Author Archives: ycpmicro

Happy Birthday to BIO230

Happy Birthday BIO230

At the conclusion of testing, there will be cake

Another year, another 150 or so posts up there on the Internet. I started this project 4 years ago today, with the cryptic posting “Added something to Blackboard,” and found that I liked writing on a regular basis. As the Word Cloud over there on the right might indicate, I am fascinated by the incredible variety of microbial life, and the role that microbes play in health, in disease, and in society at large.  By and large, the vast majority of people who read this are the BIO230 students I see every day, however there is a small but dependable number who visit via links on Twitter and Facebook who have no ties to York College. There are some occasional visitors from various Internet search engines hoping to find help with an assignment no doubt, but this primarily always has been an opportunity for me to help the class extend beyond the classroom.

As all students can likely tell, I can get very excited about Microbiology, and once in a while I go a bit off topic. Things here on the BIO230 blog are a bit more methodical, however I do occasionally enjoy going off on a rant here too. So in that spirit, I hereby declare a “Lightning Bonus” which will be good through 5 PM Friday October 24th. What do you have to do? Go visit these gems from the past, and comment below on this posting about any that might speak to you too. Here are your choices:

An episode of House that pissed me off

An indirect argument I had with a colleague

My attempt to influence the 2011 elections

Evil science, carried out by American scientists

Some just plain bogus science (the recursive offer of 100 bonus points has not been claimed yet)

The state of science funding at present

This one doesn’t count for bonus, but students from last spring didn’t follow directions in this week’s lab


Rethink your Decision to Play Contact Sports

staph2Ashley Hiltebeitel (12:00 Micro) found another summary of microbes in the news from Science Daily. This one details the occurrence of MRSA in student athletes. This should come as no surprise to BIO230 students, who have been the subjects of scientific experiments looking at Staphylococcus aureus on YCP students in the past–click through to see how much Staphylococcus is in Nurses who have already gone through this class. Here is Ashley’s summary:

Even without showing signs and symptoms of of an infection, IDWeek2014 is presenting a study that Staphyloccocus aureus, more commonly known as MRSA, can be carried within college athletes who play contact sports such as football and soccer. This study shows that carrying the infection without showing symptoms puts them at a higher risk to obtain infection or spreading it to their peers or teammates. This disease can cause a serious infection which could lead to death. IDWeek2014 is the first to study athletes in college who are not part of a larger MRSA outbreak.

While carrying this microorganism in their noses and throats, contact athletes are twice as likely to be colonized with MRSA than people who do not play contact sports such as tennis and golf. To show the extreme difference, the two year long study performed by IDWeek2014 showed an 8 to 31 percent range of colonization of MRSA in those who play football, soccer, or other contact sports compared to 0 to 23 percent of those athletes who do not contact their opponent.

staphNatalia Jimenez-Truque, PhD, MSCI, research instructor, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn. states that even without the full scale of the outbreak, a substantial number of athletes are being colonized with the harmful bacteria. She is convinced that the spread of the disease can be decreased within sports teams by reminding athletes to have good hygiene which includes more hand washing and not sharing personal items in the locker rooms such as towels, soaps, and razors.

The study being presented by IDWeek2014 researched the time it takes for Staphylococcus aureus to be colonized within an athlete. 377 male and female Vanderbilt University varsity athletes were observed. This group included 14 different sports. The contact sports observed were football, soccer, basketball, and lacrosse, while the non-contact sports included baseball, cross country, and golf. The number of participants for the contact sports were 224 and the the number for the non-contact sports were 153. Monthly nasal and throat swabs occurred over two academic years for each athlete. MRSA was found to be acquired more quickly and longer in contact athletes over non-contact athletes.

Skin and soft tissue infections are the result of MRSA. The infections usually heal on their own or can be easily treated. Pneumonia and infections of the blood, heart, bone, joints, and central nervous system can come from the invasive form of MRSA and kill about 18,000 people every year. This is harder to treat than the skin and soft tissue infections because doctors use powerful antibiotics delivered through an I.V.

When an athlete who plays a contact sport has cuts and scrapes on their body, they have a higher risk of getting colonized or infected with MRSA. Researchers suggest that this can be avoided by covering open wounds, regularly washings hands, showering after all practice and games, and not sharing personal items as mentioned before. They also suggest that athletes with scratches and cut should not be allowed to practice or play in games. MRSA is often spread person to person because researchers found little staph in a clean athletic environment.

In conclusion, Jimenez-Truque states that, “Staph is a problematic germ for us — always has been, always will be — and we need to do all we can to reduce the risk of infection in those at highest risk, such as college athletes.”

