Bacteria in Space!

Bacteria in Space!

Well I guess Mars to be more exact.  We could turn out to be the inevitable runner’s up in the race to colonize the planet mars.  And no I don’t mean we, as in America, but we as in human beings.  Scientists are telling us, as you will read in the article, that it is presumable for bacteria to travel across the cosmos and colonize the red planet, just by piggybacking our own spacecrafts.  The result of this could make it difficult for professionals to determine what life actually originated on mars and what didn’t.  It has ultimately led to certain requirements being placed on the spacecraft that the ISS intends to send to Mars, requirements such as the maximum amount of microbial life allowed on the piece.

How is this possible though?  Research is finding spore forming bacteria is able to withstand the intensity of an interplanetary flight, by resisting certain sterilization techniques and capable of surviving the harsh environments found in space.  Read the article and see just what sort of conditions the scientists tested these spores under and it will surprise just what kind of stress they can endure.  It is exciting topic and one that deserves further research. 

Undead Bacteria

Undead Bacteria

Once again I wanted to search for something that ventured outside the realm of what is considered normal when writing this blog post.  So for this post I decided that I wanted to see just what the microbial world has to do with the world of the undead.  Thats right, I’m talking zombies.  I found an article that refers to how viruses are capable of hijacking bacteria and brainwashing them into doing their bidding.  To be more specific, there are viruses that will indeed hijack bacteria that dwell inside the vents on the ocean’s floor that spew out sulphur.  They essentially reprogram the DNA of the bacteria causing it to devour more chemicals that erupt from the vents.  This allows for a greater source of energy for the viruses themselves to feed on, while the bacteria continue to overheat until it erupts and releases a brand new wave of viruses to infect other bacteria.  This eruption is a kind of lysing that many other viruses will perform on their subjects whenever, there is a large quantity of bacteria susceptible to the virus in a particular environment.

Researchers knew before that viruses were capable of doing this on the surface using bacteria that dwell in sunlight, but this discovery marks the first observation of e process in ocean vents that inbody extreme temperatures.  One specific bacteria susceptible to this “reanimation” is the SUP05, and it is remarkable because the viruses appear to use the a portion of the bacteria’s own genetic code in order to take it over.  It is possible that through the course of evolution, SUP05 and its viral attacker may have exchanged genes, providing an explanation for the possibility of brainwashing the bacteria.  So why this may not be a typical case of zombification as we known from pop culture, were a dead corpse is brought back to life to feed on the flesh of the living, it is extremely interesting to see how viruses are capable of much more than just polluting the organisms biology.

Exploding whales?

Exploding whales?

For this post I really wanted to find something that wasn’t just interesting but in all honesty just kind of wild and crazy.  So I took to google and played with combinations of the words microbes and bacteria and microbiome in order to see what I would get.  I would also throw in a second completely obscure and unrelated word just to see what sort of news articles would pop up.  Well If you have noticed the article link or the title of this blog yet, then you’re probably wondering what kind of second word did I put into google to find an article about exploding whale carcasses? The plot thickens..  Well as it would so happen this article tells us of how a beach whale carcass on the Trout River in Newfoundland is actually in some aspects a ticking time bomb.  This may be a bit of a dramatic metaphor but the reality is that whale carcasses, such as this one, are capable of exploding.

It is pretty much common knowledge that dead things rot and decay, as well as many of the microorganisms that call such a host their home.  However, there are still a considerable number of microbes that continue to live on off the remains of a dead organism.  They feed of the body, producing noxious gases such as methane, that slowly begin to build up inside the organisms body.  The gases then remain trapped inside the whale bodies until the body literally can no longer contain the gassy buildup and it detonates.  Yet why doesn’t this occur in all animals and organisms that decay once they pass away?  Well it does happen, yet the gasses are typically released through natural openings or the skin or covering to the bodies tear and give away under the increasing pressure before it can reach a critical mass.  Whales, as you might imagine, possess a rather sturdy and strong epidermis, that allows for an extreme hgh pressure of gas to build up within it.  The article actually possess some videos incase you are curious just what the event looks like.  DISCLAIMER: It’s pretty graphic stuff

While this particular article doesn’t really reflect anything that we covered in class exactly, it was kind of fascinating and really cool for me personally to read about and learn that microbes can be the surgeons behind biologically occurring time bombs.  It poses the questions in my own mind, and I hope to those of you reading, just what other kind of random and unimaginable events have microbes been the cause of?  Oh, and the second word I searched beside “microbes” in google was “movie”.  Don’t ask me why i picked this word or how it really lead me to an article about exploding whales, but it did lead me to a pretty interesting article.  I encourage you to give it a shot and see what you find for yourself.

