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Blasdelb (28)

Save the Microbes

Humans have co-evolved with the resident microbes that call us "home", known as the microbiota, consisting of trillions of cells that colonize our bodies. The microbiota carry out many beneficial functions, such as producing vitamins, aiding in digestion, and protecting against invading microbes, but disruption from antibiotics or delivery by Caesarian section may have consequences for human health. Recently, antibiotic use has been linked with obesity and asthma. Using both human studies and experimentally observed mice, we are beginning to understand how antibiotics may lead to the disappearance of microbes and to identify key microbes that impact our health.
Save the Microbes
[more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on May 8, 2014 - 24 comments

Scientists pinpoint when harmless bacteria became flesh-eating monsters

Bacterial diseases cause millions of deaths every year. Most of these bacteria were benign at some point in their evolutionary past, and we don’t always understand what turned them into disease-causing pathogens. In a new study, researchers have tracked down when this switch happened in one flesh-eating bacteria. They think the knowledge might help predict future epidemics. [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Apr 18, 2014 - 15 comments

Your funk says a lot about you

Bacteria have a Hobo Code. Next month's Science News carries a pretty interesting overview about the cutting edge of microbial science, including recent studies showing "in many mammals a microbial community ferments various sweats, oozes and excretions into distinctive scents that reveal age, health and much more to knowing noses in a select social circle". That's right, microbes are posting status updates to each other through smells, sharing with other microbes what they've learned about host animals.
posted by mathowie on Dec 30, 2013 - 29 comments

The Invisible World of cute Animalcules doing cute things

We are all surrounded by microorganisms, they live on us within us and around us, they affect everything we do, yet most people have no idea what they look like. Using the latest technology it is possible to see into this normally invisible world
posted by Blasdelb on Dec 7, 2013 - 24 comments

As Paracelsus put it, "the dose makes the poison."

Dr Bruce Ames, a toxicologist and one of the world's most cited scientists, discusses the impact of his Ames test, "toxic chemicals," and scaremongering [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Nov 6, 2013 - 22 comments

For Safer Food, Just Add Viruses

In March 2012, inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture uncovered a problem in Elgin, Texas. Beef sausage from a small family-run meat processor appeared to have been contaminated with a nasty bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes. The bug can make people sick and, in rare cases, be deadly. The processor had to recall more than a ton of sausage. It’s the kind of story that strikes terror in the hearts of other sausage peddlers, including Mike Satzow, so he uses phages to keep his small company's sausages safe to eat.
posted by Blasdelb on Oct 1, 2013 - 58 comments

The rise of the tick

With incisor-like claws that can tunnel beneath your skin in seconds, ticks are rapidly establishing themselves as the Swiss Army knife of disease vectors. Carl Zimmer walks into the woods to find out why these tiny beasts appear to be skyrocketing in number – and outsmarting environmental scientists trying to control them with every bite.
posted by Blasdelb on May 2, 2013 - 79 comments

Silicon-based viruses of the analog kind

A selection of glass viruses by artist Luke Jerram (a full gallery and photographs of other sculptural work are also available directly from his site)
posted by Blazecock Pileon on Apr 9, 2013 - 9 comments

Parasite of the Day

Does just what it says on the tin,
"So, naturalists observe, a flea has smaller fleas that on him prey; and these have smaller still to bite ’em; and so proceed ad infinitum." - Jonathan Swift

posted by Blasdelb on Feb 18, 2013 - 13 comments

The Unsettling Beauty of Lethal Viruses

“Viruses have no color as they are smaller than the wavelength of light,” says Jerram, in an email. “So the artworks are created as alternative representations of viruses to the artificially colored imagery we receive through the media.” Jerram and Davidson create sketches, which they then take to the glassblowers, to see whether the intricate structures of the diseases can be replicated in glass, at approximately one million times their original size. RECENTLY
posted by heyho on Feb 8, 2013 - 26 comments

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind: E. Coli & Cloud Formation

Scientists Find Bacteria Survive at High Altitudes
Study finds significant microorganism populations in middle and upper troposphere
Microbiome of the upper troposphere: Species composition and prevalence, effects of tropical storms, and atmospheric implications
See also Properties of biological aerosols and their impact on atmospheric processes

posted by y2karl on Jan 29, 2013 - 17 comments

Slow Motion Sneezing

Sneezing in Slow Motion; somehow simultaneously more fascinating, terrifying, and disgusting than you'd imagine it'd be. [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Jan 26, 2013 - 27 comments

The A-Z of Epidemiology:

Germs from Anthrax to Zoonoses. A disturbing bedtime book for kids. [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Jan 21, 2013 - 15 comments

