Aug 4, 2009 | 3
ALBUQUERQUE—The foot-long Tokay gecko's polka-dot skin and wide eyes have made it popular with pet stores, where it can sell for less than $20. But the adorable Asian lizards are also a mixing pot for 10 types of salmonella from local livestock, poultry and rodents, a researcher said today.
For the last several years, Katherine Smith at Brown University and colleagues have worked to document the pet trade's potential to bring new and dangerous diseases to the United States. As Smith reported in Science earlier this year, the U.S. imported 1.5 billion live animals between 2000 and 2006, just 14 percent of which have been identified to species in government records. Even less well-known are the pathogens they may contain. In 2003, for instance, a Gambian pouched rat started an outbreak of monkeypox in the Midwest.
At the Ecological Society of America meeting here today, Smith described new results from a study of 150 wild-caught Tokay geckos imported from Indonesia. She found that 60 percent of the geckos tested positive for Salmonella, which was not too surprising considering that 10 percent of salmonella cases are caused by reptile pets, such as slider turtles and iguanas.
Jul 24, 2009 | 4
Mangus Larsson has a big idea. The young, Swedish-born architect wants to halt the marching sands of desertification, which threatens the homes and livelihoods of millions across the globe. And he wants to do it with bacteria.
His proposal, presented this week at the TEDGlobal conference in the U.K. (a gathering to promote new ideas), is to create a 6,000-kilometer-long sandstone wall that would bisect Africa east to west at the southern edge of the Sahara.
But it’s not so much a Great Wall-sized construction project as bioengineering writ large. A microorganism called Bacillus pasteurii, which is naturally occurring in wetlands, can turn loose media, such as sand or soils, into rock-solid stone in about a day by creating calcium carbonate.
Jul 21, 2009
It’s well known that the human body is crawling with bacteria—from the ankle to the, well, armpit. But unbeknown to New Jersey bathers, their beaches might be, too.
Even if waters at a Garden State beach test positive for an unhealthy level of bacteria, the state waits for a second round of testing before issuing a warning or closing the beach. The additional testing frequently takes another day, notes an Associated Press report, a day that can put swimmers at risk.
“These rules are so old and antiquated they could literally make you sick,” Cindy Zipf, executive director of the Clean Ocean Action group—a New Jersey-based environmental nonprofit, which is one of many drawing attention to the state’s beach-closure policy—told the AP. “We want the state to give people the right to know whether the water they are swimming in is contaminated with fecal material, or whether it’s safe to go in,” she said. California, Delaware, Maryland, New York City, Rhode Island and Virginia all let the public know if one water quality test comes up bum, a Clean Ocean Action staffer reported. Common complaints from the beaches include earaches and viruses, often in children, who are more susceptible to contaminants.
May 28, 2009 | 5
Think a good antibacterial hand soap is keeping your skin relatively microbe and bacteria free? You might want to think again.
Scientists and germophobes alike have long known that human skin—from head to toe—is literally crawling with bacteria and microbes. And a new study, published today in Science shows that skin is host to many, many more of the tiny organisms than previously thought.
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) new Human Microbiome Project sequenced genes from skin samples from volunteers and found bacteria that hailed from 19 different phyla, 205 genera and possessed more than 112,000 individual gene sequences. (Previous studies of skin cultures supposed that just one type of bacteria, Staphylococcus—a virulent strain of which is responsible for staph infections—was the main resident of human skin.) But no need to overdo it on the antibacterials; most of the tiny organisms aren't doing any harm.
Feb 10, 2009 | 1
The U.S. Army has halted research on most germs at the same biodefense lab fingered as the source of the deadly 2001 anthrax mailings, after discovering that some of the pathogens stored in its refrigerators and freezers aren’t listed in its database.
Col. John P. Skvorak, commander of the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Maryland, ordered the suspension Friday. The shutdown could last up to three months as investigators attempt to get to the bottom of the questionable inventory, and will affect "most or much" of the research projects at the lab, where government scientists study drugs and vaccines that could be used to make biological weapons, a lab spokesperson, Caree Vander Linden, tells ScientificAmerican.com. The blog ScienceInsider was the first to report the story and yesterday posted the memo from Skvorak ordering the review.
Feb 9, 2009 | 9
If you follow biotechnology at all, you probably know that there is red biotech for medical applications (example: using bacteria to produce drugs); white biotech for industrial applications (example: using microbes instead of chemicals); and green biotech for agriculture (example: using genetically modified crops.)
So it was only a matter of time before someone came up with a term for using biotechnology to come up with new fuel sources. "Black biotech" is the phrase Richard Gallagher at The Scientist has coined to describe the rush going on in the life sciences to enlist microbes in a bid to prolong the age of oil in the latest issue. But it really comes down to figuring out what's up down in those subsurface oil formations.
Feb 6, 2009 | 2
A new study suggests that potentially deadly infections in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients might be destroyed by dousing them with a mixture of mostly soybean oil and water. The so-called "nanoemulsion" has so far only been tested in bacteria in the lab, but the researchers say they will now test it in animals and, if successful, conduct clinical trials in people with CF.
"The nanoemulsion inhibited the growth of all 150 [bacterial] strains tested," says John LiPuma, a pediatrician at the University of Michigan (UM) in Ann Arbor and coauthor of the study published recently in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. "It was very effective in vitro."
Jan 29, 2009 | 4
You wouldn’t think peanut butter could have such long-lasting, ill effects, but the company whose peanut products caused a nationwide outbreak of salmonella infections is now recalling everything it has manufactured at its contaminated Blakely, Ga., plant since January 1, 2007.
Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) announced the recall yesterday, after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released documents showing that PCA in 2007 and 2008 knowingly sold products that it had tested and knew were tainted. The embattled manufacturer earlier this month pulled peanut butter and peanut paste (used in baked goods and candies) made at its Blakely plant after July 1 of last year, but has now expanded the recall to dry and oil roasted peanuts, granulated peanuts and peanut meal made there after January 1, 2007. The lots begin with number 7, 8 or 9 and were distributed to institutions, food service industries, and food companies around the country and in Canada, Haiti, Korea and Trinidad.
Nov 13, 2008 | 4
Bleach is the king of microbe killers, but before now no one knew quite why. Researchers report today in the journal Cell that bleach – like heat – kills bacteria by making proteins fall apart.
A team of molecular biologists from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor found that hypochlorous acid (bleach's active ingredient) unravels protein chains, which then clump together in a useless mess much the way proteins do when exposed to heat or fever in the body.
Understanding how bleach works could lead to new ways to fight disease. The human body naturally makes its own hypochlorous acid to fend off microbial attackers, but a surplus has been associated with age-related diseases such as arthritis, stroke, and Alzheimer's disease.
Nov 10, 2008
There are some unusual things living in the world’s oceans: A "city" made up of tens of millions of brittle stars (relatives of starfish) living on the peak of a seamount (see photo to the left), or underwater summit north of the Antarctic Circle; a huge, 16-inch (407 millimeter) long by quarter-inch (10 millimeter) wide mollusk, Chaetoderma felderi, discovered deep in the Gulf of Mexico near Louisiana; and enormous bacteria in the eastern South Pacific that may help clean polluted ocean floors, a concept known as bioremediation.
Those are just some of the 5,300 potentially new ocean species that scientists working on the Census of Marine Life have identified so far. The findings, released ahead of the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity that begins tomorrow in Valencia, Spain, are a preview of this upcoming census of aquatic life. Scientists estimate that the final tally of sea creatures will come in around 230,000.
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