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My Scientific American blog - bringing you all things bacterial!

S.E. Gould
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  • September 2, 2012
  • 10:00 AM
  • 307 views

The bacteria that make insects eat their own brains

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

As far as bacteria are concerned, other living creatures are just another niche to exploit, which means that pretty much every animal and plant has a set of bacterial pathogens that come along with it. These bacteria have made the animal in question their speciality, and are highly adapted to live inside their hosts. While these bacteria often make the host ill, or less fit, or sometimes dead, the longer they live with their host, overall, the less they damage it. After all, it’s no help t........ Read more »

Le Clec'h W, Braquart-Varnier C, Raimond M, Ferdy JB, Bouchon D, & Sicard M. (2012) High virulence of wolbachia after host switching: when autophagy hurts. PLoS pathogens, 8(8). PMID: 22876183  

  • August 11, 2012
  • 08:00 PM
  • 358 views

Fungi that steal genes from bacteria

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

In order to survive in complex and interesting environments in the wild, bacteria have a whole arsenal of chemical products that they make within the cell. These chemicals are used for signalling, defence and communication between bacterial cells. One particular group of these chemicals is called the polyketide group, which I have a particular fondness for as I studied polyketides for my degree project. Several antibiotics are polyketides, so they are useful things for bacteria to have.... Read more »

  • July 24, 2012
  • 04:30 AM
  • 465 views

The bacteria that help sheep eat grass

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

There’s been a lot of focus on the human microbiome recently, and while I’m obviously thrilled at anything which makes people think more about bacteria it’s easy to forget that it isn’t just humans who provide internal living space for bugs. Bacteria are everywhere, inside and among every living creature, and some of them form important symbiotic relationships. The bacteria that live in the gut of ruminant mammals; sheep, cows, and other things that eat grass, are vital f........ Read more »

  • July 7, 2012
  • 03:00 PM
  • 696 views

How fungi steal zinc from your body

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

I've been getting quite into the human microbiome lately, covering both vaginal bacteria and digestive tract bacteria. One thing I thought it might be interesting to highlight is that we talk about the human “microbiome” rather than the human “bacteriome” because it contains a range of microbial species including bacteria, fungi and even possibly blastocysts. There’s more life in your body than you might think.

So with this in mind I’m going to venture........ Read more »

Citiulo F, Jacobsen ID, Miramón P, Schild L, Brunke S, Zipfel P, Brock M, Hube B, & Wilson D. (2012) Candida albicans Scavenges Host Zinc via Pra1 during Endothelial Invasion. PLoS pathogens, 8(6). PMID: 22761575  

  • June 9, 2012
  • 12:30 PM
  • 558 views

Helical bacteria: the benefits of being twisted

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

One of the first things you learn in bacteriology is that bacteria come in different shapes. Not a huge range of shapes admittedly, but the main shapes are spherical, rod-shaped, or spiral. Spherical bacteria make sense – a sphere has the largest surface area for a given volume which means that the bacteria can absorb as many nutrients from the outside world as possible and easily diffuse them throughout the cell. Likewise a rod is a good shape for bacteria that move around a lot, giving t........ Read more »

  • May 5, 2012
  • 05:30 AM
  • 522 views

Pathogens that feed off human blood

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

Bacteria may be tiny little micro-organisms but like any other living creature there are certain molecules that they need for survival. No matter what niche a bacterial colony occupies, it eventually requires a source of iron. For bacteria that live within the human body, there is one incredibly iron-rich molecule that circulates throughout the human body and can be found permeating the tissues.... Read more »

  • March 12, 2012
  • 10:00 AM
  • 979 views

Deadly cocktails for killing bacteria

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

As a general rule in life there is always a bigger fish – for every predator there is a bigger one lurking that is ready to eat it. However it is also worth remembering that there is usually always a smaller fish as well; for every small irritating parasite there is something that can infect it. Bacteria are no exception.... Read more »

Gu J, Liu X, Li Y, Han W, Lei L, Yang Y, Zhao H, Gao Y, Song J, Lu R.... (2012) A method for generation phage cocktail with great therapeutic potential. PloS one, 7(3). PMID: 22396736  