Viruses That Make Zombies and Vaccines

This week the FDA announced that they were approving a new kind of flu vaccine. Nestled in the articles was an odd fact: unlike traditional flu vaccines, the new kind, called Flublok, is produced by the cells of insects. This is the kind of detail that you might skim over without giving it a thought. If you did pause to ponder, you might be puzzled: how could insects possibly make a vaccine against viruses that infect humans? The answer may surprise you. To make vaccines, scientists are tapping into a battle between viruses and insects that’s raging in forests and fields and backyards all around us. It’s an important lesson in how to find new ideas in biotechnology: first, leave biologists free to explore the weirdest corners of nature they can find. [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Jan 19, 2013 - 7 comments

So high, so low, so many things to know.

January 13, 2013 marks the 125th anniversary of the National Geographic Society. The Magazine is celebrating by taking a yearlong look at the past and future of exploration. [more inside]
posted by zarq on Jan 8, 2013 - 10 comments

Woese once said of himself and his work that when a wise man points out the moon, only a fool looks at the finger. Let us all be fools if just for a moment .

Microbiology's Scarred Revolutionary(PDF), Carl Woese (pron.: /ˈwoʊz/), a biophysicist and evolutionary microbiologist whose discovery 35 years ago of a “third domain” of life in the vast realm of micro-organisms altered scientific understanding of evolution, died on Sunday at his home in Urbana, Ill. He was 84. [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Jan 2, 2013 - 26 comments

Deciphering the Tools of Nature’s Zombies

Deciphering the Tools of Nature’s Zombies: The ability of parasites to alter the behaviour of their hosts fascinates both scientists and non-scientists alike. One reason that this topic resonates with so many is that it touches on core philosophical issues such as the existence of free will. If the mind is merely a machine, then it can be controlled by any entity that understands the code and has access to the machinery. This special issue of The Journal of Experimental Biology highlights some of the best-understood examples of parasite-induced changes in host brain and behaviour, encompassing both invertebrate and vertebrate hosts and micro- and macro-parasites. Full issue annotated inside: [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Dec 9, 2012 - 13 comments

Evolution of Multicellularity In Lab Yeast

In just a few weeks single-celled yeast have evolved into a multicellular organism, complete with division of labour between cells. This suggests that the evolutionary leap to multicellularity may be a surprisingly small hurdle. More from Scientific American blogs. [Full Text PDF of the Publication of Note] [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Nov 9, 2012 - 18 comments

The players in a mutualistic symbiosis: insects, bacteria, viruses, and virulence genes.

One of the many problems farmers of various kinds of legumes need to deal with is the pea aphid. They reproduce incredibly fast and live by sucking the sap out of the plants, an electron micrograph of one in action. However, while they are terrifying parasites of legumes, they have their own yet more horrific parasites, a parasitoid wasp. Here is a really nice close up picture of one doing its thing, a video of the act, and here is a brain meltingly horrific video of a dissection of the mummified aftermath 8 days later. Essentially, these wasps deposit their eggs in a pea aphid and the growing larva feeds on it, developing there for about a week, and then consuming the host from the inside out like a Xenomorph. When it’s done, the wasp larva dries the aphid’s cuticle into a papery brittle shell and an adult wasp emerges from the aphid mummy. Legume farmers love them, and you can even order their mummies online these days. However, farmers noticed that the wasps didn't work as effectively on all of the aphids, and so researchers went to work figuring out why. It turns out that all aphids have a primary bacterial endosymbiont living inside their cells, in addition to and just like a mitochondria, and that many have some combination of five other secondary endosymbionts. Interestingly, two of those other five, Hamiltonella defensa and Serratia symbiotica have been shown to confer varying levels of resistance to the parasitoid wasp, allowing the aphid to survive infection. However, it turns out that there is yet one more layer to this story, [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Oct 22, 2012 - 50 comments

Virulence-transmission trade-offs and population divergence in virulence

"Why do parasites harm their hosts? Conventional wisdom holds that because parasites depend on their hosts for survival and transmission, they should evolve to become benign, yet many parasites cause harm. Theory predicts that parasites could evolve virulence (i.e., parasite-induced reductions in host fitness) by balancing the transmission benefits of parasite replication with the costs of host death. This idea has led researchers to predict how human interventions—such as vaccines—may alter virulence evolution, yet empirical support is critically lacking." Two papers demonstrate empirical evidence for related models predicting the origin of virulence: [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Oct 21, 2012 - 23 comments

