Skip to content

You should check out this fascinating article by Browne et al. (2017) about the transmission of commensal microbes. We talk a lot about how pathogens get around, but what about commensals?

There are a somewhat limited number of routes, including fecal-oral and mother-child, either during childbirth or breastfeeding, but how do the microbes get into the breast milk? We hear a lot about probiotics, but how do they work and do they effectively establish long term colonization?

Finally, what are the effects of perturbations such as antibiotic treatment? There is evidence this may lead to extinction of some species within a population. On the flip side, is there a future where we use biotherapeutics, introducing bacteria to treat disease, rather than wiping bacteria out?

I have not really given extensive thought to antimicrobial peptides in the past, but this summer I am supervising a student that is writing a paper on the topic. This means I have been reading quite a bit been trying to get up to speed. Turns out a very successful commercial application for these peptides is in antibiotic ointments. This line of thought brought my summer-addled mind back to an amusing ad (see it here) involving camping, an uncoordinated person, and an antibiotic cream that contains the antimicrobial peptides polymixin B and bacitracin.

The first article is about limiting radiation damage by inhibiting a specific protein called AIM2:

While it is well known that high levels of radiation (i.e. from cancer treatments) can be damaging to cells and tissues and cause significant injury in bone marrow and the digestive tract, there remains to be controversy regarding what specifically triggers this type of damage at a molecular level. However, a study led by Richard Flavell, a professor of immunobiology at Yale University, may have found an answer to put the controversy to rest. A protein called AIM2 has previously been known for its role in detecting infectious threats, but this recently completed study discovered that it may also play a role in detecting damage in DNA from radiation and cause a particular type of cell death known as pryoptosis. When radiation affects a non-target cell, the DNA breaks but has the ability of coming back together again. With this, however, comes a high possibility of chromosomal abnormalities and mutations, so AIM2 is activated to kill the cell entirely. This could very well be the molecular mechanism for radiation-induced injury. In animals that were lacking AIM2, it was found that the bone marrow and gastrointestinal tracts had no damage and were protected from radiation. While this AIM2 pathway is undoubtedly beneficial in regular situations, as it prevents harmful cells from growing, it may be more damaging than useful in the case of radiation, as the frequent pryoptosis causes significant and occasionally fatal injury to the bone marrow and gastrointestinal tract.  The study has suggested that by limiting the activity of AIM2 in radiation therapy, there is a possibility of also limiting the damage done to the bone marrow and digestive tract. Ultimately, drugs that target this pathway could be incredibly useful in radiation and chemotherapy treatments.


In the first clinical application of CRISPR/Cas9, a group is shutting off a protein that, in turn, shuts off the immune response in the hopes of a more robust immune response to cancer:

Researchers from China, led by oncologist Lu You of the Sichuan University in Chengdu, have become the first in the world to inject a person with the CRISPR/Cas9-edited cells. CRISPR/Cas9 is short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/ CRISPER Associated protein 9 and is a powerful gene editor that can cut out mutations in a gene and alter the existing gene sequence- a computer-like copy-paste function. Up until now, this technique had only been tested on lab animals but You and his team were given permission to go ahead with the first ever human clinical trial. The team’s goal is to use this technology as a new cancer treatment method. Starting with an RNA molecule, which matches the DNA sequence of the targeted mutated or broken gene, the RNA guides the enzyme Cas9 to the damaged site where it can snip out the damaged area, repair it or replace it. As cancers are able to thrive due to a lack of active immune cells to fight it off, scientists are hoping to restore immune cells in cancer patients to begin the process of fighting off existing cancers. You’s team uses this technology to disable a gene responsible for producing a protein called PD-1, which stops a cell from having that vital immune response, cultures these healthy immune cells and will inject them back into their patient. The first injection has already taken place with You’s team monitoring the cancer patient closely, who is scheduled for their second injection in the near future. This technology is a major breakthrough in the biotechnology field and the scientists are eagerly awaiting the results.

and finally, something a little more fun...rat tickling!

Have you ever tickled a rat before?

