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Tiny acts of microbe justice help reveal how nature fights freeloaders

January 7, 2014 10:37 am | News | Comments

The idea of everyone in a community pitching in is so universal that even bacteria have a system to prevent the layabouts of their kind from enjoying the fruit of others' hard work, Princeton Univ. researchers have discovered. Groups of the bacteria Vibrio cholerae deny loafers their unjust desserts by keeping the food generated by the community's productive members away from V. cholerae that attempt to live on others' leftover nutrients.

Yeast’s lifestyle couples mating with meiosis

January 6, 2014 8:03 am | News | Comments

From a biological point of view, the world’s most exotic sex lives may be the ones lived by fungi. As a kingdom, they are full of surprises, and a new one reported in Nature seems sure to titillate the intellects of those who study the evolution of mating and ploidy, the complement of chromosomes in each cell.

Single bacterial super-clone behind epidemic of drug-resistant E. coli

December 18, 2013 3:38 pm | News | Comments

Virulent, drug-resistant forms of E. coli that have recently spread around the world emerged from a single strain of the bacteria. The strain causes millions of urinary, kidney and bloodstream infections a year. It could have a far greater clinical and economic impact than any other strain of bacteria, including the so-called MRSA superbug.

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Oil- and metal-munching microbes dominate deep sandstone formations

December 18, 2013 11:19 am | News | Comments

Halomonas are a hardy breed of bacteria. They can withstand heat, high salinity, low oxygen, utter darkness and pressures that would kill most other organisms. These traits enable these microbes to eke out a living in deep sandstone formations that also happen to be useful for hydrocarbon extraction and carbon sequestration, researchers report in a new study.

Superbugs found breeding in sewage plants

December 18, 2013 8:37 am | News | Comments

Tests at two wastewater treatment plants in northern China revealed antibiotic-resistant bacteria were not only escaping purification but also breeding and spreading their dangerous cargo. Scientists found “superbugs” carrying New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1), a multidrug-resistant gene first identified in India in 2010, in wastewater disinfected by chlorination.

Blood clots absorb bacterial toxin

December 11, 2013 8:07 am | Videos | Comments

Blood clots play an unexpected role in protecting the body from the deadly effects of bacteria by absorbing bacterial toxins, researchers have found. Even with modern antibiotics, septic shock from bacterial infections afflicts about 300,000 people a year in the U.S., with a mortality rate of 30 to 50%. Septic shock is caused by Gram-negative bacteria, which release a toxin called lipopolysaccharide or endotoxin.

For the good of the colony

December 11, 2013 7:28 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

For some microbes, the motto for growth is not so much “every cell for itself,” but rather, “all for one and one for all.” Researchers have found that cells in a bacterial colony grow in a way that benefits the community as a whole. That is, while an individual cell may divide in the presence of plentiful resources to benefit itself, when a cell is a member of a larger colony, it may choose instead to grow in a more cooperative fashion.

Probiotic therapy alleviates autism-like behavior in mice

December 6, 2013 9:52 am | News | Comments

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is diagnosed when individuals exhibit characteristic behaviors that include repetitive actions, decreased social interactions and impaired communication. Curiously, many individuals with ASD also suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) issues, such as abdominal cramps and constipation. Using the co-occurrence of brain and gut problems in ASD as their guide, researchers are investigating a new therapy.

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Novel DNA editing method allows synthetic biologists to unlock secrets of bacterial genome

December 5, 2013 11:22 am | News | Comments

A group of Illinois researchers, led by Centennial Chair Prof. of the Dept. of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Huimin Zhao, has demonstrated the use of an innovative DNA engineering technique to discover potentially valuable functions hidden within bacterial genomes. Their work was reported in a Nature Communications article.

Scientists stitch up photosynthetic megacomplex

December 2, 2013 9:23 am | News | Comments

When sunlight strikes a photosynthesizing organism, energy flashes between proteins just beneath its surface until it is trapped as separated electric charges. Improbable as it may seem, these tiny hits of energy eventually power the growth and movement of all plants and animals. They are literally the sparks of life.

Newly identified protein provides target for antibiotic-resistant hospital bacterium

November 27, 2013 8:49 am | News | Comments

Researchers have made inroads into tackling a bacterium that plagues hospitals and is highly resistant to most antibiotics. They determined the 3-D structure and likely function of a new protein in this common bacterium that attacks those with compromised immune systems.

Scientists capture “redox moments” in living cells

November 25, 2013 8:27 am | News | Comments

Scientists have charted a significant signaling network in a tiny organism that's big in the world of biofuels research. The findings about how a remarkably fast-growing organism conducts its metabolic business bolster scientists' ability to create biofuels using the hardy microbe Synechococcus, which turns sunlight into useful energy.