Could there really be such thing as a cellular snooze button?

algaeErin Mensch (11 AM Micro) found another article she found interesting, from Science Daily. In this story, scientists from Michigan State University identified a gene from algae in research about biofuel production that also appears to be involved in the development of human cancers. As Erin notes, it is much easier to grow things like algae in the lab, and if you can get information about human diseases at the same time, that’s a great thing. Here is Erin’s summary:

Michigan State University has discovered what they think could help solve many problems in the world such as tumor growth and oil production. A man by the name of Christoph Benning is a professor at Michigan State University and teaches biochemistry and molecular biology. He and his team were working in the laboratory trying to find a way to make algae’s capacity as a biofuel expand. In the process of trying to do that, they discovered the protein CHT7. They believe this protein is able to decide when the cells are resting or hard at work reproducing rapidly. They called it the “cellular snooze button”. This could help the oil production industry and the cancer research tremendously. The protein could enhance the production of oil and could make the tumor cells in “resting state”.

Christoph Benning explained how he was working with algae because like yeast it is easy to work with in a laboratory setting whereas many human cells are not able to grow in laboratory setting. This makes studying human disease so much harder. He says algae are able to be manipulated in the lab which helps scientists study them closely. He believes algae are able to do the same if not even more for us than yeast can. He claims he discovered this protein when noticed that when algae are essentially awake they are able to grow and when they are asleep they are able to make oil. In order to have algae able to make viable biofuel they would have to be able to grow and make oil at the same time. Benning figured out that the way to have the algae producing oil and growing at the same time is the protein CHT7. This protein would be able to tell the cells to either be awake or asleep. Depending if they were awake or asleep they would either be producing oil or growing. This is a fascinating concept and could be the start of something that changes medicine and the oil industry forever.

Benning’s next step in this process is to create an organism that does not rest and is always active. This could then help scientists able to make an enormous amount of viable oil. More importantly is could help with suppressing the growth of tumors. Ultimately this protein CHT7 could make the cancer cells not able to divide. First, they would have to look at it from the other perspective, which is how to get a cell to grow rapidly and uncontrollably. This would then explain to us about tumor growth. Once we understand tumor growth it would be easier to figure out how to prevent the rapid growth all together.  I found this article very interesting because it is always exciting when scientists find out new research that could possibly stop cancer. I hope that Benning is able to keep going with this experiment and find out more about the protein CHT7. I also found it interesting that algae have to do with oil production. I hope to read an article in the future about this being a successful protein that is able to tell tumor cells to stop rapidly dividing.

The Lean, Mean, Gene Protein

histonesGregory Gable (12:00 Micro) is interested in genetics, and how cells can keep cancer from occurring. He found the following article via Science Daily which summarizes work from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine about the role of gene regulation plays in the development of cancer. Here is Gregory’s story:

In a healthy cell, certain genes will be turned on if they are used, and turned off if they are not. If one of the genes that is not needed, the cell can grow uncontrollably, and become cancerous. Researchers have recently discovered that Bre1is the key protein that regulates which genes are turned on in which cells. These proteins are the biggest aid (much like enzymes are) to genes working in the first place, as they are the behind the scenes to make sure operation runs smoothly.

The field of cancer research has now been changed. A greater focus will now be placed on the epigenetic portion of research. The best way to visualize the way epigenetics works is to view it like a stage production. The protein Bre1 is the director who provides offstage cues for the main actors, the genes, to do or not do something. They are the ones who read off the script, RNA. If a single line is missed, catastrophe could be a potential outcome. The show could be ruined – in this case, rampant growth of cells.

Brian Strahl, Ph.D., is a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center who is currently in the process of researching these histones. His goal is to figure out precisely what these histones do to contribute to biological regulations and, in turn, to cancer. Bre1 is a histone, and histones are used to wrap out or exclude genetic material in our cells. Ubiquitin is able to help histones in their task by exposing genetic material in the chromatin of cells. These proteins can also be tagged with chemicals that further allow control of genetic replication. Now all that needs to be learned is what these histones do exactly.

There is a Goldilocks range for these proteins. Too much, and the gene doesn’t turn off. Too little, and the gene is never on. If the gene isn’t needed at all, it simply leaves, creating other big issues. Before this day, it wasn’t known whether it promoted or prevented cancer, but now it is known that this protein has its own Goldilocks range. Bre1 protein could be a wonderful target for cancer drugs to help prevent rampant growth. This discovery is very important in showing specifically how these cells function, and how they need to be regulated.

With this new discovery, cell division by genetic replication can be better controlled. Not only is their function now known (and to be researched further), but it is also known that they have their own specifics for functioning as well. Pursuing drugs that target this specific protein should definitely be looked into. Whereas chemotherapy annihilates cells both good and bad, perhaps by using this to target down one specific regulator, life can better be maintained.

Keeping viruses at bay

Well, it’s heading into flu season, and what’s a Micro prof to do? Get a flu shot, that’s what. As part of the YCP Wellness Fair on Monday during Fall Break, I went over to the Grum and received my flu shot from a very competent nurse, and now am ready to say “Bring it on, Influenza!”

