their test subjects had significant fewer virus cells. Further tests showed that the change made no difference to the infectivity of Zika and chikungunya viruses, suggesting that the pathway only affected dengue.

  • A reason finally found for why newborn piglets shake

    19th January, 2017

    A recent study by scientists at Vetmeduni Vienna, Austria, has shown that the ‘shaking piglet’ syndrome can be attributed to a newly discovered virus that they’ve named atypical porcine pestivirus (APPV). Shaking piglet cases have been reported since the 1920s but no one could confirm the problem was microbial until now. Further investigation showed that the virus could be sexually transmitted – APPV could be found in the semen of adult male pigs, shedding light on the way the virus may spread.

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