Phage therapy shown to kill drug-resistant superbug

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A team of scientists at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health have developed a form of “phage” therapy that could be a safe and effective alternative to antibiotic therapy for the treatment of patients with chronic cystic fibrosis lung infections.

For my readers who are wondering, “What are phages?” I will go into detail of these remarkable creatures and what their role is with bacteria.  But first, I am pretty sure that everyone at least once in their lifetime or more realistically, once a season, has come down with the flu.  The flu is caused by the influenza virus.

A virus is a parasite that only has one mission in life: self-replication.  Viruses are not technically alive because they need a host cell to replicate.  When a virus infects a cell, its genetic makeup hijacks the cell’s machinery and tells it to make more viruses.  Once the cell is full of viruses, the cell lyses and dies, and releases more viruses into the bloodstream looking for more cells to infect.  A phage (real name = bacteriophage) is a virus that infects bacteria.

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A phage looks like an alien creature from another planet.  The phage is made up of a bulbous head and a tail.  Once the phage lands on a bacterium, it injects its genomic makeup into the host in order for replication. This process is broken up into two major, yet different cycles: the lytic cycle and the lysogenic cycle.  The lytic cycle is highlighted by the hijacking of the bacterium in order to make duplicates of the phages.  Similar to the virus mentioned previously, once the cell is full of phages it explodes (lyses) and the phages look for more bacteria to infect.  The lysogenic cycle is when the phage inserts its own DNA into the bacterial chromosome.  This allows the phage to reproduce without killing the host cell.  The phage (now called a prophage) can be copied and passed on along with the cell’s own DNA.  Each cycle has pros and cons, but for this blog we will omit these and concentrate on the lytic cycle.

Now that we understand how phages work, let’s look closer into the groundbreaking discovery made by the scientists.  Because of the increased ineffectiveness of antibiotics due to over prescribing, chronic lung infections due to Pseudomonas aeruginosa have become more difficult to treat.  The team of scientists has shown that phage therapy is extremely effective in treating established multi-drug resistant P. aeruginosa strains. The study showed that phages are capable of killing the bacteria in infected lungs.  Especially promising was the effectiveness of treating patients who suffer from inherited disease cystic fibrosis.

By comparing the benefits of phage therapy versus antibiotic therapy, we find a clear winner.  Patients who suffer from cystic fibrosis undergo life-long treatment of various antibiotics and often, these antibiotics prove ineffective and have numerous side effects.  Phage therapy, on the other hand, carries no such stigma.  Phages only attack bacterial cells while leaving the host’s human cells intact.  This is promising since these antibiotic resistant “superbugs” are becoming more numerous and certain strains are only treatable with a cocktail (two or more) of antibiotics.

Hopefully, phage therapy will get the funding it needs in order to prove this strategy on a larger scale.  Unfortunately, big pharma is a multi-billion dollar proposition annually and there might be significant hurdles to overcome before this type of phage therapy becomes commonplace.

Disclaimer:  “Any opinions stated in this article belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of CSUN faculty/ staff. Information contained herein has not been verified by CSUN faculty/staff.

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Salmonella uses “nano-syringes” to hijack the host’s cells.

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Salmonella.  Ask anyone about salmonella and you will get an immediate response.  “I’ve had salmonella before.  I was keeled over in a fetal position for days”, they say.  Although there are many other forms of bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses, it seems salmonella has the most notoriety.

Salmonella is one of the most devastating bacterial infections worldwide.  Mortality rates hover around 2 million people per year.  If we look into statistics from the USA, we find approximately 1.2 million illnesses and about 450 deaths annually from this pathogen.  Think of how many illnesses go unreported.  When was the last time you called your local health department after catching the “24” hour flu/bug?  Probably never, so that number is actually quite higher.

Salmonella has over 2500 different serotypes (think strains, but with antigenic properties on the cell wall), but 32 of these are more well-known and much more studied.  The most recognized species are Salmonella enteritidis, S. enterica, S. typhi, and S. typhimurium.  Salmonella is more common in summer months and the core groups most susceptible for infection include:  Under 5 or over 65, the immunocompromised, and those on a steady regimen of medication that reduce stomach acid.

