Thanksgiving Break is generally a quiet time around the BIO230 blog site, as the major visitors are spending time away from the Internet and Microbiology to spend time with their loved ones. Imagine my surprise to open my email over break and see that there were multiple comments to the blog! Student engagement! Discussion! Microbiology talk even when a grade isn’t on the line! However, when I scanned the comments in moderation, I didn’t recognize any of the names, and furthermore they were all for a posting that I had put up almost 3 years ago. What had happened was this: @joedevon who is tech writer and developer based in California came across my posting from 2011 describing the competing commensal relationships between different Streptococcus species in the human mouth.
In the article, I was trying to point out that the web of interactions between microbes is complex, but we could conceivably tweak the interactions in our favor to promote good oral health. @joedevon found my posting via a Google search, and posted the link to the web headline aggregator Hacker News. This lead to an approximately 1000-fold increase in the number of people visiting the blog. The previous best day was in November 2011 on a day that had both a lab report due and a bonus opportunity on the blog, and there were about 120 hits from students that day and I have never come close to that number a second time. November 30, 2013 had almost 12,000 people, several of whom left comments on the blog.
Two commenters remarked about the tenacious nature of biofilms, and the difficulty of removing them. From Craig:
There’s a perfectly good, and reasonablylow-tech, way to break up dental biofilms: using irrigators like Waterpik, or similar gizmos made by Panasonic, Phillips and others. These things are really needle-jet pressure washers that blast apart biofilms that toothbrushes or floss can’t touch, on even the most unexposed dental surfaces.
and from Clay:
Green Tea is the best thing you can do other than floss and brush and maybe use an H2O2 mouthrinse. Green Tea basically disolves the plaque, and does so very effectively indeed.
Biofilms are indeed difficult to remove, and the act of physically brushing does indeed work to break them apart.
Several commenters remarked on the hold that Big Dental has on Western Society, offering insights into the controversy that public health measures bring. From Transfire:
This has been worked out before at the university of florida. It has been possible to all but eliminate cavities for ten years, but $ talks, cures walk.
and these from GogglesNinetynine and Smokes:
There is little evidence that consumption of fluoride increases tooth strength or promotes enamel growth. This is junk science that is forced on citizens because the “nanny” knows best.
…google truth about water flouridation.. it destroyes our teeth…fortunately there are companies now that started making toothpaste without flour in it…
I would point out to Smokes that gluten-free toothpaste is very important for our friends with Celiacs disease. Wait, I don’t think that’s what he meant. I’m sorry guys, but there is a phenomenal body of epidemiological data supporting that small amounts of fluoride promote dental health. The conspiracy argument suggesting that the money involved in prophylactic fluoridation campaigns is somehow lucrative just doesn’t hold water. Look, your average dentist will make far more money from extensive oral reconstruction than he or she does with a twice yearly polishing.
One commenter who passed my moderation test actually spoke to the topic which the original blog post was about; that is, is it feasible to tweak the complex interaction of microorganisms in the mouth to our advantage? Here is a link back to my conversation with Jonathan in the original post. His comment about the diffusion barrier that a biofilm presents is an interesting concept to think about. I think that small molecules might easily pass in and out of a biofilm, however larger molecules might have more of a problem.
This then shows a difficulty with one approach I put forward 3 years ago, where the use of an enzymatic mouthwash to dissociate biofilms that have formed requires that the enzymes have access to the biofilm material. If the biofilm represents a diffusion barrier for large molecules, the enzymes in the mouthwash would need to chew up the biofilm from the outside in, which might not be the most efficient method. Regardless, the tried and true methods of biofilm dissociation likely remain the best options for the foreseeable future.
BONUS: for those that have read down this far, list an organism (at least to the Genus level) that is part of the normal microbiota of the human oral cavity, and include a link to where you got that information. Answers accepted through Reading Day!
