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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.

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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.

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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.

Purple bacteria on Earth could survive alien light

July 24, 2013 8:42 am | News | Comments

Purple bacteria contain pigments that allow them to use sunlight as their source of energy. Small as they are, these microbes can teach us a lot about life on Earth, because they have been around longer than most other organisms on the planet. A Univ. of Miami physicist recently found that these organisms can also survive in the presence of extreme alien light.

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Even bacteria use social networks

July 22, 2013 9:27 am | News | Comments

Using several imaging techniques, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists found that a common soil bacterium stays connected by a network of chain-like membranes. They believe the bacterium uses its network to coordinate social activities—such as evading bacterial enemies and snaring prey—without revealing its location.

Bacteriophages battle superbugs

July 18, 2013 4:11 pm | News | Comments

Microbiologists in France are reinvigorating a way of battling C. difficile infections that they hope will help overcome the growing problem of antibiotic resistant superbugs in hospitals. Using a model human colon, the researchers showed that the administration of a specific bacteriophage significantly reduced toxins and the number of C. difficile cells produced without significantly affecting the other members of the gut microbiota.

Artificial cells help scientists study molecular crowding, gene expression

July 16, 2013 9:06 am | News | Comments

The interior of a living cell is a crowded place, with proteins and other macromolecules packed tightly together. A team of scientists at Carnegie Mellon Univ. has approximated this molecular crowding in an artificial cellular system and found that tight quarters help the process of gene expression, especially when other conditions are less than ideal.

Leaf cutter ants inspire new anti-cancer drugs

July 3, 2013 9:08 am | News | Comments

Scientists at the Univ. of East Anglia are developing a new class of anti-cancer drugs that are not only powerful but also circumvent a primary cause of resistance to chemotherapy. The work is inspired by nature’s fungus farmer, the leaf cutter ant.

Chemist bringing low-cost, inkjet-printed water quality test strips to Pakistan

July 1, 2013 5:48 pm | News | Comments

On Monday, the National Academy of Sciences announced a three-year grant to chemist Vincent Rotello at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to develop, test and deploy new, sensitive, reliable and affordable inkjet-printed, nanoparticle-based test strips for detecting disease-causing bacteria in drinking water.

Silver could promote colonization of bacteria on medical devices

July 1, 2013 7:59 am | News | Comments

Biomaterials are susceptible to microbial colonization, which is why silver is often added to reduce the adhesion rate of bacteria. However, a recent study by researchers in Portugal suggests that—in one material—increasing levels of silver may indirectly promote bacterial adhesion instead of decrease it.

Biochemists identify protease substrates crucial for bacterial health

June 28, 2013 9:28 am | News | Comments

Research at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has revealed how protein degradation is critical to cell cycle progression and bacterial development. The team used a combination of biochemistry and mass spectrometry to “trap” scores of new candidate substrates of the protease ClpXP. These substrates cover all aspects of bacterial growth and development.

High-octane bacteria could ease pain at the pump

June 25, 2013 1:28 pm | News | Comments

By rerouting the metabolic pathway that makes fatty acids in E. coli bacteria, researchers at Harvard University have devised a new way to produce a gasoline-like biofuel. According to the scientists, who are tweaking metabolic pathways in bacteria, new lines of engineered bacteria can tailor-make key precursors of high-octane biofuels that could one day replace gasoline.

Palm-size microarray technique grows 1,200 cultures of microbes

June 25, 2013 6:40 am | News | Comments

Scientists at the University of Texas at San Antonio and the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research have developed a microarray platform for culturing fungal biofilms that holds 1,200 individual cultures of fungi or bacteria. The nano-scale platform technology could one day be used for rapid drug discovery for treatment of any number of fungal or bacterial infections, or even as a rapid clinical test to identify antibiotic drugs.

Bacterial DNA may integrate into human genome more readily in tumor tissue

June 24, 2013 8:19 am | News | Comments

Bacterial DNA may integrate into the human genome more readily in tumors than in normal human tissue, scientists have found. The researchers analyzed genomic sequencing data available from the Human Genome Project, the 1,000 Genomes Project and The Cancer Genome Atlas. They considered the phenomenon of lateral gene transfer, the transmission of genetic material between organisms in a manner other than traditional reproduction.

Genetic switches play big role in human evolution

June 12, 2013 8:45 am | by Krishna Ramanujan, Cornell Univ. | News | Comments

A Cornell Univ. study offers further proof that the divergence of humans from chimpanzees some 4 to 6 million years ago was profoundly influenced by mutations to DNA sequences that play roles in turning genes on and off. The study provides evidence for a 40-year-old hypothesis that regulation of genes must play an important role in evolution since there is little difference between humans and chimps in the proteins produced by genes.

A potential target to thwart antibiotic resistance

June 11, 2013 7:41 am | News | Comments

Bacteria in the gut that are under attack by antibiotics have allies no one had anticipated, a team of Harvard Univ. Wyss Institute scientists has found. Gut viruses that usually commandeer the bacteria, it turns out, enable them to survive the antibiotic onslaught, most likely by handing them genes that help them withstand the drug.

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