Warning: Broken Virus Still a Threat

When  people get an infection they don’t just have an operating virus in their system that proceeds to make them ill, they also have multiple copies of the same virus, but these copies can be defective. These defective viral cells have genetic deletions or mutations that disrupt their important viral functions. These defective virus arise frequently in diseases that mutate quickly. For the past forty years we have thought that these defective viruses do no harm to us, in fact we used to think that they did us good by alerting us of an upcoming outbreak or by interfering with the functioning of the working virus, but this is no longer the case. Recently published research from UCLA suggests that these defective viruses actually increase the transmission of the virus, and not just the defective virus, it spreads the working one as well. These defective viruses are thought to increase spreading by getting into cells that have a working copy of the virus and just using it to propagate itself, increasing the amount of virus in one’s body. To do all this research they studied DENV-1 which is a strain of dengue fever. They found evidence that the defective copy of this virus is what led to the biggest outbreaks of dengue in myanmar. In just one year it went from it being rare to the defective virus being in people they tested to being found in all of them, as well as the working virus. They don’t understand why but the defective and working virus combo actually produced a stronger and more virulent virus that the working was on its own. In fact it made this strain of dengue at least 10% more transmissible. And they have presented two ideas to why this may be:

1: Possibly the combo virus works together through some unknown mechanism to cause the working virus to replicate at a higher rate thus increasing the spread of the disease

2: Possibly the defective virus slows down the working one making it not as harmful making people not get as sick allowing them to spread it more before they become aware of their illness

What I would as you all is which hypothesis do you think is more likely? (feel welcome to present your own) And why do you think that your choice is right?


Understanding Pesky Pimples – The Good, the Bad, and the Acne

A recent study concerning the microbiology of pimples has the potential to both revolutionize and enhance our understanding of dermatology. Research groups at UCLA, Lost Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, and Washington University in St. Louis worked in conjunction to find that different strains of a single acne bacterium may dictate whether or not an individual develops zits. More specifically, these scientists honed in on the presence of Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterial species that inhabits the depths of our facial pores, in both acne-ridden and clear-skinned volunteers. By isolating each subject’s skin bacteria with pore-cleansing strips, they discovered a total of over 1,000 strains of P. acnes. Despite this overwhelming number, their findings led to a fairly consistent result, as UCLA’s Dr. Noah Craft explains that, “‘…two unique strains of P. acnes appeared in one out of five volunteers with acne but rarely occurred in clear-skinned people.’” Their data additionally revealed a third strain of P. acnes that is typical of healthy skin but rarely individuals who suffered from blemishes. Assistant professor of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology at UCLA, Huiying Li, believes that, “‘…this [healthy] strain contains a natural defense mechanism that enables it to recognize attackers and destroy them before they infect the bacterial cell.” Li and his co-researchers are hopeful that their findings will encourage dermatologists to pursue treatments that increase this “friendly” strain of P. acnes to protect the skin from harmful strains of acne bacteria rather than chemical treatments that destroy potentially healthy, skin bacterial flora.

Question: What are the pros and cons of this proposed “probiotic” approach to dermatological treatments? Is it cost effective to customize each acne sufferer’s treatment to his or her specific facial bacterium? How will researchers target and destroy the harmful strains of P. acnes without eliminating the healthy strains?

Original Article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130228080135.htm

Your Mom wasn’t Lying: Why Eating Your Greens Can Save Your Life

We’ve known for awhile that an immune cell population is the key to your intestines’ health. What we know now is that this can be controlled by the leafy greens in one’s diet. These immune cells, innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) can be found in the lining of the digestive system and protect the body from harmful bacteria in the gut. There is belief that they play a role in controlling food allergies, inflammatory diseases and obesity. Doctors from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s Molecular Immunology division have discovered the gene T-bet is what produces the majority of these immune cells and that the gene is triggered by the food in our diet. One of the doctors leading this study, Dr. Belz, claims that this discovery is the first step to treating these diseases caused by lack there of the ILCs. There have also been connections made between lower ILC levels and patients more prone to cancers such as bowel cancer.