  • March 1, 2012
  • 11:00 AM
  • 596 views

How to form a species (in the world of the Very Small)

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

A species is one of those things that is harder to define than it looks. While it’s clear that (for example) a rat is a different species than a dog, the more closely related animals get, the harder it is to properly put them into species. Usual definitions involve the sharing of physical characteristics (although the physical characteristics shared between a Great Dane and a Shih Tzu can be harder to ascertain…) and the fundamental idea of breeding. If two species can interbreed to........ Read more »

Cadillo-Quiroz H, Didelot X, Held NL, Herrera A, Darling A, Reno ML, Krause DJ, & Whitaker RJ. (2012) Patterns of gene flow define species of thermophilic archaea. PLoS biology, 10(2). PMID: 22363207  

  • February 26, 2012
  • 05:50 AM
  • 493 views

Gastric ulcer bacteria hide from the immune system

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

A while ago, I wrote about how Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that cause stomach ulcers and are implicated in certain stomach cancers, cause the cells of the stomach wall to die. H. pylori kills cells very sneakily, by releasing a chemical that causes them to commit suicide. It turns out that this is not the only sneaky trick H. pylori has, it can also hide from the immune system by changing its outer cell membrane.... Read more »

  • February 12, 2012
  • 11:10 AM
  • 971 views

How the TB bacteria bursts your cells

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

The bacteria that causes Tuberculosis is a nasty little beast. The white blood cells that clear infection in your body work by ingesting bacteria and then breaking them up, and the TB escapes this by letting itself get ingested and then sitting inside your white blood cells. They don’t sit passively, however, they burst out of the cell and recruit a whole host of other blood cells which surround the infection and form what’s called a granuloma. The bacteria stay inside the granuloma ........ Read more »

  • January 4, 2012
  • 11:00 PM
  • 817 views

How bacteria sneak into your blood through your mouth

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

The inside of the human body is a bacteria-free zone. Bacteria are certainly within you, but they exist only in areas that have a direct channel to the outside world, such as the mouth, intestines and the surface of the skin. These areas are well protected by a layer of cells (epithilial cells) which form a protective barrier to keep away the nasties of the outside world. That’s why there are healthy stomach bacteria, but no healthy liver bacteria. From a certain point of view your lungs a........ Read more »

  • November 16, 2011
  • 06:00 AM
  • 751 views

Bacteria with bodies – multicellular prokaryotes

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

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Bacteria with bodies – multicellular prokaryotes
By S.E. Gould | November 16, 2011 |

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Bacterial cells are fundamentally different to the cells of multicellular animals such as humans. They are far smaller, with less internal organisation and no nucleus (they have DNA but it is not packaged safely within a membrane). Because of this bacteria are almost ........ Read more »

  • November 14, 2011
  • 08:02 AM
  • 831 views

How cancer-causing bacteria force your cells to die

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

The discovery that stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria is quite recent and was proved fairly conclusively in 1984 when the Australian scientist Barry Marshall drank a petri-dish full of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori and five days later developed serious gastritis, which cleared after antibiotic treatment. As stomach ulcers are quite common, and can be a major source of duodenal ulcers and stomach cancer, the discovery that they could be treated by a course of antibiotics was of major medic........ Read more »

  • November 2, 2011
  • 07:00 PM
  • 729 views

How to explore a protein

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

I’m doing a journal club presentation tomorrow, where I take a paper apart in front of my lab through the medium of powerpoint. It’s a nice short little paper but it does bring up some interesting points and also works as a prime example of a very common way that scientists go about exploring how a particular protein works. There are many ways to do this, but this one is quite a common one and if everything works it can generate very nice results.

Stage one: Find your gene... Read more »

Scharf DH, Remme N, Habel A, Chankhamjon P, Scherlach K, Heinekamp T, Hortschansky P, Brakhage AA, & Hertweck C. (2011) A dedicated glutathione S-transferase mediates carbon-sulfur bond formation in gliotoxin biosynthesis. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 133(32), 12322-5. PMID: 21749092  

  • November 2, 2011
  • 07:00 PM
  • 760 views

How to explore a protein

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

I’m doing a journal club presentation tomorrow, where I take a paper apart in front of my lab through the medium of powerpoint. It’s a nice short little paper but it does bring up some interesting points and also works as a prime example of a very common way that scientists go about exploring how a particular protein works. There are many ways to do this, but this one is quite a common one and if everything works it can generate very nice results.

