Top Story: May 27, 2010

The Magic of Microbiology

Agar_plate_with_colonies

Today concludes the general meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. From white-nose syndrome (a fungus affecting bats) to beer brewing, scientists had much to discuss about the microbial world. Microbes include sweet little critters like bacteria, fungi, yeast and even viruses.

Much exciting news came out of the conference, read on…

First up: Bacteria that make you smarter and calmer

On Monday, researchers announced that exposure to specific bacteria in the outside environment could increase learning behavior.

The bacteria are Mycobacterium vaccae, a natural soil bacterium that “people likely ingest or breath in when they spend time in nature," says Dorothy Matthews, PhD of The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York, one of researchers on the project.

The researchers fed mice the live bacteria and assessed their ability to navigate a maze compared to control mice that were not fed the bacteria. “We found that mice that were fed live M. vaccae navigated the maze twice as fast and with less demonstrated anxiety behaviors as control mice,” says Matthews.

She continues, “It is interesting to speculate that creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where M. vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks.”

Next: Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder

Yesterday the news was not so good. Scientists from the US Department of Agriculture presented a study blaming a fungus and a family of viruses for the worldwide honeybee disappearance also known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

According to the BBC,

David Mendes, the president of the American Beekeeping Federation, says that biological pathogens are certainly involved - but that there might be something that affects the bees' immune system in the first place that then allows these pathogens to infect them more easily.

Whichever came first, scientists are hoping that at least knowing the cause, they can start to help the much-needed bees. Good nutrition seems to help stop the fungus and some beekeepers are looking toward queen bees that are resistant to that family of viruses.

Au Currant Microbes: Bacteria Cleaning-up the Oil Spill

New Scientist described today that at the conference:

Jay Grimes of the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg reported that over the past few years, researchers have found that dozens of different kinds of marine bacteria have a healthy appetite for oil.

He said that water samples from the Gulf of Mexico are showing signs that marine bacteria are already pitching in to help with clean-up efforts, and that populations of these bacteria in this area are likely to boom as they feast on the oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The bacteria better be careful, however, because the dispersants added to breakdown the oil maybe harmful to the microbes. A team of scientists funded by NSF is headed to the Gulf to find out:

The team seeks to understand how the dispersants added to the spill will interact with natural compounds produced by microbes, and how this will impact the ability of different microbes to break down the oil.

For Bonus Points: Bacteria that causes rain and snow.

And finally, The New York Times published a great story earlier this week about bacteria that may be involved with precipitation in the atmosphere—essentially, rain and snow. It’s been studied for over 30 years, but new tools and technology are providing clearer pictures, making it an exciting field of microbiology research.



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