Kelley Monaghan (12:00 Micro) found this article from Science Daily detailing one mechanism as to how influenza changes from year to year, via the process of antigenic drift. Here is Kelley’s summary:
From research published recently in the journal Science, Scientists have discovered the reason behind the flu’s immunity to vaccines. They previously knew that this immunity was due to a substitution in a single amino acid, believing that this occurred on 130 places on its surface. But, the recent discovery proved that the single amino acid substitution happens at seven places instead of 130 places. This discovery could help us make more efficient flu vaccines in the future, due to the more thorough understanding of the flu viruses’ evolution. From University of Cambridge, Professor Derek Smith believe that scientists would be able to foretell what the evolution of the flu would be, and put that knowledge of the evolution into the vaccine to make them one step better than our current vaccines.
The flu vaccine makes it possible for our immune system to easily make antibodies when infected with the flu that kill the virus. That is what the flu vaccine allows our body to do; by introducing inactivated flu it teaches our immune system how to fight the three types of the flu virus. This vaccine is completely efficient until the virus evolves, leaving the vaccine now useless. The immune system doesn’t know how to fight the new evolved virus, because this new strain of the flu virus is immune to the old vaccine. Vaccines must be updated due to the constant evolving virus, and because of this twice a year the World Health Organization meets to update the vaccines to address the new stains.
Researchers conducted tests from viruses they created to see what caused the development of new strains. They did this by creating viruses that had both different amino acid substitutions and combinations and recorded this then tested to see which substitutions and combinations ended up leading to the development of the new strain. This experiment showed that it only took one amino acid substitution for the flu to form new strains. This shocked many scientists because prior to this experiment, they believed for the flu to develop new strains it had to undergo at least the substitution of four amino acids. In addition, they discovered that the receptor-binding site was close to where the changes to the one amino acid happened; the change in the one amino acid happening on the surface at seven spots. The receptor binging site is extremely important to the flu virus because that is where attachment to the host occurs. In conclusion, this recent discovery could be extremely beneficial in the way we make our vaccines against the flu virus. Because understanding the flu virus’s evolution we can make more efficient vaccines.
Stefi Holtzer (12:00 Micro) found another article of general health care interest. This one focuses on the best practices of the health care worker in helping to block the transmission of nosocomial infections. Here is Stefi’s summary:
Recently in class we have been discussing the prevalence of nosocomial infections and how we as future nurses can help prevent them. In the article, “The health professional’s role in preventing nosocomial infections,” different approaches are looked at in means of healthcare handling of patients today, as well as future prevention strategies are discussed.
Specifically, this article discusses how the most significant risk in nosocomial infection spread is the amount of time a patient spends in the hospital. In addition to this the article claims that the practice of hand washing is, “the single most important measure in infection control” (Saloojee &Steenhoff, 2001). The article goes on to discuss the affects of sanitizers as opposed to soap hand washing methods. The fact that it takes less time to wash one’s hands with sanitizer than soap can contribute to the fact that hand washing will be performed more frequently and effectively. The article also discusses the various forms of fomites, or inanimate objects that transmit infectious pathogens. Some of these fomites include items healthcare professional would not consider as being particularly unsanitary. These include, lab coats, rings and jewelry, and stethoscopes. In conclusion the article states that it is important to continue to educate healthcare professionals on nosocomial infections and their roles in transmission of them.
This article was very interesting to me because as a student going into the healthcare field I am very curious about the ways in which infections are spread. I was surprised to learn about the prevalence of nosocomial infections and how easily they can be spread even when healthcare professionals take such cautious measures to maintain sanitary conditions. I am glad to have learned even more about nosocomial infections by reading this article. While, I was aware that infections can be spread throughout the hospital setting, I never gave too much thought to the fact that a simple thing such as wearing a ring while dealing with patients can spread infections. Overall, my growing knowledge on nosocomial infections has lead me to be even more cautious about my actions in staying sanitary in everyday life and has further sparked my interests in the field of microbial control.