Stage one: Find your gene... Read more »

Scharf DH, Remme N, Habel A, Chankhamjon P, Scherlach K, Heinekamp T, Hortschansky P, Brakhage AA, & Hertweck C. (2011) A dedicated glutathione S-transferase mediates carbon-sulfur bond formation in gliotoxin biosynthesis. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 133(32), 12322-5. PMID: 21749092  

  • November 1, 2011
  • 01:00 AM
  • 1,304 views

Modelling a werewolf epidemic

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

The field of bacteriology is a wide-reaching one. Blogging about bacteria means that I get to explore many different fields of science; from the highly molecular world of biochemistry and synthetic biology to the larger and more human-centred land of the pathologists and immunologists.

One area that I don’t go into so much is epidemiology; the study of how diseases spread through a population. It’s an important area of research and leads to vital discoveries about immunisations an........ Read more »

Philip Munz, Ioan Hudea, Joe Imad, Robert J. Smith. (2009) When Zombies attack!: Mathematical modelling of an outbreak of zombie infection. Infectious Disease Modelling Research Progress. info:other/978-1-60741-347-9

  • October 26, 2011
  • 10:00 PM
  • 718 views

Plastic from bacteria – now in algae!

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

Bacteria are capable of producing a wide range of exciting and important materials, and one of the most unusual is probably bacterial plastics. Used by the bacteria as an energy store, these bioplastics are of particular interest as not only could they be a non-oil-based form of plastic but they are also biodegradable. At the moment, they are still far more expensive than conventional plastics, but researchers are working on finding ways to make bacterial bioplastic a more viable alternative to ........ Read more »

Hempel F, Bozarth AS, Lindenkamp N, Klingl A, Zauner S, Linne U, Steinbuchel A, & Maier UG. (2011) Microalgae as bioreactors for bioplastic production. Microbial cell factories, 10(1), 81. PMID: 22004563  

  • October 6, 2011
  • 01:00 AM
  • 700 views

The evolution of bacterial energy centres

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

One of the first things you learn once you start taking biology as a subject is that life is split into two separate domains – prokeryotes and eukaryotes. Prokaryotes are small and blobby and have no nucleus or internal organisation, while eukaryotes are big and multicellular and contain not just a nucleus, but all sorts of other organelles inside the cell such as mitochondria, chloroplasts, vacuoles and exciting things with names like endoplasmic reticulum.... Read more »

  • October 2, 2011
  • 12:00 PM
  • 929 views

Sequencing the Impossible – working with ‘unculturable’ bacteria

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

Bacteria are everywhere. In the air, in the soil, in our bodies and, thanks to human-built rockets, even in space. While the number of different bacterial strains and species discovered is continually increasing some bacteria, particularly environmental ones, are often very difficult to work with. These so-called ‘unculturable’ bacteria don’t grow under laboratory conditions, making it impossible to characterise and understand them.... Read more »

Chitsaz H, Yee-Greenbaum JL, Tesler G, Lombardo MJ, Dupont CL, Badger JH, Novotny M, Rusch DB, Fraser LJ, Gormley NA.... (2011) Efficient de novo assembly of single-cell bacterial genomes from short-read data sets. Nature biotechnology. PMID: 21926975  

  • September 19, 2011
  • 08:00 AM
  • 718 views

Synthetic DNA - now in yeast!

by Lab Rat in Lab Rat Blog

iGEM season is here and so to get into the spirit of things I thought I'd see if any interesting synthetic biology news had happened recently. It turns out that while I've been getting all excited about bacteria, people doing research on yeast have managed something pretty spectacular - they've replaced a whole section of a yeast chromosome with artificial DNA... Read more »

Dymond JS, Richardson SM, Coombes CE, Babatz T, Muller H, Annaluru N, Blake WJ, Schwerzmann JW, Dai J, Lindstrom DL.... (2011) Synthetic chromosome arms function in yeast and generate phenotypic diversity by design. Nature. PMID: 21918511  

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