If not, you may not know that rats love to be tickled. When tickled, rats emit ultrasonic giggles and will almost literally jump for joy. Researchers at Humboldt University of Berlin used the phenomenon of rats and their love for being tickled to further offer insight into how the brain creates glee.

Researchers simply stuck their hands into the cage of the rats and scribbled their fingers into the rat’s fir. Almost immediately, the tickled rats emitted an ultrasonic 50-kilohertz giggle that even humans cannot here. The rats also followed the researcher’s hands around the cage and jumped for joy. Researchers found that by using laughter as a measurement, that the belly was the most sensitive to tickling.

But how and where is this joyful response created?

Researchers believe that nerve cells from the somatosensory cortex may play a huge role. Past research has showed that this part of the brain is associated with touch perception and in humans is the brain region that responds from the animal being tickled. In this study, electrodes revealed that many nerve cells in the somatosensory cortex of rats became active during tickling, even more so than when the rats underwent a light stroke. Obviously, due to past research, these results were not surprising. However, researchers further found that the nerve cells in the somatosensory cortex were also active when the rats were following the hands of the researchers, not just during physical touch. This shows us that the rats were not just responding from the touch when being tickled, but also at the thought of being tickled! Further, it was found that when using electrodes to stimulate the somatosensory cortex, the rats actually giggled! Anxious rats that were stressed before being tickled were found to respond less and emitted fewer laugh-like vocalizations compared to the calm rats that responded greatly to the tickling, which showed just how mood-dependent tickling really is.

So what? Why are the findings of this experiment important/interesting?

Unlike any other study before, this experiment shows that laughter can result directly from stimulating the somatosensory cortex. This study further leads into the research of the brains involvement in both the sensory aspect of tickling but also its social context and how the brain ultimately creates and maintains happiness.

It's a short week, so we will only look at two articles today.


In the first, making new mice from skin cells:

Researchers from a number of Japanese research institutions have successfully bred in vitro a complete cycle of mouse cells from stem cell to fertile egg and back again (Hikabe, Hamazaki et al. 2016). In this study Hikabe et al. detail the how this was achieved. Eggs in mice develop from primordial germ cells (PGCs) which typically form in the embryo before becoming mature eggs (oocytes). To recreate these PGCs in vitro, Hikabe et al. treated pluripotent embryonic stem cells with epiblast cells (cells which form the outer layer of the embryo). The stem cells differentiated into PGC-like cells, which when aggregated with ovary somatic cells developed into a primary oocyte within three weeks and a mature oocyte in a further 12 days. These mature eggs were then fertilised in vitro and implanted into female mice, where the embryos developed. Of the 316 embryos implanted into the mice, only 11 (3.5%) survived the full pregnancy and were born as pups. These 11 pups displayed no genetic defects and had no premature deaths, and were bred with each other and with wild type mice and found to be fully fertile. In addition, embryonic stem cells were able to be derived from the in vitro generated blastocysts, so the only component missing from complete regeneration of the cycle is the ovary somatic cells, which must be taken from an embryo. This research has numerous applications, not the least of which is the possibility of creating human egg cells in vitro. These methods could also be applied to better understand how embryonic stem cells differentiate, particularly with regards to gametogenesis.


In the second, a new look at the endoplasmic reticulum:

The endoplasmic reticulum of a human cell is continually put under stress in its’ environment, and in extreme cases, leads to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. The ER needs to be able to adapt to change while being subjected to an unpredictable environment. However, textbook drawings of the ER show that it has flat plates. These flat plates would not be able to shift easily in a changing environment, and most likely break from the movement.

In a recent study by Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz and Craig Blackstone, they revealed through super-imaging shots that the endoplasmic reticulum is actually made up of interconnected tubes rather than plates. These tubes can expand and contract, vibrate and shift, and move up and down. The endoplasmic reticulum is set up like a spider web, where all the tubes are coming from three different directions. The tubes also vary in density, which has been theorized that it’s because of the different jobs these tubes perform.

