Sunday, December 27, 2015

Understanding How Silent Phages Can Prevent Detection of Potentially Deadly Food Contaminants

Many bacteria are detected by culturing, or growing them
out on plates of artificial media.
Contamination of food with bacteria is a huge issue that can sometimes cause life-threatening illness. The bacterial culprits can include E. coli, as well as Listeria monocytogenes. L. monocytogenes is a potent bacteria that can very effectively infect its human host. This bacterium is especially problematic for pregnant women whose newborn children can develop meningitis that can lead to complications as severe as death. Because this is a serious infectious agent, there have been a lot of quality control efforts towards detecting this bacterium in food before it is sold. In this week's post, we are going to discuss a relatively recent study that highlights the role of phages in these efforts. The study does this by showing that nutrients used in the tests can activate silent phage infections and prevent bacterial detection.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"Year of the Phage" in Review: Three Major Advances for Phage Therapy

An artist's interpretation of a phage, as
part of the year of the phage.
Bacteriophages were first described by Frederick Twort in 1915 as agents that destroyed bacteria, leaving small areas of destruction (plaques) on bacterial lawns. It is now one hundred years later and we have made great advances both in our understanding of bacteriophage biology and how to use these viruses as tools to understand basic, general principles of biology including DNA being the hereditary material of life. Because 2015 was one hundred years following the first description of phages, it has been termed the year of the phage by many scientists. Not only does this year bear symbolic importance, but it actually marks some important advances in the field of phage therapy. Because we are nearing the end of the year of the phage, I thought it would be appropriate to briefly go over some of the advances I thought stood out the most.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Recent Study Sheds New Light on the Roles of Viruses in Weight Gain

We know that drugs cause side effects, and sometimes these side effects include weight gain. This is the case for Risperidone, an antipsychotic drug used to control a variety of illnesses including autism and schizophrenia. As with other cases of weight gain (obesity being the poster child), the gut microbiome has been implicated as a major player. Understanding the role for microbes in weight gain is important because it will provide us with a more complete picture of how this drug affects the body, and may lead to the creation of a better drug without as many side effects. The research group of Bahr et al from the University of Iowa recently published a study that provides an in-depth look into the microbial and metabolic responses associated with Risperidone treatment. Perhaps what is most exciting is that they end with data suggesting viruses are playing a significant role in the weight gain. This is actually a big deal for the field, and I will get into it more below.