Every summer I work at a boathouse in Rockville, Maryland. For the past two summers we have had signs posted all around the lake warning of contaminated water. This summer our boathouse was even interviewed and shown on the news, due to this problem. County officials tested the waters and claimed that the water was safe for individuals to stay in the vicinity, but unsafe if ingested in large amounts. Therefore the boathouse stayed open. Large controversy surrounded my area of work for the past two consecutive summers concerning a topic I knew little about. This all changed once I entered Microbiology class this semester. I find it interesting that the information I learned in this class touched on a topic so close to home for me.
A new piece of information I picked up working at the boathouse this past summer is that all lakes in Maryland are man -made. Due to such high amounts of fertilizer run off in suburban areas the majority of bodies of water in the Chesapeake Bay area are contaminated with the same microorganisms that Lake Needwood was. But what was this microorganism? We as Park staff were told that the water contained blooming Blue Green Algae scientifically known as Cyanobacteria, specifically it “contain[ed] strains of Microcystin, which can damage the liver and cause gastrointestinal discomfort when ingested and cause minor skin irritation upon contact” (Lui,2013).
To the common person who is uninformed on the classification of microorganisms this sounds extremely dangerous and makes it seem as though even being in the same vicinity of a body of water with this algae could be detrimental to one’s health. Even to an Employee in the loop on the status of the water safety, the water’s presence of this unknown algae frightened me, as it is common that we as park staff dip our feet into the water often as we load patrons onto boats. However, as I have almost completed a semester on Microbiology I know understand a lot more on the specifics of the issue.
Specifically, one concept I learned in class this semester is that the majority of algae species do not harm the human body. Unfortunately there are certain types of Algae blooms that can produce toxins that can affect a number of living beings including humans. However, simply touching contaminated water with the skin is not known to be fatal, only drinking large amounts is known to cause fatality.
In the article reporting the presence of Blue green Algae at Lake Needwood, it discusses that a park Patron, which was mistakenly reported rather than a park employee, took samples of the lake that were sent out to be tested in order to determine the type of bacteria present. I along with my boss was the park employee who collected these samples and sent them to be tested. I find it ironic that only this past summer I had no idea what I was doing when I was collecting samples at work on a microorganism, but now I understand thanks to Micro lab and specifically, our water and food analysis lab what went into testing for the unknown in the water sample. It is very rewarding to me to be able to understand on a different level what exactly was wrong with the water I work with during the summer. My new perspective on the understanding of microorganisms and how to perform tests to identify them will better help me explain the health risks to park patrons visiting this coming summer.
A viral outbreak of a canine circovirus has struck some of our four legged friends in California, Ohio, and Michigan. The canine circovirus has caused several deaths in September, October and November of the present year. The American Veterinary Medical Association first identified the canine version of the circovirus in June 2012. Prior to June of 2012, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) only recognized the circovirus infecting those of the avian and pig populations. The first case of canine circovirus was reported in a California dog at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Although the AVMA has claimed the actual means of transmission have not been identified yet, they believe healthy dogs contract the virus through direct contact with the salvia, feces, or vomit of an infected dog. The major symptoms of canine circovirus infection include diarrhea, extreme lethargy, bloody stools, and vomiting. The AVMA also ensures dog owners not to worry over the likelihood of mortality due to infection. Early treatment of diarrhea and vomiting will greatly improve rate of survival in the infected dog. Therefore, if dog owners suspect their dogs are suffering from a canine circovirus infection, the AVMA advise immediate diagnosis and treatment from a veterinary clinic or emergency animal hospital.
Interestingly enough, not every single dog that comes into contact with the canine circovirus will become infected. In fact, researchers at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine found that out of two hundred and four healthy adult dogs, fourteen of the dogs showed traces of the canine circovirus in fecal samples. However, the fourteen dogs did not show signs or symptoms of infection. Therefore, some dogs can be carriers for the virus. The carriers unknowingly transfer the canine circovirus to other healthy dogs through communicable direct contact. Researchers from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine are unsure whether the canine circovirus independently causes infection and illness or if the canine circovirus works with another etiologic agent. Since the circovirus has only recently been discovered in the canine population, scientists must undergo more research to have a better understand of the circovirus’ pathogenesis.
