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Project aims to produce liquid transportation fuel from methane

January 16, 2014 8:13 am | News | Comments

How’s this for innovative: A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory-led team hopes to engineer a new enzyme that efficiently converts methane to liquid transportation fuel. Methane is the main component of natural gas and biogas from wastewater treatments and landfills. Another source is stranded natural gas, which is currently flared or vented at remote oil fields, and which represents an enormous unused energy resource.

Hugging hemes help electrons hop

January 15, 2014 3:49 pm | News | Comments

Researchers simulating how certain bacteria run electrical current through tiny molecular wires have discovered a secret nature uses for electron travel. The results are key to understanding how the bacteria do chemistry in the ground, and will help researchers use them in microbial fuel cells, batteries or for turning waste into electricity.

Bacterial syringe necessary for marine animal development

January 15, 2014 8:04 am | News | Comments

If you've ever slipped on a slimy wet rock at the beach, you have bacteria to thank. Those bacteria, nestled in a supportive extracellular matrix, form bacterial biofilms. For some marine organisms, these biofilms serve a vital purpose, flagging suitable homes for such organisms and actually aiding the transformation of larvae to adults. A new study is the first to describe a mechanism for this phenomenon.

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Microbes swap for tiny goods in minuscule markets, researchers find

January 14, 2014 2:32 pm | News | Comments

A closer look at microbes reveals there is big business going on in their very small world, and sometimes we are part of the transaction. In a published report, an international team of researchers argue that microbes, like many animals, can evolve into savvy traders, selling high and buying low.

New way to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria: Target human cells instead

January 10, 2014 12:07 pm | News | Comments

As more reports appear of a grim “post-antibiotic era” ushered in by the rise of drug-resistant bacteria, a new strategy for fighting infection is emerging that targets a patient’s cells rather than those of the invading pathogens. The approach involves looking at a class of proteins called phosphatases that is crucial for bacterial but involves the use of the host cell’s machinery.

Ahoy! First ocean vesicles spotted

January 10, 2014 10:35 am | by Denise Brehm, Civil and Environmental Engineering MIT | News | Comments

Marine cyanobacteria are primary engines of Earth’s biogeochemical and nutrient cycles. They nourish other organisms through the provision of oxygen and with their own body mass. Now, scientists have discovered another dimension of the outsized role played by these tiny cells: The cyanobacteria continually produce and release vesicles, spherical packages containing nutrients that can serve as food parcels for marine organisms.

Cilia use different motors for different tasks

January 10, 2014 8:53 am | News | Comments

Cilia are one of nature’s great multipurpose tools. The tiny, hair-like fibers protrude from cell membranes and perform all kinds of tasks in all kinds of creatures, from helping clear debris from human lungs to enabling single-celled organisms to swim. Now, physicists from Brown Univ. have discovered something that could help scientists understand how cilia have been adapted for so many varied tasks.

How to tell good microbes from bad

January 9, 2014 9:47 am | News | Comments

To safely use bacteria in agriculture to help fertilize crops, it is vital to understand the difference between harmful and healthy strains. The bacterial genus Burkholderia, for example, includes dangerous disease-causing pathogens—one species has even been listed as a potential bioterrorist agent—but also many species that are safe and important for plant development.

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Synthetic genetic clock checks the thermometer

January 7, 2014 12:29 pm | Videos | Comments

Genetic systems run like clockwork, attuned to temperature, time of day and many other factors as they regulate living organisms. Scientists at Rice Univ. and the Univ. of Houston have opened a window onto one aspect of the process that has confounded researchers for decades: the mechanism by which genetic regulators adjust to changing temperature.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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