However, the scientists still saw flat plates around the nucleus of the ER, so the common textbook drawing is not completely false.

So why did they not see this before? Older technology prevented accurate and close up footage of the organelle. In fact, the cells had to die before being viewed under a conventional microscope. With new technology, scientists can now view living cells up a lot closer than before, allowing them to see more detail. This will help with studying neurological diseases.

Okay, it's maybe not that scary, but today's posts are all about spiders and mosquitos --- AHHHHHH!

First, no matter how hard you try to escape, the slightest squeek of your chair will give away your position to a bloodthirsty spider:

Contrary to what scientists have said and have listed in textbooks, spiders, more specifically the jumping spider, is able to hear up to about 3 meters of distance away from itself. Researchers from Cornell University used metal microelectrodes embedded into the jumping spider’s brain and was able to determine that there were auditory neurons that could sense sound. I find it amusing that Gil Menda, the researcher behind the discovery of the neurons, did so due to him creating a squeaking noise from the chair he sat on. Once the squeaking noise generated, the spider that Menda was studying froze in place and also displayed the neurons firing. They proceeded to run tests by sending out pulses of sound (around 90 HZ) and actually had the spiders exhibit a startle response which is shown when an animal is trying to assess the situation. Researchers also found that long hairs found on the spider’s body also generated the same firing of neurons as in the brain. This discovery has led Menda to continue to conduct more studies on different species of spiders. In addition, these findings could help with applying the hair-like structures in developing microphones (like the ones in hearing aids).

Turns out that black widow toxin has been hijacked by a virus and can now target ---- Wolbachia --- Okay, so it is infecting a bacteriium, it is still cool and it may be of used to humans.

This article discusses the evidence that a bacteriophage stole DNA from a black widow spider that enables it to encode the poison produced by black widows, latratoxin. It was previously thought that bacteriophages could only steal genetic information from the cells in which they infect, bacteria. It also discusses, that for the virus to reproduce it may require a way to invade eukaryotic cells, in which the bacteria Wolbachia infect. This gene may have been useful for it to enter and exit eukaryotic cells by “punching” through with latratoxin. Although Wolbachia only infects insects, this article was interesting because it broke the paradigm that bacteriophages can only steal genetic information from bacteria.

Although interesting, it probably will not be very useful or dangerous to humans. We can already put genes in bacteriophages that we want a bacteria to produce, this is how proteins like insulin are generated on large scales. Additionally, it most likely will not be harmful to humans because this bacteriophage targets Wolbachia, which in turn targets insects. However, the idea of the gene for latratoxin being spread around is unappealing.

And finally, can we make our blood unpalatable to mosquitos?

According to a study by Johns Hopkins researchers, there is a specific part in a mosquito’s brain where it mixes smells with tastes to create a blend of preferred flavors and smells. These findings give a possibility of discovering a substance that will make human taste unappetizing to mosquitoes, which will ultimately stop the worldwide spread of malaria, potentially saving up to 450,000 lives each year.

A genetic technique that made certain neurons “glow” green in mosquitos was accomplished for the first time. The green glowing label appears exclusively in neurons that receive many different odors through proteins, known as odorant receptors that are responsible for the detection of odorants. The odorant receptor neurons from the antennae and maxillary palps went to the same areas of the brain known as antennal lobes. This was expected because it is also common in flies. On the contrary, the OR neurons from the labella went to the subesophageal zone, which was a shock to the researchers because it had never been associated with the sense of smell, only taste in any fly or insect. It will be much easier for Johns Hopkins researchers and other laboratories, to generate new traits by mating genetically altered mosquitoes using the two-part genetic system that was devised to generate the glowing neurons. There is a strain of An. gambiae mosquitoes that Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers have already created whose odorant receptor neurons glow fluorescent green upon activation. This allows scientists to observe which neurons glow green in response to specific smells. In the future, Johns Hopkins researchers hope to find an odorant that is a strong repellant to mosquitos at low concentrations and safe to use on the body

Near the end of BIOL225 we will discuss p53 and its role in cancer development. This article is about restoring function to p53 mutations:

Rommie Amaro, computational biologist at the University of Californa, San Diego has discovered a cleft found in the p53 protein that reacts to drug molecules. P53 is used to signal when cells with damaged DNA need to be destroyed before they become cancerous. In cancer patients this protein becomes mutated and is therefore unable to prevent precancerous cells from replicating. Amaro used supercomputers to monitor the effects that mutations have on the p53 protein and noted a cleft that occurs in the core of the protein. When drug molecules where added to the mutated protein, they filled in the cleft which restored the proteins normal functions, essentially reversing all effects of the mutation. Scientists have been so focused on increasing levels of p53 in cancer patients rather than trying to fix the mutated proteins that it was completely overlooked until recently. It has been noted that patients will only need a handful of drugs along with the chemotherapy medication to reverse the mutations since one drug type will work on several different forms of the mutated protein. It is a big advancement in the cancer research program, since this mutated protein appears in over 50% of cancer patients. This research has already provided a foundation to kick start other scientists in fixing mutated proteins that are associated with cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

This article describes how bacteriophage (viruses that infect bacteria) may be used in the future to identify bacterial contamination of food:

This article discussed the creation of a manmade bacteriophage, *NanoLuc*,engineered by researchers at Purdue University. It is specific to E. coli.When infected, E. coli will emit light. False results from this method areunlikely as NanoLuc’s light emitting protein is produced solely in thepresence of E. coli.At the moment, detection of E. coli using *NanoLuc* is only possible inlarge populations of E. coli. Therefore the process of E. coli enrichmentis required,  a slight drawback, although the process of detection remain advantageous in terms of the timeline involved.


The implication of this research is the possibility of facilitated bacterial detecting in food, thereby reducing foodborne illnesses. At the moment, testing has only been done on E. coli presence in ground beef, however further tests are in place for detection in produce known to contain E. coli.

This new method of E. coli detection opens the door for a new era of pathenogenic bacterial detection in food products. The researchers believe further bacteriophages specific to other harmful bacteria could be engineered, allowing similar methods of detection.

Finally, an article about sex differentiation in a rat lacking a Y chromosome:

During the development of an embryo, we have always attributed sex-differentiation to be determined by the gene SRY that is present on the Y-chromosome. Testis-determining factor – known as the sex-determining region Y (SRY) protein – is responsible for inducing regulatory genes that suppress female differentiation. There has been lots of research into SRY and have found that it regulates a variety of male differentiation genes such as Sox9 and AHM. This is why embryos that do not contain a Y chromosome turn out to be female, and mutations to this gene can result in a variety of sex-related disorders that effect human phenotype and genotype. This is known to be true for all mammalian species, except one.


Researchers at the Hokkaido University in Japan have been studying the Amami spiny rat (Tokudaia Osimensis) in hopes to better understand sex differentiation. T. Osimensis is unique in the sense that although it does not contain a Y-Chromosome, or the SRY gene, there are still many male regulatory genes that operate as if the Y-Chromosome were present.


The researching team speculates on the idea that there is an unknown gene that has the same impact on sex regulating genes and therefor acts as an alternative to SRY. Through an evolutionary process, the numbers of genes in the Y-chromosome have continued to decrease; some speculate that the chromosome might disappear completely.

It looks like the theme for today's news is smoking and drinking.

First up, what strains of yeast are actually used to make beer? Science has found out:

Recently, researchers in Belgium have discovered that the yeast used and found in beer actually began life approximately 500 years ago. As many people know, yeast is one of the few and main ingredients in brewing beer, and is used to convert sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The beer industry, which is very secretive, has a number of independent brewers with secret recipes using their “own” yeast strains, allowing each companies beer to be unique. Upon realizing this, researchers were naturally curious about the many strains of yeast involved in this process, and began comparing many sequences of DNA, to help determine that specific beer yeast differs from wild yeast greatly. They have concluded that this difference most likely occurred sometime during the 15-1600s, a time when brewers would continue to use the leftover sediments (left over yeast) from each batch of beer over and over again during brewing processes. This allowed the same population of yeast to live and takeover it’s specific brewery, which essentially resulted in the selective breeding of yeast in breweries.

