Archive for May 2011
Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes are responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of humans. Years of research, and millions of pounds, have been spent trying to control both the pathogens and the mosquitoes – yet many diseases are increasing in both prevalence and distribution.
A recent review from scientists at the University of Queensland and Monash University, Australia, describes a new method to potentially control the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, the vector of dengue fever – a severe and potentially life-threatening flu-like virus. No effective treatmens for dengue fever exists and an estimated 40% of the world’s population are at risk from the disease.
The paper describes a biological method for mosquito control, using the endosymbiotic bacteria Wolbachia. These microbes live within the cells of insects and are thought to be the world’s most common parasitic bacteria. Wolbachia do some very odd things, turning male insects into females, or enabling females to reproduce without males via parthenogenesis. They can also provide some advantages, aiding in insect nutrition or pathogen resistance.
Did you know that almost all of the antibiotics prescribed by your doctor were discovered in the 1950s and 60s? Most of these antibiotics are made by soil bacteria which have to carry resistance to their own antibiotics to prevent them killing themselves. Inevitably these resistance genes have spread to less friendly bacteria due to the mis-use of antibiotics and as a result we are now dealing with the terrifying reality of multi-drug resistant infectious bacteria combined with a depleting arsenal of effective antibiotics.
We’re all used to taking antibiotics when we are ill, but did you know that plants use them too? New research from scientists in the Netherlands and USA published this month in Science has revealed that antibiotic-producing bacteria that live in the soil can protect plants roots from infection.
One of the most important new fields of biology is the study of microbiomes – communities of microorganisms that are closely associated with animals and plants. The human microbiome is vital to our health, with the microorganisms in our gut helping us to digest food, for example.
The trouble is, most of the bacteria and fungi that make up these microbiomes cannot be grown in a laboratory, as we simply don’t know the conditions in which they are able to grow. Thankfully with the rapid advancement of DNA and RNA sequencing technologies it is possible to identify the microbes without ever having to grow them – known as metagenomics.