In the realm of morphology and other microbiology classifications, the canine circovirus, sometimes mentioned as Dog CV in scientific journals, is non-envelopled and spherical in shape. The canine circovirus consists of a single stranded circular DNA genome. The canine circovirus is a member of the Circoviridae family and the Cuclovirus and Gyrovirus genus. Recently, the American Society for Microbiology published an article, Complete Genome Sequence of the First Canine Circovirus, in their subdivision Journal of Virology. Virologists Amit Kapoor, Edward Dubovi, Jose Henriquez-Rivera, and W. Lipkin assisted in the first genome sequence of the canine circovirus, CaCV-1 strain NY214. In the single stranded circular DNA, approximately 2,063 nucleotides were sequenced. By sequencing the DNA genome, virologists believe that they are one step closer to understand the evolutionary and pathogenic characteristics of the mammalian circoviruses. One day, virologists hope to understand the mutation that allows circovirsues to jump from one host, like the pig or bird, to another host, like the dog.
Now, dog owners of America, don’t fret! Remember to keep your loyal companion away from dog parks, dog kennels, and other places where your buddy could come into contact with other dogs since these canine crowded areas tend to become susceptible reservoirs. Since the canine circovirus is transmitted directly, do not allow your dog to come into contact (eat) other dog’s saliva, feces, or vomit. If your dog exhibits any possible signs of infection, like extreme lethargy, vomiting, or bloody stools, please contact a veterinarian or emergency animal hospital immediately.
Kelley Monaghan (12:00 Micro) found an article from Science Daily about a genetic sequence from a Neanderthal that is shared by modern humans. What makes this sequence particularly interesting is that it is a viral sequence that became incorporated into the genome as a provirus, at some point in human evolution where humans and Neanderthals shared a common ancestor. Here is Kelley’s summary:
Researchers at both Oxford University and Plymouth University recently discovered that in modern DNA there is an ancient virus that dates back to the Neanderthals. They came up with the theory that roughly half a million years ago this virus originated in our human ancestors. This was proven when researchers compared a cancer patient’s genetic data from modern day to the genetic data of fossils from both human ancestors the Neanderthals and Denisovans. Scientist plan to look into the relationship between modern diseases and ancient viruses could even help further our knowledge of the diseases such as cancer and HIV, and make us one step closer to finding the cure.
Endogenous retroviruses are simply viruses from our DNA sequence that can be passed down from one generation to the next generation, and they make up eight percent of our DNA. Scientists clump endogenous retroviruses into “junk” DNA, which has no known function yet and makes up 90% of our DNA. Medical Research Council (MRC) member Dr Gkikas Magiorkinis of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology say that, “’I wouldn’t write it off as “junk” just because we don’t know what it does yet,” concerning the recent discoveries. He believes this because under some circumstances disease has been caused from the combination of two “junk” viruses. This isn’t a new concept; we have seen this before in animals. For example, in mice endogenous retroviruses when activated by bacteria can lead to cancer. Dr Gkikas and his colleagues at Oxford University’s Department of Zoology have been studying the possible link between these ancient viruses to cancer and HIV. The link may be from the ancient viruses being apart of the HML2 family for viruses. Dr Gkikas and his colleagues are testing to see in humans today if these ancient viruses are active or the cause of diseases. To conduct these tests they are going to use 300 patients’ DNA sequences in order to see how common these ancient viruses are in the modern day human population. Dr Rober Belshaw, who is a former Oxford University staff member and currently at Plymouth University, said, “We would expect viruses with no negative effects to have spread throughout most of the modern population, as there would be no evolutionary pressure against it. If we find that these viruses are less common than expected, this may indicate that the viruses have been inactivated by chance or that they increase mortality, for example through increased cancer risk.”
Without the modern day technology, none of this research would have ever been able to happen. And, hopefully there will be upcoming technological breakthroughs that will be able to further fuel this research. Researchers are planning to see these technological advances as soon as 2014! They are hoping to have some solid proof for the connection between ancient viruses and modern human diseases, and what role the ancient viruses are playing concerning out modern day diseases within the next five years.