The Puzzle of Plastid Evolution

The Puzzle of Plastid Evolution: A comprehensive understanding of the origin and spread of plastids remains an important yet elusive goal in the field of eukaryotic evolution. Combined with the discovery of new photosynthetic and non-photosynthetic protist lineages, the results of recent taxonomically broad phylogenomic studies suggest that a re-shuffling of higher-level eukaryote systematics is in order. Consequently, new models of plastid evolution involving ancient secondary and tertiary endosymbioses are needed to explain the full spectrum of photosynthetic eukaryotes. [Full Text HTML] [Full Text PDF] [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Oct 20, 2012 - 8 comments

Mitigating Mutational Meltdown in Mammalian Mitochondria

Mitigating Mutational Meltdown in Mammalian Mitochondria PLoS Biol 6(2): e35. [The PDF, where you can read the paper in its much prettier intended format.]
Mitochondria are remarkable microorganisms. About two billion years ago, their distant free-living ancestors hooked up with a truly foreign lineage of archaebacteria and started a genomic merger that led to the most successful coevolved mutualism on the planet: the eukaryotic cell. Along the way, evolving mitochondria lost a lot of genomic baggage, entrusted their emerging hosts with their own replication, sorted out genomic conflicts by following maternal inheritance, and have mostly abstained from sex and recombination. What mitochondria did retain was a subset of genes that encode critical components of the electron transport chain and ATP synthesis enzymes that carry out oxidative phosphorylation. Because mitochondria house the biochemical machinery that requires us to breathe oxygen, it was first assumed that mitochondrial genes would show very slow rates of molecular evolution. So it was big news almost 30 years ago when mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) evolution was observed to be quite rapid [1]. How could the genes for a highly conserved and critical function sustain the consequences of high mutation pressure and permit rapid rates of nucleotide substitution between species? Without the benefits of recombination, where offspring can carry fewer mutations than either parent, mutations should accumulate in mitochondrial genomes through the random loss of less-mutated genomes, a process referred to as Muller's ratchet [2,3]. How have mitochondria avoided a mutational meltdown, or at least significant declines in fitness?
Here is a jaw droppingly beautiful 3D animation of what Mitochindria look like in action. [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Oct 19, 2012 - 37 comments

Constitutive formation of caveolae in a bacterium.

Constitutive formation of caveolae in a bacterium. [Full Text]
Caveolin plays an essential role in the formation of characteristic surface pits, caveolae, which cover the surface of many animal cells. The fundamental principles of caveola formation are only slowly emerging. Here we show that caveolin expression in a prokaryotic host lacking any intracellular membrane system drives the formation of cytoplasmic vesicles containing polymeric caveolin. Vesicle formation is induced by expression of wild-type caveolins, but not caveolin mutants defective in caveola formation in mammalian systems. In addition, cryoelectron tomography shows that the induced membrane domains are equivalent in size and caveolin density to native caveolae and reveals a possible polyhedral arrangement of caveolin oligomers. The caveolin-induced vesicles or heterologous caveolae (h-caveolae) form by budding in from the cytoplasmic membrane, generating a membrane domain with distinct lipid composition. Periplasmic solutes are encapsulated in the budding h-caveola, and purified h-caveolae can be tailored to be targeted to specific cells of interest.
Elio Schaechter writes in plain English about how fantastically amazing and unexpected the researchers actually pulling this off is, and he also talks about it in more detail in his podcast.
posted by Blasdelb on Oct 18, 2012 - 22 comments

Provirophages and transpovirons as the diverse mobilome of giant viruses

Provirophages and transpovirons as the diverse mobilome of giant viruses
Abstract: A distinct class of infectious agents, the virophages1 that infect giant viruses of the Mimiviridae family, has been recently described. Here we report the simultaneous discovery of a giant virus of Acanthamoeba polyphaga (Lentille virus) that contains an integrated genome2 of a virophage (Sputnik 2), and a member of a previously unknown class of mobile genetic elements3, the transpovirons4. The transpovirons are linear DNA elements of ∼7 kb [kilobases]5 that encompass six to eight protein-coding genes, two of which are homologous6 to virophage genes. Fluorescence7 in situ hybridization8 showed that the free form of the transpoviron replicates within the giant virus factory and accumulates in high copy numbers inside giant virus particles, Sputnik 2 particles, and amoeba cytoplasm. Analysis of deep-sequencing data showed that the virophage and the transpoviron can integrate9 in nearly any place in the chromosome of the giant virus host and that, although less frequently, the transpoviron can also be linked to the virophage chromosome. In addition, integrated fragments of transpoviron DNA were detected in several giant virus and Sputnik genomes. Analysis of 19 Mimivirus strains revealed three distinct transpovirons associated with three subgroups of Mimiviruses. The virophage, the transpoviron, and the previously identified self-splicing introns10 and inteins11 constitute the complex, interconnected mobilome12 of the giant viruses and are likely to substantially contribute to interviral gene transfer.
[Full Text PDF] and two explanations in English [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Oct 16, 2012 - 28 comments