If you were a doctor in this team and came across patients who had a very low population of ILCs, other than eating more vegetables, how would you suggest to increase this population?

What are some cautions that you would advise these doctors to take if they wanted to begin treating people?



The Secret of Superbugs

A team of researchers at Argonne National Laboratory are one step closer to finding a solution to “superbugs,” or bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. By using X-ray crystallography, biochemical assays, and computer models, these researchers have pieced together the structure of NDM-1, an enzyme that is key in helping bacteria deactivate antibiotics. 

NDM-1, present in bacteria such as E. coli, works by breaking a structure called a β-lactam ring, which is crucial for many antibiotics to function. Because the β-lactam ring is present in many types of antibiotics, NDM-1 is effective in disabling a wide range of antibiotics. 

The team at Argonne thinks that the discovery of the structure of NDM-1 will allow them to find inhibitors that could stop NDM-1 from cutting the β-lactam ring. Now that they know the exact structure and mechanism of NDM-1, they hope to find a way to block the function of the enzyme and decrease bacterial resistance against the antibiotics that NDM-1 disables. 

Source: http://www.anl.gov/articles/breakthrough-could-lead-drugs-better-combat-superbugs

Question: What are other methods we could employ to help decrease the rising number of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”?

Future Drug: contains natural and artificial flavors/toxins

Researchers have discovered that a currently existing cancer drug becomes more effective when used in combination with drugs made from naturally occurring toxins.”One of the oldest tricks in fighting is the one-two punch — you distract your opponent with one attack and deliver a knockout blow with another,” said José Onuchic of Rice’s Center for Theoretical Biological Physics (CTBP). ” Research has found that cancer can mount sophisticated attacks against any drug used to combat it. This is why the combination of synthetic and natural toxins is best used against cancer. One toxin can weaken the cells while the second can launch the final attack. The same theory applies to bacteria cells. Bacteria that has become resistant to drugs can be killed with this technique. ”By combining drugs, particularly those that place stress on different parts of the cell, we expect it will be possible to knock out either cancer cells or bacteria while simultaneously inhibiting their ability to become drug-resistant (José Onuchic)”

One of the questions I believe researchers need to try and find the answer to is whether or not it is more difficult for bacteria or cancer cells to fight natural toxins than it is to fight synthetic ones?

Thank you HIV

Hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver failure and liver cancer world wide, and currently it has no cure. As of now it can only be treated which results in one being symptom free as long as they receive the treatment and normally healthy for a few years after, but it also leaves their wallets substantially lighter. Treatment costs are around $600 per month and of the over 350 million people with Hep B around the world not many can afford to get that treatment for long. But a new promising discovery has taken place, researchers have successfully found a way to measure and block a key enzyme that is involved in the replication process of Hep B. This enzyme, RNAseH, has been blocked using medicine typically used to treat another pathogen, HIV. Hep B and HIV both use reverse transcription to replicate which means that the drugs used to block replication of HIV can also help block replication of Hep B. Without HIV getting the press and the funding for research that it has this potential to cure Hep B would most likely not exist. Currently scientists are working on modifying the drugs used to treat HIV to fit perfectly with Hep B and thus allow a cure to be produced. This is very promising for a disease that had previously seemed incurable to those that have it. I found this article to be extremely interesting to see how one discovering can impact the whole field of drug research. This makes me wonder about how we should divide our focus in this field. Should we focus on finding new discoveries or should we put an emphasis on finding new connections between previous knowledge?



Weapon of Mass Virus Destruction

A research team at UCLA has discovered a natural protein with the ability to fight off a wide range of viruses. The protein, cholesterol-25-hydroxylase (or CH25H), has the potential to combat HIV, Ebola, Rift Valley Fever, Nipah, and other “priority pathogens.” CH25H is switched on by interferon, a natural cell-signaling protein the body produces to fight viruses. Once CH25H is activated, it changes cholesterol into 25-hydroxycholesterol, which can infiltrate a cell’s wall and keep viruses out. Preliminary trials with HIV have been promising, proving CH25H’s ability to inhibit its growth. CH25H has been tested against HIV both in cell cultures and in mice, hindering the growth of the virus in both trials.