For such a devastating pathogen, the cell-hijacking machinery behind its malicious behavior was only recently understood.  One single protein allows the bacterium to both evade cells lining the intestine and hijack cellular functions to avoid destruction.  Salmonella causes disease when it takes control of cells lining the intestine by using its own specialized “nano-syringe”.  This syringe injects proteins that mimic the proteins of the host cell.

Let’s take a closer look into the deviousness of this process.  This protein, SopB, works with the plasma membrane to coax the cell into taking in the pathogen.

“Knock, knock.  Who’s there?  Salmonella protein. Salmonella protein, who?  I’m sorry.  I meant, pizza guy.  Sure.  Come on in!”

Once inside, the host cell wraps it in a vesicle.  That’s like inviting in your killer and offering them a bullet proof vest.

Secondly, once inside the vesicle the pathogenic protein evades the lysosome (an organelle) that degrades proteins that are no longer needed.  It does this by moving from the plasma membrane to the membrane of the vesicle that contains the bacterium.  Oh yeah… You didn’t think the bacterium didn’t get welcomed in with open arms, did you?

Once the bacterium and the protein are wrapped up all snug like a bug in a rug, Salmonella coaxes the cell to mark, SopB, with a tag that will identify it as a host cell.

This “nano-syringe” deserves a more rounded explanation of how it works.  Yale university and the University of Texas Medical School-Houston created a cryo-electron tomography to reveal the molecular structure of how this device works.

This syringe, or the more aptly named Type III secretion machine, features an injection point on one end and a rotating staging area (think bullets in a revolver) on the bottom where proteins are rotated and selected for the delivery into target cells.  “The device is like a stinger and injects ready-made bacterial proteins into mammalian cells to commandeer them for the benefit of the pathogen” (Jorge Galan).

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(image credit: Yale university)

It’s fascinating to think all this goes on in a microscopic world that we rarely give a second thought about.  Bacteriology is an interesting field within Microbiology that merits further reading.  It highlights the importance of scientific grants and the pursuit of knowledge.  By further understanding this “nano-syringe”, researchers could devise new anti-infective strategies against a variety of bacterial pathogens.

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Disclaimer:  “Any opinions stated in this article belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of CSUN faculty/ staff. Information contained herein has not been verified by CSUN faculty/staff.

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Germs on the NY subway. Scores of mysterious microbes found

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If you live in a large metropolitan city, you probably have ridden on mass transportation at least once in your life.

If you live in New York City, riding on the subway has been entrenched in your life for as long as you can remember.

But have you ever given thought to how much bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses are traveling in those filthy combines of the subway car?  I am sure most of us have given a passing thought to it, but what kind of microbes are inside the subway?

The answers might surprise you.  Read on… if you dare!

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College set out to find out what is hiding on the underground rail system and found some serious surprises, both good and bad.  There are about 5.5 million weekly riders on the N.Y. subway and thankfully, most of the microbes discovered were not as contagious as one would imagine.  Nevertheless, what they found are typically the same microbes we carry on us, and in us, in our lifetime.

There were 637 known species of bacteria, virus, and fungus discovered in the lab cultures.  Most of those discovered do not cause illness.  They did discover enough yeast to open a small microbrewery.  They found a lot of microbes associated with the food that people were eating on the subway, mostly pizza.  Hey… they do say NY pizza is an experience of its own so now we know why.

Only about 12% of the bacteria collected could be implicated in causing disease and about half of the DNA collected could be linked to known pathogens.  However, the most telling statistic of the study was about 48% of the genetic data discovered did not match any known organism.  This just reinforces how vast and unexplored the microbiome is.

Here’s the part where the news gets bad, or more disappointing depending on how you look at it.  The remaining 52% of the known organisms came from distinct parts of the human body.

1.6% of bacteria were associated with the eyes

6.5% of bacteria were associated with the mouth

9.9% of bacteria were associated with breathing (found in airways)

29% of bacteria were associated with the skin

20% of bacteria were associated with the urogenital tract

32.3% of bacteria were associated with the gastrointestinal tract.

Okay, I don’t know about you but the last two percentages made me throw up in my mouth a little.  If you have bacteria from the urogenital and gastrointestinal areas of the human body, that is saying these people are NOT WASHING THEIR HANDS after using the bathroom!!

