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Growing bacteria keep time, know their place

October 8, 2013 4:41 pm | News | Comments

Working with a synthetic gene circuit designed to coax bacteria to grow in a predictable ring pattern, Duke Univ. scientists have revealed an underappreciated contributor to natural pattern formation: time. A series of experiments published by the Duke team show that their engineered gene circuit functions as a timing mechanism, triggering a predictable ring growth pattern that adjusts to the size of its environment.

Working together: Bacteria join forces to produce electricity

October 8, 2013 9:28 am | by Richard Harth, Science Writer, Biodesign Institute | News | Comments

Bacterial cells use an impressive range of strategies to grow, develop and sustain themselves. Despite their tiny size, these specialized machines interact with one another in intricate ways. In new research conducted at Arizona State Univ.’s Biodesign Institute, researchers explore the relationships of two important bacterial forms, demonstrating their ability to produce electricity by coordinating their metabolic activities.

Innovative approach could end sleeping sickness

October 7, 2013 9:18 am | News | Comments

A tag team of two bacteria, one of them genetically modified, has a good chance to reduce or even eliminate the deadly disease African trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, researchers at Oregon State Univ. conclude in a recent mathematical modeling study. African trypanosomiasis, caused by a parasite carried by the tsetse fly, infects 30,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa each year and is almost always fatal without treatment.

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How meningitis bacteria slip under the radar

September 26, 2013 9:26 am | News | Comments

Scientists have discovered a natural temperature sensor in a type of bacteria that causes meningitis and sepsis. The sensor allows the bacteria to evade the body’s immune response, leading to life-threatening infections. The Oxford Univ. team found that increasing temperature causes the bacteria to make more of a protective layer that surrounds the bacterium like an 'invisibility cloak' and helps it evade detection by the immune system.

New study finds “microbial clock” may help determine time of death

September 25, 2013 9:04 am | News | Comments

An intriguing study led by the Univ. of Colorado Boulder may provide a powerful new tool in the quiver of forensic scientists attempting to determine the time of death in cases involving human corpses: a microbial clock. The clock is essentially the lock-step succession of bacterial changes that occur postmortem as bodies move through the decay process.

Researchers determine protein structure for new antimicrobial target

September 9, 2013 7:57 am | News | Comments

Growing concern about bacterial resistance to existing antibiotics has created strong interest in new approaches for therapeutics able to battle infections. The work of an international team of researchers that recently solved the structure of a key bacterial membrane protein could provide a new target for drug and vaccine therapies able to battle one important class of bacteria.

Material in dissolvable sutures could treat brain infections

August 29, 2013 2:59 pm | News | Comments

A plastic material already used in absorbable surgical sutures and other medical devices shows promise for continuous administration of antibiotics to patients with brain infections, scientists are reporting in a new study. Use of the material, placed directly on the brain’s surface, could reduce the need for weeks of costly hospital stays now required for such treatment.

Virus Power

August 28, 2013 8:59 am | Award Winners

The worldwide market for portable electronic devices is quickly growing. These devices are predominantly battery-driven, and a challenge looms for maintaining, charging and disposing of these millions of batteries. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Bacteriophage Power Generator offers a potential alternative.

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Pollutant-eating bacteria not so rare

August 27, 2013 8:12 am | News | Comments

Dioxane, a chemical in wide industrial use, has an enemy in naturally occurring bacteria that remove it from the environment. Researchers at Rice Univ. have found that these bacteria are more abundant at spill sites than once thought. They are designing tools to help environmental engineers determine the best way to clean up a contaminated site.

How quickly can a bacterium grow?

August 27, 2013 8:02 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

All living things must obey the laws of physics, including the second law of thermodynamics. Highly ordered cells and organisms appear to contradict this principle, but they actually do conform because they generate heat that increases the universe’s overall entropy. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist mathematically modeled the replication of E. coli bacteria and found that the process is nearly as efficient as possible.

Tuberculosis genomes portray secrets of pathogen’s success

August 22, 2013 8:07 am | News | Comments

By any measure, tuberculosis (TB) is a wildly successful pathogen. It infects as many as two billion people in every corner of the world, with a new infection of a human host estimated to occur every second. Now, thanks to a new analysis of dozens of tuberculosis genomes gathered from around the world, scientists are getting a more detailed picture of why TB is so prevalent and how it evolves to resist countermeasures. 

A durable, bacteria-killing surface for hospitals

August 20, 2013 12:13 pm | News | Comments

Scientists at Switzerland have developed a new method for making antimicrobial surfaces that can eliminate bacteria under a minute. The breakthrough relies on a new sputtering technique that uses a highly ionized plasma to, for the first time, deposit antibacterial titanium oxide and copper films on 3-D polyester surfaces. This promotes the production of free radicals, which are powerful natural bactericides.