Some of the noted weaknesses of CH25H are that it is hard to administer in large doses, its effect has yet to be tested against those of other HIV antivirals, and it has yet to be tested against Ebola, Nipah, and other severe viruses in vivo.

What could the implications of a broad-spectrum antiviral such as CH25H be if it were released? What could be the possible effects, good or bad, of taking this medication?


Suffocating Resistance

Researchers at Rice University have found an innovative way of overcoming antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

They studied bacteria that were resistant to tetracycline. Researchers starved the bacteria of oxygen and nutrients, and tetracycline was also taken out of their environment. In the absence of tetracycline, the starved bacteria dropped the plasmids that allowed them resistance to tetracycline. “Microbes don’t like to carry excess baggage,” environmental engineer Pedro Alvarez said. “That means they will drop genes they’re not using because there is a metabolic burden, a high energy cost, to keeping them.”

Large farming operations present a major problem; antibiotics from plants and animals make their way to drainage channels, bacteria get exposed to these antibiotics, and bacteria become resistant to these antibiotics. A way to prevent this is to limit the oxygen that bacteria can access in drainage channels by using an anaerobic barrier – a mulch barrier, specifically, that limits the oxygen supply to bacteria living in the soil or water. By limiting the oxygen supply, the bacteria are stressed and are pressured into “dumping” extra plasmids – including plasmids that provide resistance to substances such as tetracycline.

Question: What other ways are there to cut off the oxygen/nutrient supply to antibiotic-resistant bacteria?

Original article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130211150747.htm

“In the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a…complex array of microbial sensors?”

It’s a commonly accepted that humans aren’t the most gifted creatures when it comes to perceiving our environments. All the deadly gases and contaminants that could easily kill us are also largely invisible to our weak senses. It’s a problem Gary Sayler and his team were well aware of when they designed their Bioluminescent Bioreporter Integrated Circuit chips, or BBICs. Sounds awesome right? That’s cause it is. Essentially Sayler and his team have taken several thousand microbes that, when arranged in a specific manner, can detect any number of contaminants and when the bacteria detect these unseen dangers they emit a nearly unperceivable amount of light. By integrating these bacteria with a small silicon chip, roughly the size of a matchbox, that can both detect and enhance the light given off by the organisms, the bacteria can serve as a warning system against dangerous pollutants. Sayler’s first current project for his microbial sensors is adapting them to work on spaceships, given how important it is that the sealed and pressurized vehicle be safe to live in. However, there are hurdles to overcome, such as finding the perfect growth medium. The bacteria, preferably, cannot grow given that the amount of light the give off is directly proportional to their size and should the bacteria grow too large they could end up fooling the sensor they’re attached to into thinking the air is more polluted then it actually is.

Where else could this specific piece of technology be applicable? Do you think this concept as a whole, computer chips integrated with microorganisms, could go in other directions?


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Deep Sea Pharmacy

Researchers from OHSU and scientific institutions alike believe to have come up with a ground breaking (literally) class of medications. Great, right? Oh, did I mention they’re at the bottom of the ocean? These researchers have been focusing on ocean-based mollusks (zeroing in on snails, clams, squid and their bacterial companions).

Many of these ocean dwellers have existed in righteous peace and harmony with their bacteria for millions of years. These bacteria have molecules that can affect body function without any side effects thus making them better at fighting disease.

One of these mollusks exists with a form of bacteria that secretes a strong antibiotic that holds potential in fighting human disease on land. Another mollusk was found to be carrying a neuroactive chemical– impacting the function of nerve cells in the brain.  This is believed to treat pain.

Where else might we find types of bacteria? What are the pros and cons of looking in such extreme places such as the bottom of the ocean?