Does Education affect your Microbiome

Does Education affect your Microbiome

In the last few weeks we have learned a vast amount of information pertaining to the human microbiome.  Yet at the same time one of the most ironic and yet distinctive things we have learned about it, is that there is still very much that we do not know about it.  Any given human body plays host to some 100 trillion microbes, which seems kind of overwhelming at first, but as the article reminds us, it is by the design of evolution that this is the case.  The human microbiome represents a very symbiotic relationship for humans and bacteria, since we provide them with a habitat and they act as a line of defense to the countless pathogens that are constantly seeking to invade our bodies.  One study in particular, has questioned whether our the relationships in our microbiome are influenced by certain life events.

Researchers studied the microbiomes of over 300 healthy individuals, between the ages of 18 and 40, recording data from over 160 life events and comparing it to 4 bacterial communities known to inhabit the body.  Of these 160 events, only 3 were found to be associated with the bacterial communities.  Those 3 events were the level of education, gender, and whether or not the individual was breastfed.  To anyone with even the slightest background in microbiology, the fact of being breastfeed or not and what gender you are might not seem that shocking to say if they affect your microbiome, yet the fact of what kind of education you have surprised me personally.  To be fair these are merely correlations, and these associations are not really explicable at this time.  It can only be assumed that certain levels of education can also be associated with various levels of wealth and social status.  However correlation does not prove causation, and it can not be inferred that the presence of certain bacteria one someone with a higher level of education is because of just that; other factors could of course be involved.  They would hope to perform further studies that leave much less holes in the microbial variation that the first study did.

How does HIV respond to the presence of good and bad bacteria?

How does HIV respond to the presence of good and bad bacteria?

I know one of the most frightening viruses that affects our population today is HIV/AIDS.  HIV, for those of you who don’t know, stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus which means it is a virus that attacks and deteriorates the immune system of a human being.  To many people, it is believed that HIV is something that can be completely avoided by abstaining from a promiscuous lifestyle, when any sort of sharing of many different kind of bodily fluids.  But just what exactly does it have to do with the human microbiome?  The article attached to this blog pertains to a study composed to see just how extracted vaginal cells that are infected with HIV are affected by the presence of good bacteria, and by bad bacteria.  

What they found was that for the first time ever, they were able to successfully grow these bacterial colonies on vaginal cells outside the human body.  These colonies possessed both good and bad bacteria, in terms to what is healthy toward the female genitalia.  They also found that the presence of good and bad bacteria would affect how HIV replicates and infects.  They treated these HIV infected cells with antivirals, and then exposed one group to healthy bacteria, and another group to bacteria associated with bacterial vaginosis.  The bad bacteria virtually reduced the antiviral activity leading to more infection, while the good bacteria complimented the antiviral activity, producing significantly less HIV infected cells than the bad bacteria treated cells.

Researchers hope that this new method of growing bacterial communities will lead to a variety of options in human health.  Options such as creating contraceptives tailored to fit a specific woman’s microbial profile.  Furthermore they hope that they can learn what communities of bacteria are more effective in fighting HIV infections and improve the potential to develop a system for future antimicrobial drug therapy.  

Is it Ethical to Clone Human Cells?

For this blog post, I wanted to shift my focus again to something pertained to what our class discussions are revolving around.  Recently we talked about what it really meant to own your body and just what that entailed and if we as humans do in fact own our bodies.  This is a very controversial theme that doesn’t exactly have a clear cut solution.  I bring it up though because it involves the ethics that the science world deals with these days, which leads me into what the article I have posted covers: the research ethics behind stem cells.