Hopefully, most of my readers are washing their hands once they are done using the bathroom.  If not, please do.  It’s a gentle reminder to practice good hygiene.  Remember, cleanliness is next to godliness.

After working in a hospital, I developed a habit of washing my hands that I still carry with me today.  After using the restroom, it is advised to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds using the hottest water that you can tolerate.  A good guide is to sing the “Happy Birthday” song while you scrub your hands, paying close attention to finger pads and underneath your nails.  Ever since that time, I noticed a drop in the amount of times I have caught the flu or the common cold.  My friends always comment on my “strong” immune system and although I don’t deny that claim due to good diet, I attribute some of it to how many times I wash my hands.  I probably wash my hands about 20 to 30 times daily. It’s a good habit to get into and the benefits outweigh the occasional dry hands.

Leave me a comment if you are a germophobe like me!

Disclaimer:  “Any opinions stated in this article belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of CSUN faculty/ staff. Information contained herein has not been verified by CSUN faculty/staff.

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Gut bacteria may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease

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Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most debilitating disorders of the 21st century.  Originally discovered in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer, hence the name, the symptoms of the disease includes memory loss, paranoia, and psychological changes.  Auguste D, a patient with severe symptoms, was diagnosed by Dr. Alzheimer.  Upon her death, there was an autopsy performed.  During the autopsy, it was discovered that her brain had shrunk considerably and there were abnormally folded protein deposits, later named plaque, in and around her brain cells.

The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is unknown.  However, it is theorized that plaques and tangles (explained shortly) were the primary suspects in cell death and brain shrinkage in patients with the disease.  Plaques are abnormal deposits of a type of sticky beta-amyloid protein that build up between nerve cells.  These small clumps may block cell-to-cell signaling at nerve synapses.  They may also trigger an immune response which initiates inflammation and the consuming of disabled brain cells.

Tangles form inside of dying cells.  They are made up of twisted fibers of a protein called, Tau.  In healthy brains, Tau keeps the nutrient transport system on track.  However, in areas where tangles are formed, the twisted strands disintegrate the transport system; therefore, any essential nutrients are lost and brain cells starve to death and die.

Most people develop plaque and tangles as they age; however, those afflicted with Alzheimer’s develop much more.  These plaques and tangles develop in predictable patterns, starting in areas which are important in learning and memory and moving to other areas as the disease progresses.

Research coming from Sweden suggests our gut microbiota (bacteria) can accelerate the development of Alzheimer’s disease.  By studying the gut bacteria of diseased and healthy mice, it was discovered that healthy mice had different forms of gut bacteria compared to the diseased mice.  After transplanting the intestinal bacteria into the healthy mice, they saw a dramatic increase of the beta-amyloid plaques in the brain.

This is a possible breakthrough in treatment for the disease.  Prior, patients would only receive symptom-relieving antiretroviral drugs.  Now, researchers will look into entirely new types of preventative and therapeutic strategies based on the modulation of “healthy” types of gut bacteria.  Diet and new types of probiotics will be at the forefront of the research.

Increasingly, we are seeing the correlation between a healthy diet and a healthy mind.  This idea has been underscored in numerous medical journals, but it shows how important it is.  In my previous blog post, I mentioned the catchphrase “everything in moderation” and that still holds true.  Nevertheless, it is an important adage.  I still love a good steak and an occasional hamburger, but personally, I like to adhere to a 2-1-1 vegetable, protein, complex carbohydrate strategy for most meals.  Twice as many vegetables to my protein content (mostly fish) and complex carbohydrates (mostly brown rice, occasionally quinoa).  This ensures I am getting the most from my meals.  I limit my sugar intake and I drink plenty of water.  I exercise 3-4 times a week and read as much as I can.  Sleep on the other hand is a work in progress.

Hopefully, a similar strategy will work for you.  If you have a healthy strategy that works for you, leave me a comment.

Disclaimer:  “Any opinions stated in this article belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of CSUN faculty/ staff. Information contained herein has not been verified by CSUN faculty/staff.