Next up, smoking can cause long term epigenetic effects:

In a recent study conducted by the American Heart Association, it was found that smoking could have a long lasting impact on the human genome. According to this new research, even after a person stops smoking, the harmful effects of smoking can remain in their DNA in the form of DNA methylation. DNA methylation is a mechanism that regulates gene expression and affects which genes are turned on. Smoking-related DNA methylation sites can be associated to the development of smoking-related diseases. The study showed that majority of DNA methylation sites returned to similar levels as non-smokers within 5 years of quitting smoking. Some DNA methylation sites still remained the same even after 30 years of quitting smoking. Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in the world. The discovery of smoking-related DNA methylation sites helps researchers to better understand the effect of smoking on a person after they quit and with developing biomarkers to better evaluate a person's smoking history. Alongside, new treatments can possibly be developed to target the smoking-related DNA methylation sites.

But there is good news at hand for smokers, these stem cell researchers have induced stem cells to mimic lung tissue:

The experiment took place at the University of California and proposed the idea to grow stem cells around tiny gel beads. Then allow the cells to self-assemble into a three dimensional shape in a laboratory to mimic that of an air sac in the human lung. This idea gives biologist and doctors an idea of how the lung works at a smaller scale and how to further their research in lung diseases such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Pulmonary fibrosis is scarring of the lungs, which leads to thickening and stiffness in the lung. Being able to mimic lung cells outside of the body gives the ability to culture the cells and continuously grow the cells that are diseased and attempt to treat with antibiotics to find a cure for pulmonary fibrosis. The experiment aims to grow stem cells for an individual, which leads to being able to see what treatment is best for the individual patient. Furthermore, stem cell research is fast growing in the biology world allowing for serious change in the health world.

Hope you are all enjoying the long weekend. Here are a few recent articles that have been submitted.

First, now that we are heading into flu season, it's time to start thinking about influenza vaccines:

According to University of Rochester Medical Center, they have found a rare mutated protein encoded by an influenza virus that acts virus vulnerable to the physical immune system. This provides a new idea of virus research where significantly mutated protein can be used as a vaccine in the future.

In the article, protein which has been mutated by encoded with virus weakens the flu. A protein is a non-structural 1(NS1) and NS1 are necessary for flu virus to prevent interferon by signaling (alerting) cells, which it has been infected. Topham, who is a Professor of Microbiology and immunology at URMC and author of study said, “We proposed that the mutation we found could be used to create a live vaccine.” He also mentioned that naturally mutated proteins has a new way of making a live vaccine. The World Health Organization state that there are approximately 500,000 death each year by the flu virus and this research could open the new window of virus vaccination. Furthermore, since this type of mutation occurred naturally, it has ability to surpass the human immunity.


How about portable vaccine development?

Large image of Figure 1.In a recent breakthrough, James J. Collins and associates at MIT synthesized pellets with the ability to translate DNA into proteins. Not only are they amazing in function but they are completely sterile. They can withstand room temperatures during transport unlike other transcribing inventions and these tiny packages of molecules have a shelf life of approximately one year. As far as freeze-dried pellets go they are the first of their kind and the benefits could change the world forever!

These miniscule capsules measuring only a few millimeters in diameter were created using numerous enzymes and molecules from various cells. According to Collins the pellets also contain ribosomes, DNA & RNA, in addition to various molecular machines. You may be wondering how they work and to what purpose? With the simple addition of water and freeze-dried DNA the capsules will synthesize proteins encoded by the DNA. Due to their freeze-dried packaging they do not require a cool environment to be transported. This means that they are portable in most external environments and the team at MIT envision a world where their pellets are used on military fronts, in underdeveloped countries and even classrooms due to their sterility and ease of use.

The breakthrough comes at a time where the invention of vaccines is as crucial as the speed of mass production. With this invention teams across the globe can synthesize vaccines on demand and most importantly without the use of full fledged labs. With it’s health benefits and accessibility this is one piece of biology news you will likely be hearing about again in the very near future!

