Microbe Talk: May 2016

Meet Wolbachia – the bacteria that could rid the world of dengue

Dengue is one of the world’s most devastating infectious diseases. Around half of the entire planet’s population is at risk from dengue infection, which can lead to excruciating joint pain, haemorrhaging and, eventually, death.

There is no vaccine for dengue, so current efforts to stop its spread involve trying to control the mosquito that transmits it, Aedes aegypti. But this is by no means easy – Aedes aeygpti is notoriously resilient and extremely well adapted to urban environments.

14863946016_d3c4daaafd_oWhich is why scientists in Australia are currently testing a new method of preventing
dengue that could be revolutionary – using a strange group of bacteria called Wolbachia.

We spoke to Professor Scott O’Neill, leader of the Eliminate Dengue programme, to find out more.

Special thanks to Karl Yates who produced
the music for this month’s episode. You can find him on SoundCloud.

Anand Jagatia

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

Image credit: Penn State on Flickr under CC BY-NC 2.0


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Microbe Machines: How ‘souped-up’ bacterial motors produce more torque

Many bacteria have tiny motors inside them, which they use to zip around like miniature submarines. Recently, scientists have managed to image a diverse selection of these nanomachines in more detail than ever before, and gain fundamental insights into how they work.

Bacterial motors are an incredible feat of evolutionary engineering. The motor in E. coli, for example, spins 125 times a second at room temperature, and pound for pound it produces the same amount of power as a turboprop aeroplane engine. Even more amazingly, these complex machines seamlessly self-assemble in a precise order, piece by piece, from around 20 different proteins and 50 different genes.

Continue reading

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Archaea and the Tree of Life

ArchaeaAs part of the latest issue of Microbiology Today, called ‘What is life?’ (published online 10 May), we explore the Archaea. These are microbes that have been around since the beginnings of life on Earth, but were only discovered in the last 40 years.

Every living thing on this planet belongs to one of three branches on the tree of life. Bacteria make up one branch, while animals, plants and fungi together make up another.

But the third domain of life wasn’t even discovered until the 1970s. This mysterious group of organisms, the Archaea, remain one of the biggest puzzles in microbiology. Although superficially they look similar to bacteria, in evolutionary terms they couldn’t be more different.

Continue reading

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Policy Lunchbox: The Commons Library – Informing Parliamentary Debate

Having good government and policy-making relies on having well-informed Members of Parliament (MPs). Working on diverse issues, often outside their own expertise, MPs must be able to effectively hold the Government to account, suggest and scrutinise legislation, and represent their constituents’ views and issues.

So how do MPs get the information and evidence they need to do their jobs? Ed Potton, Head of Science and Environment at the House of Commons Library, answered this question at our recent Policy Lunchbox event. Those in attendance also discussed where scientific research is used in parliament and some of the ways we can help inform parliamentary debate. Continue reading

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New to science: April 2016

Matanuska_Glacier_mouthEach month, the Microbiology Society 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 fullpapers are available to journal subscribers, but the abstracts are free to read.

It’s that time again where we share some of the microbial discoveries that have been made this month.

First up is Nocardia camponoti, a novel species of actinomycete. The bacterium was
isolated from the head of an ant by a team of Chinese researchers in Beijing. Continue reading

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Microbe Talk: April 2016

Can parasitic worms treat inflammatory diseases?

Trichuris_trichiuraIn 2010, a medical case report was published about a man with inflammatory bowel disease. The man had a serious case of a condition called ulcerative colitis, and was facing the prospect of having a section of his intestine completely removed.

But remarkably, the man was able to cure himself and achieve almost complete remission – by infecting himself with parasitic worms.

This month’s episode is about new research which may shed light on how a parasite can end up curing disease, rather than causing it.

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

Anand Jagatia

Ryan Cross – Inso
Keinzweiter – Mircoobee
Asthmatic Astronaut – Body Language
Jahazzar – sketch (vlad)
Asthmatic Astronaut – UP
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An emerging fungal disease is killing snakes in the US

6314473035_c3902d6e8e_zOphidiomyces ophidiicola is an emerging pathogen that causes snake fungal disease, a potentially fatal infection spreading rapidly across North America. We spoke to microbiologist Dr Jeffrey Lorch about his recent work to identify the fungus causing the disease.

For the past decade, dead snakes have been turning up in the dozens across the Eastern United States, all afflicted by the same mysterious illness. The animals have lesions and blisters along their length, and their scales are thickened and yellow, making their skin rough and crusty. The snakes’ snouts can become so swollen that the jaws misalign, and the eyes sometimes develop a strange milky coating.

The first reports of this disease came in 2006, when an already fragile population of timber rattlesnakes in New Hampshire was hit by an unknown pathogen that decimated the population, from forty down to just nineteen. Then, in 2008, scientists analysed the bodies of four dead snakes in Illinois and identified what they suspected was responsible – a fungus in their infected tissue that feeds off keratin, the protein that forms hair, nails and snake scales. Continue reading

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