Pertussis Epidemic — Washington, 2012

Since mid-2011, a substantial rise in pertussis [Whooping Cough] cases has been reported in the state of Washington. In response to this increase, the Washington State Secretary of Health declared a pertussis epidemic on April 3, 2012. By June 16, the reported number of cases in Washington in 2012 had reached 2,520 (37.5 cases per 100,000 residents), a 1,300% increase compared with the same period in 2011 and the highest number of cases reported in any year since 1942 [Make sure you don't miss Figure 1]. Commentators are already drawing corellations with the fact that Washington State leads the nation in vaccine non-compliance, Washington State's recent cutbacks in public health funding, and increases in the number of uninsured (PDF). [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Sep 27, 2012 - 111 comments

There are fewer microbes out there than you think

There are fewer microbes out there than you think. New estimate reduces the number of microbes on Earth by around half. [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Aug 28, 2012 - 38 comments

Chagas Disease: Poverty, Immigration, and the ‘New HIV/AIDS’

What if a deadly epidemic was burgeoning and almost nobody noticed? In the latest issue of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, a distinguished group of virologists, epidemiologists and infectious-disease specialists say that’s not a hypothetical question. They argue that Chagas disease, a parasitic infection transmitted by blood-sucking insects, has become so widespread and serious — while remaining largely unrecognized — that it deserves to be considered a public health emergency. [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on May 30, 2012 - 31 comments

0.0001 micromoles of oxygen per liter per year

If we look at how fast they metabolize, it would take them a thousand years just to reproduce themselves. They may be much older than this. There’s no way of knowing.

Microbes found deep under the North Pacific Gyre in 86-million-year-old red clay, potentially millions of years old, force us to rethink the timescales, ranges, and conditions that life can attain. (The main text of the paper is unfortunately paywalled.)
posted by jjray on May 19, 2012 - 34 comments

How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public's Expense

How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public's Expense: Report looks at methods of corporate abuse, suggests steps toward reform [Full Report (PDF)] [Executive Summary (PDF)] [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Mar 11, 2012 - 27 comments

The relentlessness of the simplest eukarya.

Gorgeous microphotography of the growth of colonial fungi species. Featuring aspergillus, fumigatus, botrytis, trichoderma, and cladosporidium.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot on Jan 31, 2012 - 14 comments

Bioshock

Scientist and Science Fiction author Joan Slonczewski, author of A Door Into The Ocean, guest blogs about science fictional and microbiology on Charles Stross's site: Salt Beings, Microbes grow the starship, Synthetic Babies
posted by Artw on Sep 30, 2011 - 13 comments

I really dig infectious diseases (much to the dismay of those dining with me).

How did hookworm infections slow the economy of the postbellum South? Do body mites play a role in diseases such as rosacea? Did fermenting seal flippers in Tupperware instead of traditional containers increase Native Alaskan botulism rates? Body Horrors is the blog of microbiologist Rebecca Kreston, who aims to explore the intersection of infectious diseases, the human body, public health and anthropology.
posted by emjaybee on Sep 24, 2011 - 36 comments

Algae: The scum solution

When you imagine the crops that will provide biofuels, what is the first image that enters your mind? A field of corn or sugar cane? Maybe you should be picturing pond scum instead. [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Jun 27, 2011 - 30 comments

U.S. Measles Cases Hit 15-Year High

So far this year there have been 118 cases of measles reported in the United States. [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on May 25, 2011 - 173 comments

Progress in the understanding of AIDS immunology

In a recent paper published in Nature Hansen et al. show the efficacy of their unusual vaccine strategy against SIVMAC239 in rhesus macaques. While the goal is not necessarily to produce a human vaccine against HIV using this exact strategy, this paper is now reigniting the debate over the progression of HIV infections and the mechanism(s) by which the virus skirts the human immune system.
posted by Blasdelb on May 13, 2011 - 4 comments

Recombinant rainbow poop diagnostics

The E. chromi project is forging ahead with its plan, using recombinant bacteria to detect and display disease states of the human body in your toilet. [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Apr 27, 2011 - 18 comments

