Microbiology Society Fleming Prize 2017: Professor Stephen Baker

Earlier this year, Professor Stephen Baker from the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit (OUCRU) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, was awarded the Microbiology Society’s Fleming Prize at our Annual Conference.

In this post, Dr Freya Harrison gives us an overview of the talk, entitled ‘The collateral damage of antimicrobial access in Asia’. You can watch the full lecture below.

Antimicrobial resistance is a clear and present danger to human health around the world, but in some parts of Southeast Asia the unregulated sale of antibiotics has led to especially rapid and widespread evolution of resistance to many commonly used drugs.

In this talk, Professor Stephen Baker explains how the development of genetic sequencing technologies has drastically increased our ability to reconstruct and explore patterns of resistance evolution. By combining sequence-based analysis with clinical studies, public health data and basic lab microbiology, Stephen and his collaborators are beginning to build an integrated picture of how pathogens, people and resistance genes move and interact.

This research strongly suggests that guidelines for the treatment of important and life-threatening infections need to be changed in the face of dominant, resistant bacterial strains. It also raises important questions about what really happens to the bacterial populations inside us when we take an antibiotic.

Freya Harrison

Freya is an Assistant Professor at the University of Warwick and a member of the Microbiology Society’s Communications Committee

Image credit: Stephen Baker
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Science and the Assembly 2017

Earlier this month, Microbiology Society staff and members attended the annual Science and the Assembly event at the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff. Organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the event aims to strengthen links between Welsh policy-makers and the STEMM community. In this post, Policy Officer Jonathan Hamston gives us an insight into the event, for which the theme was ‘Antimicrobial Resistance’.

Society Members Dr Arwyn Edwards, Dr Geertje van Keulen and Professor Eshwar Mahenthiralingam discuss the role of novel antimicrobials in a session led by Professor Peter Knowles

Professor Sir John Holman, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, opened this year’s Science and the Assembly. In his keynote address, he discussed the threat posed by antimicrobial resistance and the need for scientists and policy-makers to work together to develop a coordinated response. He particularly praised the work of the Learned Society Partnership on Antimicrobial Resistance (LeSPAR), of which the Microbiology Society is a member. Continue reading

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New to science: Microbes from the Mariana Trench and the International Space Station

The Mariana Trench contains the deepest known location on Earth, lying over 10km below sea level. Back in 2012, James Cameron (director of Avatar and Titanic) piloted a solo expedition to the bottom of the trench in a specially designed submersible called the Deepsea Challenger. The journey took over two and a half hours, and the sub reached a depth of 10,908m. Cameron spent around three hours exploring the bottom of the ocean and collecting samples – which scientists have been analysing ever since.

In the latest issue of IJSEM, a team from Japan and the USA describe the discovery of a new proteobacterium from the material gathered during the Deepsea Challenge expedition. Colwellia marinimaniae was isolated from a decaying crustacean, collected just a few metres from the bottom of the trench. The bacterium is a ‘hyperpiezophile’, meaning it can grow at extremely high pressures. Continue reading

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Scratching the surface: how microbes adhere to worktops

Caleb Kimbrough/Flickr

Have you ever noticed when cleaning a sink or a saucepan that certain spots get tougher to clean over time, and the harder you scrub them, the worse it gets?

This sometimes happens when we clean things with abrasive products like scouring pads. In an effort to shift the stubborn stains or dirt, you scratch the surface you are cleaning and make it rougher. This in turn means that dirt gets lodged more easily in the scratches – so next time, you have to scrub even harder to get rid of them, and the cycle continues.

Professor Jo Verran is a microbiologist at Manchester Metropolitan University researching the science behind this kind of phenomenon – how microbes interact with surfaces and what that means for hygiene. Jo gave a talk on her work at our Annual Conference last month.

Continue reading

Posted in Clinical and Medical Microbiology, Food Microbiology, Technology | Tagged | 12 Comments

Podcast: Does air pollution make bacteria more dangerous?

Air pollution is a big problem. It’s our single largest environmental health risk, and causes an eighth of all global deaths worldwide.

We know that air pollution increases respiratory diseases and the risk of infections like pneumonia.
But now, new research suggests air pollution may alter the properties of bacteria themselves, in some potentially worrying ways.

This month, we spoke to Dr Julie Morrissey from the University of Leicester about the study, and what it means for our health.

Anand Jagatia

Image credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources / Flickr
Posted in Clinical and Medical Microbiology, Environmental Microbiology, Podcast | 3 Comments

Microbe Post has won an award!

We got some great news yesterday – Microbe Post has won the Dr Katharine Giles award
for best science blog at the ABSW Science Writers’ Awards!

Needless to say, we’re chuffed to bits. Thanks so much to the ABSW and to all of you for supporting our work! We’ve had a lot of fun blogging about microbes (those little guys), and look forward to working on many more stories in 2017.


Anand and Benjamin

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The fungus that makes ‘zombie ants’ could use biological clocks to control their minds

Ant killed by Ophiocordyceps fungus. Credit: Katja Schultz/Flickr

The world of parasites can sometimes be extremely gruesome.

Take, for example, the charming female jewel wasp, which uses a cockroach as a living
incubator for its larvae. The wasp stings the roach in the brain, and leads the much bigger host by its antennae into a burrow before laying an egg inside its abdomen. The cockroach, being completely under the jewel wasp’s spell, doesn’t protest. Once the egg hatches, the larva consumes the cockroach from the inside out. Lovely.

Or how about the delightful horsehair worm? The larvae of this species get eaten by small insects like mosquitoes, which are themselves gobbled up by bigger bugs like crickets. Once inside its host, the larva matures into a beautiful butterfly foot-long worm. It then hijacks the cricket’s behaviour, causing it to jump straight into the nearest water source and drown itself. The worm emerges underwater in a writhing mass from the cricket’s abdomen, before mating and starting the cycle anew. (You can watch this happen in the video below – but be warned, this is something you cannot unsee.)

Continue reading

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