Cranberry juice has long been seen as a natural preventative for urinary tract infections in women, and 2 recent studies show us why. Researchers in the lab of Dr. Natalie Tufenkji of McGill University found that cranberry powder disrupted the motility of E. coli, the most common culprit in UTIs, by altering the expression of flagellar genes. Motility is important for this type of infections, so disruption of it could prevent infection. A second study showed the same effect on another UTI causing bacterium, and also showed that its ability to use urea (a major component of urine) as a nutrient source is impaired by cranberry powder. So drink up, the research shows it really could be helpful!
How your pet goldfish can help grow kitchen herbs
Back to the Roots, a company started by two UC Berkeley graduates, focuses on making products that promote sustainability in food. They’re behind those mushroom grow kits you may have seen at Whole Foods and now they’ve developed a product that uses aquaponics to grow plants. Above is a really great explanation of the science behind aquaponics food systems.
Bacteria - helping grow sustainable herbs!
There’s an invisible universe that lives in and on your body. Join us for a tour of your microbiome.
Killer animation by Ben Arthur explaining the importance of your microbiome!
Guts and Gory (Whale Edition)
This sperm whale of viral fame recently washed up on shore in the Faroe Islands (presumably, it was already dead). Weighing in at around 40 tons, a dead sperm whale can become a very serious - and very smelly - public health problem in just a couple of days. Picture a Brain Scoop episode the size of an Olympic swimming pool.
When a whale dies (or a human, or possum, or pretty much anything with guts), the bacteria that live inside them get hungry. With nothing else to consume, they literally begin to eat themselves out of house and home. Within the oxygen depleted innards of the deceased cetacean, microbes begin to munch on the blubber and tissue, turning them into a host of simpler organic chemicals. Finally, a family of microbes called anaerobic methanogens go to work. And that’s when it gets gassy.
As their name implies, these bugs thrive in juicy environments devoid of oxygen, breaking down organic molecules into methane and carbon dioxide. They reside on the ground floor of the skyscraper that is decomposition. And inside of a whale, with nowhere to go, those gases build up to explosive pressures. If that balloon of death gets punctured, well, you know what happens next.
Of course, a whale doesn’t always disappear in explosive fashion. Until just decades ago, though, no one knew precisely what happened when whales died out in the open ocean. Thanks to robotic submarines, we now know that a “whale fall”, a deeply decomposing cetacean carcass, can anchor a rich ecosystem of crustaceans and other marine invertebrates, who can munch away at the leftovers of a single whale for decades.
Radiolab did a great episode all about these deep, dark oases of decomposition. Sharon Shattuck adapted that story in a delightful cartoon:
And finally, don’t miss this fascinating look at what curious humans do with a pile of whale bones, thanks to our friends at AudioVision:
In 1970, some folks in Oregon decided to blow up a similar whale carcass, so it would be easier to clean up. Instead, this happened (turns out 20 cases of dynamite is a little much):
I could watch this GIF all day.
Artist Anna Dumitriu challenges the relationship between humans and bacteria by staining textiles with superbugs.
As part of her artist’s residency on the UK Clinical Research Consortium Project “Modernising Medical Microbiology” at the University of Oxford, Dumitriu has been developing her MRSA Quilt and Infective Textiles projects. She works with microbiologists to create works that communicate the impact of new technologies in the field. Like many quilts, her MRSA Quilt is meant as a storytelling endeavor. The quilt squares are made using natural and clinical antibiotics on Chromogenic (pigment-generating) agar in which the fabric has been embedded and inoculating the squares with bacteria, creating patterns that reflect the interaction between bacteria and antibiotics. The quilts are embroidered with thread dyed with saffron as well as with the antibiotic Vancomycin.
Scientist Christina Agapakis and artist Sissel Tolaas teamed up to create cheeses from yeasts and bacteria collected from the skin of volunteers like Michael Pollan. The bacteria were collected from various places, the feet, the bellybutton. From NPR.org:
"The idea was to recognize, how do we get grossed out? Then to think about it and move beyond that initial idea of disgust," Agapakis says. "Why are we more uncomfortable with bacteria on the body than we are with bacteria in cheese?"
Well, would you eat it?
An electron micrograph of a bacteriophage.
Released into the public domain by GrahamColm via Wikimedia Commons.
We know that viruses infect humans and animals, but did you know that they can infect bacteria too? These viruses are called bacteriophage and are an important part of the ecology of bacteria in the environment!
On the 11th November, I attended the Action on Infection: FIS 2013 conference in Birmingham and thoroughly enjoyed some fantastic talks on the latest in antimicrobial resistance.
In one day, I listened to talks from 13 speakers, so obviously a lot was covered! Here’s a highlight of what’s…
25 year experiment shows bacteria continue to change even in an unchanging world
Bacteria provide perfect models for studying evolution because they divide quickly and can reproduce many generations within the lifetime of a scientist and his lab. Such is the case with Richard Lenski, who started an evolution experiment 25 years ago by putting identical individuals of E. coli into 12 different flasks and keeping them growing until the present day. Lenski and his collaborators found that the bacteria just kept getting more fit (in this case by mutating to grow faster) as the generations wore on, without an end in site! The picture above shows a competition experiment between a population of cells from an older generation and a younger generation (the bacteria are saved in the freezer every few months). On the left is before competition has taken place and both generations are present. After the 2 generations had time to compete with each other (right), the younger one (light color) has clearly won!
Original research article:
Wiser et al., Long-Term Dynamics of Adaptation in Asexual Populations, 2013
Ticks may be facing a dangerous fate. In the TICLESS project, Bioforsk, the Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research, is hoping to determine whether fungus can kill ticks in sheep pastures. This would also benefit future hikers.
Tick bites in sheep can lead to the disease tick-borne fever (TBF), which causes high fever and weakens the immune system. As a result of TBF, animals may become seriously ill from diseases they usually cope with. Bioforsk is therefore conducting field trials where the aim is to reduce tick populations in sheep grazing areas by using a tick pathogenic fungus called Metarhizium. Metarhizium occurs naturally in Norwegian soil and in the soils of many other countries worldwide where it has the potential to infect and kill ticks. When living organisms or “natural enemies” of a pest are utilized in order to reduce pest population levels, this is known as biological control.
Image: Infected female tick of the species, Ixodes ricinus. The fungus continues to grow inside the tick until it fills the whole body. Thereafter it extrudes out of the tick again and forms new spores on the outside of the body, which can spread to new ticks. (Credit: Karin Westrum, Bioforsk Plant Health)
Interesting idea. I know people hate ticks and they carry disease, but I am also wary of biocontrol - do the ticks have an important ecosystem role that we don’t know about? Biological systems are complex!