While the realm of research ethics is a vast subject that has to do with countless things outside of stem cell research, this is something that is still a topic of discussion across the world and just if it is something that can be considered ethical.  I personally have always supported the work behind stem cell research because of the numerous applications it possesses.  For those of you who don’t know, stem cells are basically adolescent cells in our body that don’t exactly have a role quite yet, but eventually will develop into a specialized cell.  These cells can be extracted and manipulated into becoming a whatever cell that a researcher so desires, by exposing it to these cells.  They are like a blank canvas that is ready to be painted on.  However, these embryonic stem cells are controversial as it deals with the usage, creation, and destruction of human embryos.  Which brings into question what exactly defines a living organism, and what does not.

This particular article focuses on the conflict behind how these stem cells can be used for human cloning which is another aspect of research that is highly controversial and considered to be unethical.  Essentially these embryos are not used to be grown in order to create a copy of the donor.  However in theory it is presumable that a human baby could be created to resemble the donor from a genetic standpoint.  The article then goes into discussing a couple of alternative techniques that have been used and studied as a way of creating these cells from a more ethical approach.  One such method induced pluripotent cells in order to turn ordinary cells into stem cells without the need of a human egg.  However these cells often presented resulting cells that contained “glitches” and there is debate over how significant these glitches are and if they can still be used regardless.  Ultimately the purpose of this blog and article is not necessarily to focus on the new methods, but to address the question of whether the pros outweigh the cons in the realm of stem cells.  There a vast number of applicable uses for stem cell research and many benefits that can come from these studies, but is it worth it to find out if it means the destruction of a human embryo that could potentially be someones baby?

It’s no surprise to me, I am my own worst enemy..

It’s no surprise to me, I am my own worst enemy..

For this blog post, since there wasn’t any suggested constraints on what to focus on I thought I would start of with a pretty broad search.  I entered “microbiome today” into and google and received the following link as one of the top hits.  This article comes from USA today, and it talks about our microbiome in a manner that very few think to view it as.  At the beginning of the class this mayterm, we read a short memoir, for lack of a better term, pertaining to a very general view of the microbial world.  Within it, the author mentions that there is a sense among humans that we are constantly under attack by our world which is plagued with germs at every turn.  However, this is not truth, as a massive majority of these microbes don’t even acknowledge us as relevant part of their own existence.  Many of them act to aid our bodies in the fighting off of foreign invaders.  Only a small portion of microbes are actually pathogenic and pose a threat to our well being.

In this article, the reverse is addressed.  The microbes that inhabit our own body are now threatened, and it is our own fault.  “Modern life is changing the composition of critters that inhabit our bodies, and not always for the better”, says one researcher.  Due to the modern style of clean living and a more industrialized world, our own lifestyle choices are compromising to our ancient microbes and could possibly be leading to the extinction of many of them.  To elaborate, we live a life where the things we are putting into our bodies, such as food and water, are cleaner and more processed, meaning that our bacteria are not quite as needed as they are in areas of the world that don’t live as clean of a lifestyle.  One such bacterium that inhabits our stomachs and is on the decline, one we will actually be discussing in class tomorrow I believe, is Heliobacter pylori.  While this decrease can be good, since H. pylori is a common cause of stomach cancer and ulcers, it also acts to fight off other disease such as esophageal cancer.  It has also been found to help reduce obesity, since it is the source of hormones that signal the body that it needs to keep eating or stop eating.

In terms of birth, newborn babies are exposed to a variety of microbes via the lining of the mother’s vagina, that sculpt the child’s microbiome to resemble the mother’s and help prepare it for the outside life.  The same effect is present in breast feeding, exposing the baby to what is essentially good bacteria.  Nowadays, there a stronger prevalence of cesarean sections and a lack of breast feeding, inhibiting the babies ability to receive the mother’s bacteria.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, it just exposes the baby to a different set of microbes, and since this is an actively new field of research, we aren’t quite sure what it means just yet.  This is the point, where the article collides with our class discussions again, as it has triggered an increase in interest in the field of probiotics and marketers attempts to promote health via beneficial microbiota.  The article goes on to mention other methods and strategies employed by doctors to help maintain a healthy human microbiota.  It is a very interesting article and concept, one that I would like to learn more about.