The Science of Eggnog

Want to make eggnog weeks ahead of time? You might try this recipe, courtesy of The Rockefeller University's Dr. Rebecca Lancefield (PDF biographic article). In this 2008 video, her colleagues demonstrate how to make it; they suggest starting it now, tasting it at Thanksgiving, and drinking it at Christmas. In their 2009 follow-up video, they intentionally add Salmonella to the recipe as they make it, to see if the added liquor kills off the infection. Videos courtesy of Science Friday. (BONUS LINK: if you missed last year's Puerto Rican Nog celebration, get ready for the 9th annual NYC Coquito Contest!)
posted by Greg Nog on Nov 10, 2010 - 24 comments

Bacteria 'R' Us

Bacteria can communicate with each other, take concerted action, influence human physiology, alter human thinking, and work together to change their environment. The bacteria in your gut are talking to each other, and to you, and you are talking back to them. The mind boggles. [more inside]
posted by exphysicist345 on Oct 19, 2010 - 55 comments

The beauty of Molecular, Cell, and Microbiology

There has been a new discipline developing in molecular biology for some time now, Bioanimation! Projects have ranged in size from WEHI's colossal compilation to Harvard Biovision's magnum opus "Inner Life of the Cell" to commercially produced masterpieces to smaller projects by university PIs and enthusiasts. much [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Sep 25, 2010 - 29 comments

Glass Microbiology

Glass Microbiology "These transparent glass sculptures were created to contemplate the global impact of each disease and to consider how the doctoring of scientific imagery affects our visualization of phenomena."
posted by dhruva on Sep 3, 2009 - 9 comments

Microchip microscope

Researchers working on optofluidic microscopy at the California Institute of Technology have developed a minuscule microscope that works without lenses.... (via) [more inside]
posted by Kronos_to_Earth on Jul 29, 2008 - 5 comments

Gene2Music

Gene2Music: "We assigned a chord to each amino acid," said Rie Takahashi, a UCLA research assistant and an award-winning, classically trained piano player. "We want to see if we can hear patterns within the music, as opposed to looking at the letters of an amino acid or protein sequence. We can listen to a protein, as opposed to just looking at it."
posted by Alvy Ampersand on May 17, 2007 - 30 comments

How did that get there?

The origins of the vagina Only mammals have 'em. Why? (via markmaynard).
posted by klangklangston on Jan 23, 2007 - 36 comments

The World is Bound With Secret Knots

Athanasius Kircher was the 17th century's Jesuit version of the übergeek. His scholarly attentions were drawn to egyptology, astronomy, magnetism, languages, optics, music, geology, mathematics and many many other pursuits. The "dude of wonders" invented novel machines such as the mathematical organ and magnetic clock, established one of the first museums, published about 40 academic works (with beautiful accompanying illustrations) and was globally revered as one of his time's greatest intellectuals. He is also the main link in the Voynich manuscript mystery. [MI]
posted by peacay on Aug 7, 2005 - 12 comments

Smarty pantses

Beyond the science fair. Behind a veneer of shoddy web-design lies a brilliant idea: getting grade- and high-school students to do actual scientific work. For example, "10 students from New York, Texas and Virginia joined three World War II veterans and a retired railroader from Virginia" and discovered a way to make walls self-sterilize. The guy behind it is Carl Vermeulen.
posted by greatgefilte on Jun 7, 2005 - 6 comments

Labyrinths

A Winding Path. Why a Bay Area microbiologist turned to the New Age art of building labyrinths -- by hand, out of dirt.
posted by homunculus on Dec 19, 2004 - 9 comments

Henrietta Lacks, a Baltimore housewife, died in 1951. Some of her cells did not die. In fact, had they been allowed to grow unchecked, they would have taken over the world by now. As it is, even as they proved invaluable to medical researchers, their baffling ability to regenerate resulted in contamination of three decades of cellular research, costing medical researchers millions of dollars. As far as science can tell, Henrietta's cells will never die. Creepy!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders on Oct 10, 2002 - 29 comments

Martians may resemble the Spanish.

Martians may resemble the Spanish. Scientists are studying a red river in Spain which flows through a deposit of pyrite, "has a pH similar to that of automobile battery acid and contains virtually no oxygen in its lower depths" to get an idea of what Martian microbes might be like. The critters found in the Rio Tinto are extremophiles, little microscopic buggers that can live miles underground, or in water 170 degree Celsius under deep-sea hydrothermal vents. (No word yet on whether there's a Portuguese connection.)
[via Red Rock Eater]

posted by slipperywhenwet on Aug 25, 2002 - 5 comments

Really ugly neckties

Really ugly neckties of your favorite infections.
posted by swift on Oct 27, 2001 - 17 comments

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