The same day that I did this positive step for public health, I came across a little bit of craziness about the Ebola outbreak, via the science blog Writer Mark Strauss spent some time among the seedier conspiracy theory websites over the weekend, and documented that in addition to the hysteria and mistaken information that is available, there is also some outright disinformation about the Ebola outbreak. Members of the anti-vaccination network have proposed that the spread of Ebola to Texas is part of a concerted government effort to shift attention away from a discredited “whistleblower,” who was going to make a statement about a vaccine/autism link that supposedly had been covered up by the CDC. Another site claims that the initial outbreak of Ebola in discrete regions in Guinea is indicative of a deliberate release of the virus by pharmaceutical companies, so that they could test a secret antidote on an unsuspecting population. Finally, the Vaccine Information Network doesn’t seem to believe that Ebola virus is real, and that the reports in the media are attributed to purposeful misinformation on the part of authorities ultimately “to poison us with drugs and vaccines.”

So after we all take a deep, cleansing breath to clear our minds after that, here’s a bonus opportunity. Simply do as I did up above–go get a flu shot. Document it if you can as I did, by tweeting it or posting it on Instagram with hashtag #ycpmicro, and paste the link in the comment thread below. Offer goes through the end of October, when we should all have gotten our flu shots anyway.

A Virus Lies in You

New Picture (4)Amanda Fierro (12:00 Micro) sent me this summary from Science Daily on the viral microbiome, which is something that scientists have begun to characterize only very recently. Identification of the bacterial flora is relatively straightforward–collect samples from people, and culture the organisms on microbiological media. The challenge with this approach is with organisms that might be present, but present in relatively small proportions, become difficulty to characterize; kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack. Viruses add another level of complexity since they are not able to be directly grown on microbiological media (you have to have the host cell that they infect), and as a result if you are trying to find them, it is kind of like looking for hay-colored needles in a haystack. It really ONLY became possible to do this type of experiment with the advent of cutting-edge DNA sequencing techniques. Here is Amanda’s summary:

The following summary is about an article found on Science Daily concerning viruses. We’ve learned about the bacterial flora of the human body in class but there also is a viral flora. The article is about the findings of a study researching the various viruses that may reside in the human body. The research was performed at the Washington University School of Medicine as part of the Human Microbiome Project. The study is the first comprehensive analysis to describe the variety of viruses in healthy people.

According to the researchers, healthy individuals on average harbor about five types of viruses. Researchers have discovered the standard viral flora to be rich and complex. The study performed consisted of 102 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 40. Each volunteer was carefully screened to confirm health and the absence of symptoms of acute infection. The volunteers could not have been diagnosed with an HPV infection within the last two years or have an active genital herpes infection. Researchers split the human subjects as evenly as possible by gender. Researchers sampled five body habitats: nose, skin, mouth, stool and vagina. The results indicated an impressive number of viruses found in the sampled body habitats of the subjects. As one can guess, many more would have been discovered if the entire human body had been sampled.

In 92% of the subjects, at least one virus was found. Some of the individuals sampled were home to 10-15 viruses. Half of the subjects were sampled two or three times during the course of the study. Researchers observed some of the viruses created stable low-level infections in those individuals. While analyzing all of the collected samples, the researchers discovered seven families of viruses. Herpesvirus 6 and Herpesvirus 7, strains of the herpesvirus not sexually transmitted, were found in 98% of the mouth samples. Seventy-five percent of the skin samples and 50% of the nose samples harbored some strains of the papillomavirus. The researchers encountered novel strains of the virus present in both the skin and the nose habitats. The vagina was dominated by the papillomavirus—38% of the female subjects carried strains. Some of the women possessed high-risk strains that increase the risk of cervical cancer. The high-risk strains were more common in women whose vaginal bacteria had low levels of Lactobacillus and high levels of Gardnerella.  Lactobacillus is a good bacteria for humans that helps protect against bad bacteria. Gardnerella is the bacteria that produces bacterial vaginosis. Adenoviruses also were found in the various body habitats sampled. The common cold and pneumonia are caused by adenoviruses. In addition, the researchers had scientists at the university’s Genome Institute sequence the viral DNA of what was discovered by the study. They concluded each volunteer subject had a distinct viral fingerprint.

The study’s researchers admit they do not know whether the viruses have a positive or a negative effect on the overall health of the human body. They do hypothesize some viruses may keep the immune system prepared to respond to dangerous pathogens while other viruses may increase the risk of illness. The researchers also admit to the possibility the viruses discovered could have been latent viruses the subjects acquired years earlier, but they do not believe that is the case. They believe the viruses found to be active. Many of the viruses found during the study were discovered in body secretions where the presence of a virus is an indicator of an active infection. Latent viruses hide within cells and not in body fluids such as saliva and nasal secretions. The researchers plan to continue their research by distinguishing between the active viral infections not causing symptoms or illness and the active viruses that are.


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