This cool experiment had a novel approach to studying the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria:

This article discusses a new device used to show the evolution of antibiotic resistance of bacteria. The idea was to move from small scale test tubes and standard petri dishes to a large over 1m sized petri dish. The dish was coated agar then divided into 9 bands with 0 concentration of trimethoprim or ciprofloxacin antibiotics on the outside becoming more concentrated towards the inside of the dish. Finally, it was coated with a thin layer of agar so the bacteria could move along the dish. The researches claim that the larger dish would more easily let the bacteria diversify. The film footage shows the bacteria first growing through the area with no antibiotic until they reach the first section of antibiotics at which they cannot survive. After some time, a mutant appears and beings to spread through the area of low antibiotic concentration and compete with other mutants. This sequence is repeated at each boundary, where the mutants can no longer survive and other mutations must develop to survive in higher concentrated antibiotic. The researches hope to use this technique to study the evolution of microbes under other constraints.

Hopefully everybody got through today's midterm alright. Let's celebrate with some science!

First up, a protein that decides whether a damage cell will be repaired or destroyed:

Scientists have recently discovered the component in a cell that determines whether the damaged genome will be repaired or the cell will be killed off completely. After the cell has been damaged, seconds later an interaction that is controlled by a protein named UFD-2 determines if the damage is worth repairing, or more beneficial for the entire cell to be destroyed. Lead author of the scientific paper, Leena Ackermann, writes on using ionizing radiation to break the double stranded DNA of a nematode (Caenorhabditis elegans), monitoring the ability that the UFD-2 protein has on damaged genomes. The scientists conducting the experiment believe this has potential to help develop future research on what cells that do not contain the UFD-2 protein do with their broken cells, and how these broken cells can mutate into cancer cells. Senior author Thorsten Hoppe believes this will help the fight on cancer and aid with tumor therapy.

So busy celebrating the end of your BIOL 225 midterm that you dropped some cake? Is it still safe to eat? Maybe not...

Researchers at Rutgers University conducted several experiments to determine that the “five-second-rule” (the idea that food dropped on the floor for less than five seconds is safe to consume) is not valid. Results showed that the moisture content of food, the type of surface and length of contact all contributed to different levels of bacterial contamination. Of the four foods tested, watermelon had the greatest bacterial transfer (up to 97%), gummy candies had the least (up to 62%) while plain bread and bread with butter registered in the middle (up to 94% and 82%, respectively). Stainless steel and tile transferred bacteria most rapidly while carpet had the lowest rate of transfer. In conclusion, the longer the food was in contact with the floor, the more bacterial transfer occurred. However, some bacteria were able to transfer to the food within one second of contact, disproving the well-known notion of the “five-second rule”.

Finally, how  would you feel about swarms of compass-equipped bacteria delivering drugs within your body?

Swarms of magnetic bacteria could be used to deliver drugs to tumors, scientists have found a promising new approach to fighting cancer. In this article, researchers illustrate how this new vessel for delivering cancer fighting drugs directly to tumors can be accomplished without the harmful effect of the drugs on the rest of the body. The vessel is a strain of bacteria known as Magnetococcus marinus or MC-1, found deep in the ocean where oxygen content is low, similar to that of the inside of a cancerous tumor. The bacteria contain magnetic nanocrystals that act like a compass needle leading the bacteria to travel north. They also have receptors on them which seek out and detect areas of low oxygen. Experiments were conducted on mice which were injected with both the human cancer cells and the bacteria cells near the tumor. Using a magnetic device to guide the bacteria, the scientists recorded that a huge number of the cells were able to find their way inside the tumor, especially in areas of low oxygen content. When the experiment was done again with the drugs attached to the bacteria, 55% of the cells made it to the site compared to other methods where only about 2% reached the tumor. More research is needed to test if the drug carrying bacteria are able to decrease the size of tumors. It is also needed to test if other types of medicine could be carried by these bacteria, and if the cells could find their way to tumors deep within the body effectively. However, these impressive findings are encouraging to those affected by cancer.


