Invisible You: Art and Microbiology at the Eden Project

aVLls7LHKGUileuqCe2dYISv5vsk90M2o9AOBYVZGcE,ljCJ3HcnN4RWN6u4MTaguhtTvWUZqCm7a417ggj4oW4Invisible You. The Human Microbiome is a new permanent exhibition at the Eden Project, exploring the trillions of microbes that live on and within us.

The exhibit, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, features amazing work from a dozen artists on themes surrounding the human microbiome.

The new space includes intricate sculptures (made from porcelain, paper and even faecal transplants), an animation depicting what microbes watch on the telly, and a mechanical model automaton of the human gut.

We visited the Eden Project to find out more about the artists and their work, as well as talking to the staff and scientists involved in the project about their experiences, and their ambitions for the new exhibition.

Anand Jagatia

Image: ‘Don’t Try This At Home’ by Anna Dumitriu. Eden Project
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Microbe Talk: June 2015

GalwayWe’ve been out and about this month, interviewing researchers in Glasgow, Manchester and Galway for the podcast. Up first, Ben travelled to Scotland to chat with Dr Adam Kucharski from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Adam is an expert in disease modelling, and he told us how his work is helping in the fight against the ongoing Ebola outbreak.

Books and films are full of end-of-the-world microbiological fiction, but can they be used to help engage the public with the fundamentals of disease research? Anand went to Manchester to speak with Professor Jo Verran, founder of the Bad Bugs Book Club.

A few weeks ago, Ben attended the Society’s Irish Division Meeting in Galway. There were lots of great talks, and he got a chance to grab a few minutes with Professors Kim Lewis and Martin Cormican. Kim is Director of the Antimicrobial Discovery Center at Northeastern University, Boston, USA, while Martin is Professor of Bacteriology and a Consultant Microbiologist at NUI Galway. Both are interested in antibiotic resistance, but are coming at it from different angles…

Show notes:

Don’t forget, you can subscribe to Microbe Talk on iTunes. You can also find us on Stitcher.

Benjamin Thompson

Image credit: Phalinn Ooi on Flickr under CC BY 2.0
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Could combining drugs with different targets increase resistance?

ResearchBlogging.org5747870989_27780db120_bBacterial and viral infections are often treated using multiple drugs at once. This is thought to have many advantages, including a lower risk of drug resistance. But according to a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), combining drugs that reach different parts of the body may speed up the evolution of multi-drug resistance, compared to using drugs that reach the same parts of the body.

When you receive an injection or swallow a tablet for an infection, the drug you’re given won’t reach every part of your body to the same extent. Certain parts of your anatomy or certain types of cell may be more difficult for drug molecules to reach than others, meaning there will always be areas in your body where the drug fails to reach therapeutic concentrations. This is known as “imperfect drug penetration”.

To get over this problem, doctors might prescribe you two drugs that, between them, have a greater overall coverage – ensuring that all parts of the body receive treatment. But combining drugs which have different penetrations could actually make multi-drug treatment less effective, by accelerating the emergence of drug resistance.

“Your intuition would be that more drug penetration is always better,” says Pleuni Pennings from San Francisco State University, co-author of the PNAS paper. “But our results suggest that this might not be the case.” Continue reading

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Using bacteria to make self-healing concrete

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 16.36.24Concrete is the most commonly used construction material on earth. It’s made from mixing cement, sand, stone and water, and is used in everything from roads and buildings to bridges and sewers.

Although concrete is strong and can withstand a lot of compression, it’s prone to cracking. Steel rods are often used to reinforce concrete structures, so these cracks are a problem, as they allow water to get in and rust the steel, damaging the structure.

To solve this problem, researchers from the University of Bath are investigating how certain species of Bacillus bacteria could be used to make concrete that heals itself.

Continue reading

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New to science: June 2015

2471070389_b237c7bf1e_bEach month, the Society for General Microbiology publishes the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, which details newly discovered species of bacteria, fungi and protists. Here are a few of the new species that have been discovered and the places they’ve been found. The full papers are available to journal subscribers, but the abstracts are free to read.

This month’s New to Science post comes in the form of a trio of trios. Let’s start with the discovery of three new halophilic species – microbes that thrive in high salt concentrations. The first is the archaeon Halococcus agarilyticus, isolated by researchers in Japan from commercial salt. Other members of this genus have previously been found in salt lakes, sea salt and fermented fish sauce.

The second species, also discovered by a Japanese team, is the archaeon Halocalculus aciditolerans, proposed to be part of a new genus. It is acid-tolerant (as the name suggests!), and strains of this species were isolated from salt samples that came from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Andes mountains in Bolivia and Okinawa in Japan. Continue reading

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EEHV: Herpes infection often fatal to baby elephants

Baby_elephantsIt has been estimated that a staggering 90 per cent of the humans on Earth are infected with one or more viruses from the family Herpesviridae, which are commonly known as herpes viruses. Members include Varicella Zoster virus, the causative agent of Chicken Pox, Herpes Simplex virus, which causes genital herpes and Cytomegalovirus – a virus that can be a serious problem for the immunocompromised.

While only eight types of herpes virus are able to infect humans, there are dozens more in the family, infecting organisms as diverse as oysters, cats and turtles. The vast majority of herpes viruses are host-specific and are only able to cause disease in the organism they have evolved to infect.

Tucked away in a phylogenetic subfamily of the Herpesviridae lives the relatively recently added genus Proboscivirus. This genus consists of seven viruses: EEHV-1 through to EEHV-7. EEHV is short for Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus, which, as its name suggests, causes disease in elephants. EEHV-1 appears to be the most pathogenic of the seven viruses and was first isolated from the lungs of an African elephant in 1971. Continue reading

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Microbe Talk: May 2015

ICC BirminghamLast month, the Society held its Annual Conference, which was in Birmingham this year. It was a great event – over a thousand delegates attended, presenting hundreds of talks and posters. We spoke to some of the attendees about their work for this month’s podcast.

Firstly, we chatted with Dr Jennifer Gardy from the BC Centre for Disease Control in Canada, who told us about her role in the Society’s new journal Microbial Genomics and about the field of genomics in general.

Next up was Professor David Minnikin from the University of Birmingham, who is researching the origins of tuberculosis, which appears to have begun as an infection of ancient animals in the Pleistocene era.

Dr Nick Loman, also from the University of Birmingham, who told us about his work using a seriously tiny DNA sequencing machine.

Finally, Karl Dunne from, you guessed it, the University of Birmingham, talked about his PhD research, which has seen him sequence the first sample of E. coli bacteria, isolated by Theodor Escherich.

Show notes:

Don’t forget, you can subscribe to Microbe Talk on iTunes. You can also find us on Stitcher.

Benjamin Thompson

Image credit: Bob Hall on Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0
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