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31 Interesting Facts about Microorganisms

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Let’s do something fun this week!  It’s great to hear about the latest advancements in microbiology, but what about some interesting facts about microorganisms.

The word microorganism is pretty much self-explanatory.  They are microscopic (unable to be seen with the naked eye), living, single-cell organisms.  Put both of these words together and you have microorganisms. They play a very important role in nature and the support of life.  Granted, there are microorganisms that do more harm than good, but for this particular blog entry we will discuss the beneficial characteristics of microorganisms.  Certain microorganisms remove toxins from water and soil.  You might have heard about a certain species of bacteria that is used to treat oil spills.  There are millions upon millions of bacteria that live in our digestive system.  They colonize our “gut” and help with digestion and prevent other bad forms of bacteria from growing.  As you are reading this, you might be wondering “Yeah, yeah.  I know all this already, so where are the interesting facts you mentioned in the beginning?”  They are coming!  After some research, I was able to find 31 interesting facts about microorganisms.

Here’s the list:

  1. All of the bacteria in our body collectively weigh about 4 pounds.
  2. The average office desk has 400 times more bacteria than a toilet.
  3. There are more bacteria in your mouth than there are people in the world.
  4. The “smell of rain” is caused by a bacterium called actinomycetes.
  5. Cell phones have 18 times more bacteria than toilet handles.
  6. Researchers found 1458 new species of bacteria in belly buttons.
  7. Body odor is caused by a bacterium that breaks down sweat proteins into acid.
  8. A clean mouth has between 1000 and 100,000 bacteria on each tooth.
  9. Chocolate has an anti-bacterial effect on the moth and protects against tooth decay.
  10. Tap water has a shelf-life of 6 months, after which chlorine dissipates and bacteria start to grow.
  11. There’s a breed of bacteria that lives in hair spray.
  12. A dollar bill has 3000 types of bacteria.
  13. When two people kiss, they exchange between 10 million and 1 billion bacteria.
  14. Most antibiotics are made from bacteria.
  15. After two weeks of wear, a pair of jeans will have grown a 1000-strong colony of bacteria on the front, 1500-2500 on the back, and 10,000 on the crotch.
  16. The strongest creatures on Earth are gonorrhea bacteria. They can pull 100,000 times their own body weight.
  17. Offices with more male employees have far more bacteria.
  18. In 2013, a bacterium was found in New Zealand that is resistant to every single antibiotic known.
  19. Computer keyboards can have more than 200 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.
  20. New bacteria grow on a kitchen sponge every 20 minutes.
  21. 20% of office coffee mugs contain fecal bacteria.
  22. Babies are born with no bacteria in their bodies.
  23. 15,152 forms of life, most of which are bacteria, have been identified on the New York subway.
  24. A newly discovered species of rust-eating bacteria could consume the wreck of the Titanic within 20 years.
  25. Beans increase flatulence because they carry a type of sugar called “oligosaccharides”, which are hard for bacteria to break down, so they release gas in the process.
  26. Airplane tray tables hold more bacteria than most typical household items.
  27. Horseshoe crab blood is worth $15,000/liter, due to its ability to detect bacteria.
  28. The chlorine in swimming pools isn’t what causes red eyes. It is the chlorine binding to the bacteria in the water.
  29. There are viruses that can infect bacteria.
  30. It is estimated that a third of the world’s population is infected with tuberculosis bacteria, but most of them are asymptomatic.
  31. Bacteria have the smallest eyeballs in nature but the largest relative to their size.

I hope you enjoyed these thought-provoking facts about microorganisms.  The world of microbiology is definitely an interesting one.  In the coming weeks, I will try my best to document something from each of the 5 types of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae, and protozoa).  Tune in next week when we get back to our regular programming.

Disclaimer:  “Any opinions stated in this article belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of CSUN faculty/staff. Information contained herein has not been verified by CSUN faculty/staff.

Source: http://www.novozymes.com/en/about-us/our-business/what-are-microorganisms

Source: http://www.factslides.com/s-Bacteria

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Image source disclaimer:  Images and Videos on Pixabay are released under Creative Commons CC0. To the extent possible under law, uploaders of Pixabay have waived their copyright and related or neighboring rights to these Images and Videos