Microbial team turns corn stalks, leaves into better biofuel

August 20, 2013 7:46 am | News | Comments

A fungus and E. coli bacteria have joined forces to turn tough, waste plant material into isobutanol, a biofuel that matches gasoline's properties better than ethanol. Univ. of Michigan research team members said the principle also could be used to produce other valuable chemicals such as plastics.

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Spaceflight alters bacterial social networks

August 15, 2013 3:03 pm | by Gianine M. Figliozzi, NASA Ames Research Center | News | Comments

In two NASA-funded studies, biofilms made by the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa were cultured on Earth and aboard space shuttle Atlantis in 2010 and 2011 to determine the impact of microgravity on their behavior. After comparing the biofilms grown on the ground with those grown on space station-bound shuttles, study results show for the first time that spaceflight changes the behavior of bacterial communities.

Biophysicists zoom in on pore-forming toxin

August 15, 2013 7:43 am | News | Comments

A new study by Rice Univ. biophysicists offers the most comprehensive picture yet of the molecular-level action of melittin, the principal toxin in bee venom. The research could aid in the development of new drugs that use a similar mechanism as melittin’s to attack cancer and bacteria.

High-angle helix helps bacteria swim

August 13, 2013 8:37 am | News | Comments

It’s counterintuitive but true: Some microorganisms that use flagella for locomotion are able to swim faster in gel-like fluids such as mucus. Research engineers at Brown Univ. have figured out why. It's the angle of the coil that matters.

A worm’s-eye view of immunity

August 13, 2013 7:37 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In 1998, scientists published the first complete genome of a multicellular organism—the worm Caenorhabditis elegans. At the same time, new technologies were emerging to help researchers manipulate genes and learn more about their functions.

Research reveals new challenges for mercury cleanup

August 6, 2013 8:01 am | by Jennifer Brouner, Oak Ridge National Laboratory | News | Comments

More forms of mercury can be converted to deadly methylmercury than previously thought, according to a study published in Nature Geoscience.The discovery provides scientists with another piece of the mercury puzzle, bringing them one step closer to understanding the challenges associated with mercury cleanup.

Researchers dismantle bacteria's war machinery

August 5, 2013 12:13 pm | News | Comments

Certain bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus, have the ability to deploy tiny darts. This biological weapon kills the host cell by piercing the membrane. Researchers have unlocked, piece by piece, this intriguing little machine and found an assembly of proteins that, in unfolding at the right time, takes the form of a spur.

When writing antibiotic prescriptions, doctors favor strongest drugs

August 1, 2013 1:55 pm | News | Comments

A study at the Univ. of Utah finds that more than 60% of antibiotic prescriptions are for types that kill multiple kinds of bacteria. Unfortunately, in more than 25% of cases such prescriptions are useless because the infection stems from a virus, which cannot be treated with antibiotics. This overuse of antibiotics has a number of downsides.

Scientists solve structure of bacteria’s 3-D molecular syringes

July 31, 2013 10:33 am | News | Comments

The bacterium Yersinia can cause a variety of symptoms, including abdominal pain, fever and diarrhea. The bacterium’s pathogenic potential is based on a syringe-like injection apparatus called the injectisome. For the first time, an international team of researchers including scientists at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research Germany, has unraveled this molecular syringe’s spatial conformation.

Technology could enable all crops to take nitrogen from the air

July 26, 2013 9:20 am | News | Comments

All plants need nitrogen to convert into ammonia, but only a small number of plants can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. The rest are helped by synthetic fertilizers, which have been blamed for nitrogen pollution. A scientist in the U.K., Edward Cocking, has found a specific strain of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in sugar cane which he discovered could intracellularly colonize all major crop plants. The technology is being commercialized.

Microbial “Who done it?" for biofuels

July 26, 2013 9:08 am | News | Comments

The use of enzymes from thermophiles—microbes that thrive at extremely high temperatures and alkaline conditions—holds promise for extracting fermentable sugars from lignocellulosic biomass. Finding the most effective of these microbial enzymes has been a challenge, but Joint BioEnergy Institute scientists have recently made progress in this area by adapting a combination of metagenomic and metaproteomic technologies.

Discovery of gene function may help prevent kidney stones

July 25, 2013 10:35 am | News | Comments

The discovery of a gene's function in E. coli and other bacteria might lead to a probiotic to prevent the most common type of kidney stone, according to a Purdue Univ. study. Human cells can't metabolize oxalate, an acidic chemical found in nearly all plants we eat, so any oxalate we absorb from food must be excreted from the body. Calcium-oxalate urinary stones can form when oxalate reaches a high concentration in the kidneys.

Clean, green high-performance biofuels from carbon dioxide

July 25, 2013 8:24 am | News | Comments

Could there come a time in which the carbon dioxide emitted from coal-burning power plants is harvested and used to produce clean, green and renewable liquid transportation fuels? A pathway to that possibility has been opened by a team of researchers with the Joint BioEnergy Institute who have engineered a microbe now being used to produce biodegradable plastic into a strain that can produce a high-performance advanced biofuel.

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