Did you know, as a patient, you present more organisms to your doctor for treatment than there are humans on earth? It’s okay if you didn’t, even Alexander Fleming probably didn’t realize when he discovered penicillin that the effects of this xenobiotic (foreign chemical substance found within an organism that is not naturally produced by or expected to be present within) depended on trillions (over ten trillion to be exact) of bacteria’s metabolic pathways. These bacteria account for the microbial world known as the gut microbiome, and their effects on xenobiotics can have beneficial, or sometimes deadly, effects.
When you think back to the age of dinosaurs, you probably picture a world of giant, ferocious animals roaming around humid and densely green environments. As such, it’s hard to imagine modern humans coexisting with anything from that time period. Yet, according to research published recently in Cell, we are living amongst creatures today that thrived not only in the era of dinosaurs but also as early as animals first adapted to living on land. Those creatures are antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
If you aren’t a dendrologist (an expert on woody plants, like trees), you’re probably not up-to-date on the latest news in the world of trees. Fortunately, we at CosmosID are obsessed with unlocking the world of microbes, which are everywhere, including in and on trees and soil, so we’ve got you covered with this post.
It was roughly six years ago – back in 2011 – that a magnitude-9 earthquake triggered a catastrophic tsunami, which devastated areas of northeastern Japan. You may recall the subsequent headlines, many of which focused on the resulting Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant meltdown. It’s scary to think that this disaster was neither the largest nor deadliest earthquake-tsunami combo in history. And that grim point is one reason a team from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology Kochi Institute is looking for ways to mitigate the size of tsunamis. What's possibly most interesting about the institute’s recent tsunami research, though, is that they’ve been investigating how to use bacteria to stifle tsunami size.
While many questions about the ocean remain unanswered, researchers have been able to understand the journey algae take when they die, namely floating to the ocean floor and settling with the rest of the deep-sea sludge. Given that this process is happening constantly in oceans all around the world, lots of algal remains accumulate on top of the bacteria living on the seafloor. Over time, this kills many of those bacteria. However, a peculiar bunch of these bacteria have been able to survive. To learn more about these mysterious organisms, biologists and geochemists collected drilled-out samples of seabed that represent hundreds of thousands of years of organic matter accumulation. As reported recently in a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences publication, researchers have made some remarkable observations about the microbial communities surviving beneath the seafloor sediment.
As the CosmosID blog illustrates regularly, microbes are remarkable for their ability to shape and affect just about every aspect of the world we live in. Yet, each week we are newly awed by publications that highlight discoveries of microbial feats and applications. This week was no different, as we were captivated by a story about a researcher who aims to cure cancer using Salmonella. The idea of treating cancer with bacteria is not new. In fact, research on this particular topic dates back to at least the 1890s. However, up until now, research efforts have been inhibited by the toxicity of Salmonella.
While biomanufacturing processes have improved in performance and complexity since the mid ‘70s, and the early days of companies like Genentech, scientists have remained diligent students of natural cellular processes, which efficiently produce all sorts of beneficial compounds for products like drugs and fuels. It was in this line of research that Princeton University scientists discovered recently a global genetic regulator that can activate many otherwise silent gene clusters in a bacterium. As described in a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) publication, this finding could enable scientists to supercharge these microbes’ natural compound production capabilities.
You may or may not be a beer drinker or know much about the brewing industry as a whole but regardless of where you fall on those spectrums of familiarity, you’ll likely be surprised by the role bacteria were found to play in hurting the quality of beer in the United Kingdom, as reported in the Beer Quality Report 2017. Published by Cask Marque, a beer quality watchdog in the UK, the Beer Quality Report shares the results of research done in 22,000 pubs across the United Kingdom. Perhaps of note to the microbiology community is the report’s section on line cleaning.
Swirling among the countless other ‘omic’ terms that have grown out of technological and scientific advances is the human virome, or the collection of viruses in and on the human body. Given how quickly viruses evolve, the human virome is changing constantly, affecting the human microbiome and even the genome. At first pass, this may seem like another fascinating realization borne out of modern scientific advances; however, as illustrated in a PLOS Pathogens publication, recent efforts to characterize the blood virome of more than 8,000 people resulted in surprising findings and the realization that significant challenges remain for researchers trying to identify novel viruses.
While it may sometimes take calamitous headlines about a death caused by a drug-resistant infection, societal awareness of the problem of antibiotic resistance seems to be increasing. Fortunately, many of the factors responsible for the deteriorating situation have been identified, such as the ubiquitous use of antibiotics on healthy livestock to encourage rapid animal growth or the inability to create a new class of effective antibiotics. What’s more, the World Health Organization published recently a list of the 12 families of bacteria that are believed to pose the greatest threat to human health. Our founder, Dr. Rita Colwell, even spoke this week at an American Society of Microbiology conference dedicated to the topic of antibiotic resistance mitigation about assessing microbiomes in complex ecosystems. Despite having such well-defined targets and well-informed experts, the solutions remain far from simple.