It's a jungle in there. In the tightly woven ecosystem of the human gut, trillions of bacteria compete with each other on a daily basis while they sense and react to signals from the immune system, ingested food and other bacteria. Problems arise when bad gut bugs overtake friendly ones, or when the immune system is thrown off balance.
In biology, scientists typically conduct experiments first, and then develop mathematical or computer models afterward to show how the collected data fit with theory. In his work, Rob Phillips flips that practice on its head. The Caltech biophysicist tackles questions in cellular biology as a physicist would—by first formulating a model that can make predictions and then testing those predictions.
Capitalizing on the ability of an organism to evolve in response to punishment from a hostile environment, scientists have coaxed the model bacterium Escherichia coli to dramatically resist ionizing radiation and, in the process, reveal the genetic mechanisms that make the feat possible. The study provides evidence that just a handful of genetic mutations give E. coli the capacity to withstand doses of radiation.
The human relationship with microbial life is complicated. At almost any supermarket, you can pick up both antibacterial soap and probiotic yogurt during the same shopping trip. Although there are types of bacteria that can make us sick, a California Institute of Technology team is most interested in the thousands of other bacteria, many already living inside our bodies, that actually keep us healthy.
Fresh banana, a waft of flowers, blueberry: the scents in Shota Atsumi's laboratory in the Univ. of California, Davis Dept. of Chemistry are a little sweeter than most. That's because Atsumi and his team are engineering bacteria to make esters, molecules widely used as scents and flavorings, and also as basic feedstock for chemical processes from paints to fuels.
In a significant advance for the growing field of synthetic biology, Rice Univ. bioengineers have created a toolkit of genes and hardware that uses colored lights and engineered bacteria to bring both mathematical predictability and cut-and-paste simplicity to the world of genetic circuit design.
A team of Univ. of Notre Dame researchers have discovered a new class of antibiotics to fight bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other drug-resistant bacteria. Called oxadiazoles, the new class was discovered through in silico (by computer) screening and has shown promise in the treatment of MRSA in mouse models of infection.
Paleontologists studying fossilized feathers have proposed that the shapes of certain microscopic structures inside the feathers can tell us the color of ancient birds. But new research from North Carolina State Univ. demonstrates that it is not yet possible to tell if these structures, thought to be melanosomes, are what they seem, or if they are merely the remnants of ancient bacteria.
Scientists who study past pandemics, such as the 14th-century Black Death that devastated much of Europe, might soon be turning to an innovative biological detection technology for some extra help. The apparent first use of this technology, known as a microarray, for studying pathogens from ancient DNA, was reported by a team of scientists in Scientific Reports.
Immune system defenses against dangerous bacteria in the gut can be breached by turning off a single molecular switch that governs production of the protective mucus lining our intestinal walls, according to a study led by researchers at Yale Univ., the Univ. of British Columbia and the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Shortly following the 9/11 terror attack in 2001, letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to news outlets and government buildings killing five people and infecting 17 others. According to a 2012 report, the bioterrorism event cost $3.2 million in cleanup and decontamination. At the time, no testing system was in place that officials could use to screen the letters.
If you’ve run out of drinking water during a lakeside camping trip, there’s a simple solution: Break off a branch from the nearest pine tree, peel away the bark and slowly pour lake water through the stick. The improvised filter should trap any bacteria, producing fresh, uncontaminated water. In fact, a team has discovered that this low-tech filtration system can produce up to 4 L of drinking water a day.
In a surprising new finding, researchers have discovered that bacterial movement is impeded in flowing water, enhancing the likelihood that the microbes will attach to surfaces. The new work could have implications for the study of marine ecosystems, and for our understanding of how infections take hold in medical devices.
Univ. of Georgia (UGA) marine scientists are uncovering the mechanisms that regulate the natural production of an anti-greenhouse gas. A new $2 million National Science Foundation grant will allow the UGA-led research group to further document how genes in ocean microbes transform sulfur into clouds in the Earth's atmosphere.
Tularemia is endemic in the northeastern U.S., and is considered to be a risk to biosecurity, much like anthrax or smallpox, because it has already been weaponized in various regions of the world. A postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has recently described his work to uncover the secrets of the bacterium Francisella tularensis, which causes tularemia, also known as "rabbit fever."
Purdue Univ. researchers have developed a laser sensor that can identify Salmonella bacteria grown from food samples about three times faster than conventional detection methods. Known as BARDOT, the machine scans bacteria colonies and generates a distinct black and white "fingerprint" by which they can be identified. BARDOT takes less than 24 hrs to pinpoint Salmonella.
In the U.S. about 12,500 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer a year. Out of these women, about 4,500 progress into invasive cervical cancer or the end stage of the disease. This leaves about 8,000 women a year in the U.S. that are cured through existing standard of care treatment: surgery or chemotherapy/radiation. However, chemotherapy/radiation have terrible side effects in some cases.
Our cells produce thousands of proteins, but more than one-third of these proteins can fulfill their function only after migrating to the outside of the cell. While it is known that protein migration occurs with the help of various “nanomotors” that push proteins out of the cell, little is known about their precise mechanical functioning. New research reveals the inner workings of one such nanomotor, called SecA, with new clarity.
Researchers at NIST and in Lithuania have used a NIST-developed laboratory model of a simplified cell membrane to accurately detect and measure a protein associated with a serious gynecological disease, bacterial vaginosis (BV), at extraordinarily low concentrations. The work illustrates how the artificial membrane could be used to improve disease diagnosis.
For the first time ever, a team has sequenced the internal bacterial makeup of the three major life stages of a butterfly species, a project that showed some surprising events occur during metamorphosis. The results showed the internal bacterial diversity of the butterfly was halved when it morphed from the caterpillar to the chrysalis, or pupal stage, then doubled after the pupae turned into active adult butterflies.
Researchers from North Carolina State Univ. have developed a de facto antibiotic “smart bomb” that can identify specific strains of bacteria and sever their DNA, eliminating the infection. The technique offers a potential approach to treat infections by multi-drug resistant bacteria.
A central question has been answered regarding a protein that plays an essential role in the bacterial immune system and is fast becoming a valuable tool for genetic engineering. A team of researchers has determined how the bacterial enzyme known as Cas9, guided by RNA, is able to identify and degrade foreign DNA during viral infections, as well as induce site-specific genetic changes in animal and plant cells.
Rice Univ. scientists have created a way to interpret interactions among pairs of task-oriented proteins that relay signals. The goal is to learn how the proteins avoid crosstalk and whether they can be tuned for better performance. Each cell contains thousands of these two-component signaling proteins, which often act as sensors and trigger the cell to act.
A new type of electrical generator uses bacterial spores to harness the untapped power of evaporating water, according to research conducted at the Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard Univ. Its developers foresee electrical generators driven by changes in humidity from sun-warmed ponds and harbors.
Scientists at the Univ. of California, San Diego have developed a new genetic platform that allows efficient production of naturally occurring molecules, and have used it to produce a novel antibiotic compound. Their study, published in PNAS, may open new avenues for natural product discoveries and drug development.