Mosquitoes, This Time It Is War

The Zika virus, which is spreading like wildfire throughout the Americas and is linked to a head-shrinking birth defect called microcephaly, is just the latest in a long list of mosquito-transmitted diseases that make the insects the world’s deadliest animal. It is time to launch a global initiative to eradicate them. Read the rest at USA Today.

The Bacteria that Live in Your Coffee Maker

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Wherever you live, bacteria live. Wherever you can’t live, bacteria live. From hydrothermal vents to acid mines, microbes have the planet covered. They also have your Nespresso machine covered. Recently, Spanish researchers decided to inventory the microbial community that dwells inside George Clooney’s favorite coffee maker. Continue reading

Red-Colored Microbes Decorate Flamingo Feathers

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

There are two varieties of flamingo in the world: The first is a majestic bird that makes its home in warm coastal waters all over the world. The second is a plastic ornament — and official city bird of Madison, Wisconsin — that deeply troubled and misguided souls believe will add a touch of class to their lawns. Fortunately, this article is about the former, not the latter. Continue reading

Fungi Found in Brains of Alzheimer’s Patients

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Despite years of intense medical research, the cause of Alzheimer’s remains enigmatic. The ultimate molecular manifestation of the disease consists of the accumulation of a small toxic protein called amyloid beta that causes inflammation and destroys neurons. Why this occurs in some individuals but not others is unknown. Genetic, immunological, and environmental risk factors have been investigated, but no smoking gun has emerged. Continue reading

A Revolution in Basic Microbiology?

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Many bacteria are notoriously picky eaters. The microbe that causes leprosy, for instance, cannot be grown in a test tube. Instead, researchers must culture the microbe in armadillos or on the footpads of mice. Other bacteria without foot fetishes can still be difficult to culture, requiring a long and complex recipe of various nutrients, ions, and vitamins. As a result, it is simply impossible for microbiologists to grow some 99% of bacteria in the laboratory. Continue reading

Protecting Coffee Crops: Beetles and Bugs

THE coffee-berry borer is a pesky beetle. It is thought to destroy $500m-worth of unpicked coffee beans a year, thus diminishing the incomes of some 20m farmers. The borer spends most of its life as a larva, buried inside a coffee berry, feeding on the beans within. To do so, it has to defy the toxic effects of caffeine. This is a substance which, though pleasing to people, is fatal to insects—except, for reasons hitherto unknown, to the coffee-berry borer. But those reasons are unknown no longer. Read the rest at The Economist.

Your Viral History in a Drop of Blood

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Viruses are pernicious beasts. Some of them can sneakily hide inside the body, long after the initial infection has been cleared. For instance, varicella zoster virus (VZV), a type of herpesvirus that causes chickenpox, survives in an inactive state inside nerve cells for the remainder of a person’s life. Then, for unknown reasons, it can reactivate, causing shingles in old people or even healthy 30-year-olds. Other viruses may play a role in chronic conditions such as asthma or inflammatory bowel disease. Continue reading

How Yellowstone Revolutionized Biotechnology

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Life is capable of thriving in the most inhospitable places. The photograph above, which I took on my recent trip to Yellowstone National Park, shows Morning Glory Pool, a hot spring that is a short hike from Old Faithful. It’s named after the purplish-blue morning glory flower, but the pool no longer has that color, which was due to a particular type of thermophilic (heat-loving) microbe. That is because ignoramuses threw coins and other debris into the pool, blocking the vents and lowering its temperature, which allowed microbes of other colors to grow.

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Pathogen Jumped from Humans to Rabbits in 1976

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Zoonotic diseases, such as the plague and Ebola virus, jump from animals to humans. Often, but not always, such interspecies transmission occurs following mutations in the pathogen’s genome that make it more suitable for targeting a new host. But, infectious disease is not a one-way street. This same evolutionary process also makes possible “reverse zoonosis” (more properly dubbed zooanthroponosis) — i.e., the transmission of disease from humans to animals. Continue reading

Malaria May Be Driving Evolution of Blood Type

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Malaria is a deadly disease that, according to the World Health Organization, infects roughly 200 million people annually and kills more than half a million. It has thus become a powerful force of natural selection, helping shape the evolution of its human host. Continue reading