Scientists find powerful tool for genetic engineering

November 22, 2013 10:54 am | News | Comments

Viruses can not only cause illnesses in humans, they also infect bacteria. Bacteria protect themselves with a kind of immune system that detects and “chops up” foreign DNA. Scientists have now shown that the dual-RNA guided enzyme Cas9 which is involved in the process has developed independently in various strains of bacteria. This enhances the potential of exploiting the bacterial immune system for genome engineering.

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Converting natural gas to liquid transportation fuels via biological organisms

November 18, 2013 8:17 am | News | Comments

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories will use their expertise in protein expression, enzyme engineering and high-throughput assays as part of a multiproject, $34 million effort by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy aimed at developing advanced biocatalyst technologies that can convert natural gas to liquid fuel for transportation.

Building nanomachines in biological outer space

November 15, 2013 7:41 am | News | Comments

Univ. of Cambridge scientists have uncovered the mechanism by which bacteria build their surface propellers (flagella). The results demonstrate how the mechanism is powered by the subunits themselves as they link in a chain that is pulled to the flagellum tip. Previously, scientists thought that the building blocks for flagella were either pushed or diffused from the flagellum base.

Better batteries through biology?

November 13, 2013 7:30 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Lithium-air batteries have become a hot research area in recent years: They hold the promise of drastically increasing power per battery weight, which could lead, for example, to electric cars with a much greater driving range. But bringing that promise to reality has faced a number of challenges.

Evidence of 3.5 billion-year-old bacterial ecosystems found in Australia

November 12, 2013 3:08 pm | News | Comments

Earth’s oldest sedimentary rocks are not only rare, but also almost always altered by hydrothermal and tectonic activity. The Pilbara district in Australia is a rare exception. A new study has revealed the well-preserved remnants of a complex ecosystem in a nearly 3.5 billion-year-old sedimentary rock sequence.

Bacteria may allow animals to send quick, voluminous messages

November 11, 2013 3:41 pm | News | Comments

Twitter clips human thoughts to a mere 140 characters. Animals’ scent posts may be equally as short, relatively speaking, yet they convey an encyclopedia of information about the animals that left them. Recent research show that the detailed scent posts of hyenas are, in part, products of symbiotic bacteria, microbes that have a mutually beneficial relationship with their hosts.

Rare new microbe found in two distant clean rooms

November 7, 2013 10:46 am | News | Comments

A rare, recently discovered microbe that survives on very little to eat has been found in two places on Earth: spacecraft clean rooms in Florida and South America. Some other microbes have been discovered in a spacecraft clean room and found nowhere else, but none previously had been found in two different clean rooms and nowhere else.

Less toxic metabolites, more chemical product

October 29, 2013 1:27 pm | News | Comments

The first dynamic regulatory system that prevents the build-up of toxic metabolites in engineered microbes has been reported by a team of researchers with the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI). The JBEI researchers used their system to double the production in Escherichia coli (E. coli) of amorphadiene, a precursor to the premier antimalarial drug artemisinin.

Radical recoding tests limits of genetic reprogramming

October 17, 2013 2:33 pm | News | Comments

In two parallel projects, researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have created new genomes inside the bacterium E. coli in ways that could open new possibilities for increasing flexibility, productivity and safety in biotechnology. In the first project, researchers created a novel genome, the first-ever entirely genomically recoded organism. They then greatly expanded genetic changes in the second project.

Separating the good from the bad in bacteria

October 17, 2013 7:39 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed a new microfluidic device that could speed the monitoring of bacterial infections associated with cystic fibrosis and other diseases. The new microfluidic chip is etched with tiny channels, each resembling an elongated hourglass with a pinched midsection. Researchers injected bacteria through one end of each channel, and observed how cells travel from one end to the other.

Beyond antibiotics: PPMOs offer new approach to bacterial infection

October 16, 2013 8:37 am | News | Comments

Researchers at Oregon State Univ. and other institutions announced the successful use of a new type of antibacterial agent called a PPMO, which appears to function as well or better than an antibiotic, but may be more precise and also solve problems with antibiotic resistance. In animal studies, one form of PPMO showed significant control of two strains of Acinetobacter, a group of bacteria of global concern.

Scientists help identify possible botulism blocker

October 14, 2013 10:10 am | News | Comments

U.S. and German scientists have decoded a key molecular gateway for the toxin that causes botulism, pointing the way to treatments that can keep the food-borne poison out of the bloodstream. The study leaders created a 3-D crystal model of a complex protein compound in the botulinum neurotoxin. This compound binds to the inner lining of the small intestine and allows passage of the toxin into the bloodstream.

Team uses a cellulosic biofuels byproduct to increase ethanol yield

October 9, 2013 8:37 am | News | Comments

Scientists report in Nature Communications that they have engineered yeast to consume acetic acid, a previously unwanted byproduct of the process of converting plant leaves, stems and other tissues into biofuels. The innovation increases ethanol yield from lignocellulosic sources by about 10%.

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