Microbe Talk: August 2016

I Contain Multitudes: An interview with Ed Yong


“Every one of us is a zoo in our own right – a colony enclosed within a single body. A multi-species collective. An entire world.”

Yong, Ed 2016 (1) - c Urszula Soltys

In this episode, we chat to science writer Ed Yong about his upcoming book and The New York Times Bestseller, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life.

It’s a book about the trillions of microbes that live on us and within us; microbes that build our bodies and organs, protect us from disease, shape our behaviour and drive the processes for life on earth.

Anand Jagatia

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

Image credit: Urszula Soltys
Music: NeVe by Manuele Atzeni
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On the Horizon: Nipah Virus

FruitbatOur past two articles in the On the Horizon series have focused on diseases that were first identified decades ago. In this edition of the series, we’ll be looking at a virus that was only discovered at the very end of the 20th century, and the efforts being made to control it.

In late 1998, an outbreak of an unknown disease occurred in pigs and pig farmers in Kampung Sungai Nipah, a village in Malaysia. The transporting of infected pigs also led to cases of the disease being identified 200 miles away in Singapore. The outbreak caused almost 300 human cases and over 100 deaths were reported. Over a million pigs had to be destroyed at large economic cost to the region.

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From space to stomach ulcers

Could a machine for detecting molecules in space be used to identify bacteria that cause stomach ulcers? This is the question that Dr Geraint ‘Taff’ Morgan and his colleagues, Professors Ejaz Huq and Phil Prewett, from Oxford MicroMedical Ltd are trying to solve.

Their work centres on the study of stable isotopes, which are different forms of an atom that have varying amount of neutrons and protons in their nuclei. The majority of elements exist in multiple forms – for example, an oxygen atom can naturally occur with 16, 17 or 18 protons and neutrons within its nucleus and is denoted as 16O, 17O and 18O respectively. The isotopes of higher numbers are heavier and behave in a slightly different manner to their lighter counterparts. Continue reading

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Could we use bacteria to power tiny wind farms?

Sunset_at_Royd_Moor_Wind_FarmA single drop of fluid can contain billions of bacteria swimming around inside it. For the most part, the movements of these bacteria are random and chaotic. But if you look at them under the microscope, you begin to see patterns emerging – swirls and vortices that come in and out of existence as groups of bacteria briefly swim in the same direction.

Scientists refer to these kinds of systems as ‘active matter’. They are made up of large numbers of active individuals that take energy from their surroundings to move around. which means the system is out of thermal equilibrium.

Because of this, interesting collective behaviour can spontaneously arise as the individuals interact with each other in complex ways, like in flocks of birds or shoals of fish.

Under the right conditions, organised collective behaviour can also be seen in bacterial suspensions. For example, if you let bacteria swim round an array of small wells, they begin to move in a synchronised way, and a regular pattern arises. Continue reading

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Microbe Talk Extra: Handwashing and Healthcare-associated Infections

Nurse using hand sanitiserEvery year, hundreds of millions of patients across the world are affected by Healthcare-associated Infections, according to estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO). These infections can result from a surgery, or from the use of a medical device like a catheter, for example, and cause significant mortality and economic losses.

One of the things that hospital staff can do to prevent these infections is effective handwashing. In this podcast we spoke to Professor Didier Pittet, who has been leading a WHO campaign to promote the use of alcohol-based hand sanitiser in hospitals and clinics across the globe.

Benjamin Thompson

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

Image credit: Bananastock/Thinkstock
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New to Science: July 2016

1200px-2_wild_strawberries_very_close_up_UK_2006A few days later than planned – but here are the highlights from the July issue.

To start with this month, scientists from China have isolated a novel Actinobacterium from
the faeces of an Assamese macaque, which they name Corynebacterium faecale, while another team from China has found the bacterial species Kordia ulvae from the surface of green marine algae.

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What is CRISPR-Cas?

CRISPR-Cas is making headlines as a powerful new gene editing tool that could change the whole of biology.

Scientists are already using CRISPR to introduce genes for disease resistance into crops, insert malaria blocking genes into mosquitoes, and remove HIV genes from infected cells in humans. We could even use CRISPR to eliminate certain genetic diseases in humans.

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