I have a huge backlog of articles this week, so I'll post more tomorrow.

Welcome to a brand new school term. Let's get things started with an article about the role microbes play in oxygen minimum zones of Saanich inlet:

In the article, New model could point way for microbiome forecasting in the ocean, a biogeochemical model was created to study the affects of oxygen minimum zones (OMZ) on local marine microbes. University of British Columbia researches studied the seasonally anoxic zone in Saanich Inlet. Saanich Inlet is a fiord located just north of Victoria, at the mouth of the inlet is a shallow underwater sill that prevents water circulation and has contributed to an OMZ area at the bottom of the inlet.  Oxygen depleted areas are hotspots for nutrient loss and the production of greenhouse gases; these OMZ zones are growing due to climate change.  Microbial process are the key drivers of nutrient and energy cycles and many other ecosystem functions, therefore understanding these networks is crucial in a period of climate change. Researches modeled biogeochemical process rates (nutrient cycles) as well as DNA, mRNA and protein concentrations across the oxycline (gradient of oxygen rich surface water to oxygen poor ocean floor). The team concentrated on particular genes and pathways to measure biochemical processes of the microbes such as converting ammonia and nitrates into nitrogen gas. Products like nitrogen can have huge influence on the nutrient cycles in the ocean. Studying climate change affects with microbiome data is a new way of predicting environmental impacts. Molecular sequencing information could help our ability to predict how marine microbiomes are affected by climate change and the impact of microbe shifts on the ecosystem.


The next one is very topical, as antibiotic resistance fears spread:

Since the creation of antibiotics, antibiotic resistant bacteria has been a major concern in a world with finite treatment options. In this article, researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center created a compound which blocks a resistant form of Escherichia coli from pumping antibiotics out of its cytoplasm, thus causing the bacteria to become susceptible to the drugs it was once resistant to. The compounds, called peptide-conjugated phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers (PPMO’s) target efflux pumps, which move antibiotics through the bacteria’s cell walls and out of the cytoplasm. In this study, the PPMO used prevented the creation of a protein called AcrA, which is responsible for the function of AcrAB-TolC efflux pumps in a resistant strain of E. coli. The PPMO, while not directly killing the bacteria, prevented the E. coli from expelling the drugs used against them from their cytoplasm, allowing the antibiotics used to be between two and forty times more effective. This allowed even drugs traditionally thought to be ineffective against E. coli to be effective. In addition to E. coli, other pathogenic bacteria such as Klebsiella pneumoniae and Salmonella enterica which utilize the same AcrAB-TolC efflux pumps were made susceptible to antibiotics. This is an important development in the fight against antibiotic resistant bacteria, which are responsible for over two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the United States each year. Instead of focusing on new, stronger drugs to overcome resistance, compounds designed to disable and block resistances can reopen traditional treatment methods against difficult pathogens.


Photo Credit: © 2016 Sae Tanaka, Hiroshi Sagara, Takekazu Kunieda.

Finally, one abut water bears, those wildly robust little creatures known as tardigrades. Here they are surviving radiation:

Scientists have always been intrigued about the tardigrade ability to survive in extreme environment niches. Researchers from the University of Tokyo were finally able to decode the genome of a certain tardigrade, Ramazzottius varieornatus, the most resilient tardigrade. This type of tardigrade is characterized by its survival after being exposed to a high amount of radiation. The new protein found after decoding the genome was named Dsup, which originates from its functional classification: damage suppressor. Since this protein was discovered in the DNA of the Ramazzottius varieornatus it has the ability to suppress the damage that could be caused by radiation. The Dsup protein sequence was introduced into the DNA of human cells and showed only half the DNA damage when compared to the human cells that did not have Dsup protein present. Furthermore, the human cells with Dsup were still able to reproduce even after the radiation treatment. This incredible discovery gives hope to researchers to find other proteins involved in other aspects of the resilience tardigrade show.