Da Bom: The Best Of Microbiology News January 2021
Updated: Feb 12, 2021
Round-Up: Extremophile Research, Water Bear Vaccines, Giant Microbiome Study, Poultry Probiotics, Trapping Light Without Chlorophyll and so much more!
The first month of 2021 has already come and gone, which means it's time for another segment of Da Bom. This is our monthly segment to bring you our favorite microbe-related news we found in the last month. We give you a quick synopsis of news from extremophiles, biotechnology, medical, marine, food, agriculture, and environmental microbiology! What's your favorite? Tell us in a comment below!
Extremophiles & Space ‘Crobes
Some microbes live in the most extreme environments, sometimes they are the only living things there! Think microbes that live in near-boiling heat, near-freezing cold, high salt, acids, even radioactivity.
Scientists believe there is much to learn about these extremophiles, but how can we study them when their environments are too harsh for the researchers and they won’t survive the relatively easy life in a lab?
A University of Vermont microbiologist gathered scientists from around the world in an ongoing initiative called the Extreme Microbiome Project (XMP). Scott Tighe assembled the group in 2014 with hopes of discovering how these microbes could survive the harshest environments and use this knowledge to create new antibiotics.
There are a lot of challenges in studying extremophiles though; what makes them able to survive, also makes them difficult to study, so the teams have had to come up with new research methods in order to crack their code.
The team developed a six-enzyme cocktail to break down cell surfaces, which is now commercially available called MetaPolyzyme.
Other methods include using electricity to poke holes in cell walls to study and manipulate the genes of microbes to help discover new ways to make antibiotics more effective.
Another innovation is a heated microscope stage to view Sulfolobus acidocaldarius cell divisions since they are thermophilic and acidophilic and will not grow in cool environments.
Pathogen Profiles & Medical Microbiology
Tardigrades are known for their ability to survive many extreme environments and conditions due to their ability to enter a state of hibernation.
Most organisms produce a special sugar to help protect against extreme environments which tardigrade lack, but they have a special protein that is produced when they don’t have water (cytosolic-abundant heat soluble [CAHS] proteins).
This protein creates a gel that protects other proteins, “from unfolding and combining with each other which can lead to cell death.”
A team led by Dr. Boothby is partnering with a biotech company to use these proteins in pharmaceuticals.
Many pharmaceuticals like vaccines need to be cold, such as the COVID-19 vaccine, which needs to be stored in temperatures lower than our freezers at home. This makes accessibility to developing countries very difficult.
The team has already tested the protein and found it protects “the proteins within pharmaceuticals about ten times more efficiently than current methods.”
Boothby hopes to be able to apply this to blood for transfusions for applications such as on the battlefield.
Update: There is no real update. Boothby has a paper published on 11/2020 (https://biosignaling.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12964-020-00670-2#Sec8)
The paper states that there are 3 families of abundant heat soluble proteins (cytoplasmic, secreted, and mitochondrial) that, together, are called tardigrade disordered proteins which are unique to the organism.
The paper calls for more research on these proteins due to the lack of understanding in terms of their exact function, however, they do play a role in protection when cells are stressed.
Food & Agriculture Microbiology
Microbiome connections with host metabolism and habitual diet from 1,098 deeply phenotyped Individuals - Francesco Asnicar et. al.
Scientist have long known the microbiome and diet contribute to a number of chronic conditions, but the complexities of our lives and food choices make it difficult to connect specific microbes or foods to diseases. Francesco Asnicar and colleagues ran a highly controlled study looking at 1,203 microbiomes from over 1,000 individuals. They gathered additional data as well, including clinical data, diet, serum metabolomics, personal data, and blood to measure Continuous Glucose Monitoring.
So essentially, they tried to look at the interaction between diet, the microbiome, and cardio metabolism [blood pressure, triglycerides, total cholesterol, HDLC, and LDLC, fasting glucose, and glycosylated hemoglobin].
Lawsonibacter asaccharolyticus had the strongest association with food and highly associated with coffee and tea! Which is a known butyrate-producing microbe. Butyrate is important for your gut health and providing energy to cells, increasing your epithelial barrier and decreasing inflammation. Scientists have linked lower levels of Butyrate-producing microbes to diseases like IBD.
One microbe group that kept coming up in the paper was Clostridium which was associated with unhealthy diets (think like juices and fatty meats) and obesity.
Many of the microbes they found to be associated with health are uncharacterized which, is really an exciting prospect!
Biotech & Microbial Products
Poultry Probiotic Ingredients Market worth $120 million by 2026, Says GMI - Global Marketing insights Inc.
People are looking for safer and more natural growth promoters in food.
There is also an increasing awareness by farmers to decrease the use of antibiotics in animal feed.
This awareness has caused speculation that poultry probiotic sales will increase to $120 million in sales by 2026.
The use of probiotics will hopefully improve poultry resistance to diseases and maintain a healthy microbiome.
Streptococcus probiotics can play a role in promoting growth in birds.
Lactobacillus also helps maintains gut health and nutrient absorption in turkeys.
The move away from antibiotics could help in curbing the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Environmental & Marine Microbiology
Scientists used to think that the majority of solar energy in the ocean was captured by microorganisms with chlorophyll.
Recent studies now show that it could actually also attributed to bacteria with proteorhodopsins (proteins that capture light with a pigment called retinal). All of this light getting captured by the sun is then converted into energy for the ocean’s inhabitants.
By collecting samples of seawater and calculating the number of proteorhodopsins and the amount of trapped light.
It is thought that the microbes with the proteorhodopsins are more prevalent in areas where the those using chlorophyll for photosynthesis to convert light into energy are less prevalent, providing this valuable service for nutrient-poor waters.
With climate change warming the oceans, the global carbon cycle is unclear, but the depletion of nutrients may mean that proteorhodopsins may become the new dominant light to energy means.
Those were our picks! What do you think is the greatest microbiology discovery so far for 2021? Tell us in a comment below!