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DA BOM : Best of Microbiology November, 2020

Updated: Jan 5, 2021

Once a month Microbigals will bring you our favorite microbiology news, from scientific papers to fellow bloggers, to news articles in 5 categories: Extremophiles, Medical, Environmental and Marine, Food and Agriculture, and Microbial Products. So you can stay up to date with the world of microbe news. Here is the best of microbiology news for November 2020.

Extremophiles & Space ‘Crobes

  1. Tardigrades are the true poster child of extremophiles with the ability to survive extreme heat, radiation, and even the vacuum of space. Now, we can add ultraviolet light survival to the list thanks to an accidental discovery by researchers at the Indian Institute of Science.

  2. These new species of tardigrade can survive 1 kilojoule per square meter of UV. Most bacteria die within 5 minutes of this dose and other tardigrades couldn’t survive a 15-minute dose.

  3. Researchers attribute this superpower to the fluorescent pigments which seem to capture the UV light and change it into harmless blue light.

  1. Blue-green algae called Chroococcidiopsis are extremophiles that live in rocks in the desert of Israel.

  2. These microbes were air-dried, mixed with either sandstone, lunar regolith, or nothing, and experimented on in outer space.

  3. Those mixed well with the rock or regolith survived extreme UV radiation and survived for 2 years in outer space making scientists speculate if they can use the moon as a test site, trying to understand the origins of life.

  1. Deinococcus radiodurans, isn’t your average microbe. It can endure the harsh solar and UV radiation, the vacuum, and the freezing temperatures of space.

  2. Deinococcus radiodurans was placed just outside of the international space station for 1 year….and survived!

  3. Researchers found profound changes to the genetic makeup of the microbe while in space. It produced membrane vesicles and had a complex genetic and metabolic altering to help alleviate the stress of space and survive.

Pathogen Profiles & Medical Microbiology

  1. In this podcast, they asked the question of what happens to all the other COVID-19 Vaccines when one of them gets approved. Operation Warp Speed is banking on one vaccine to rule them all, but there may be very good reasons to continue to invest in other trials. There are currently 42 clinical trials and 10 of which are in the final stage (phase 3) of testing according to WHO.

  2. In most vaccine trials there is a placebo, the control group, and a group that receives the potential vaccine. The goal is to have people given the vaccine 100% unaffected by the disease. However, the standard is only at 50% efficacy. But in order for the vaccine to be effective, you have to have members of the placebo group actually become symptomatic, which can have a number of ethical implications. Most vaccines need to have 150 events (people showing symptoms) before it can determine if the vaccine is statistically better than the placebo.

  3. So the biggest ethical question is if one vaccine is doing better than another, or the vaccine is better than the placebo when is it ethical to give the placebo group the vaccine, potentially stopping the trial before it is done. The other question is with a vaccine with only 50% efficacy, isn’t this worse than wearing a mask and social distancing?

  1. Clostridium difficile is a severe gastrointestinal infection typically seen in hospitals especially amongst the elderly. After you take antibiotics, your gut microbiome is weak, C. diff takes advantage of this and quickly colonizes your gut causing severe diarrhea.

  2. Hanping Feng and colleagues engineered a yeast strain that can deliver antibiotics against the C. diff toxins, creating a living antibiotic to help fight off infection.

  3. C. diff can be a recurring infection. To cure C. diff, patients must first deplete the pathogen and then replenish their guts with healthy microbes. This is sometimes done with fecal transplants. This new genetically modified yeast could be an alternative to this approach, defending the body from C. diff long enough for patients to develop a stronger microbiome.

  1. Charles M Rice was one of 3 scientists awarded the Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine on October 5, 2020, for his seminal work on the discovery of Hepatitis C.

  2. Prior to Rice's discovery of Hepatitis C, there were cases of unexpected chronic hepatitis occurring sometimes decades after a blood transfusion. Rice was the one who showed that the hepatitis C virus alone could cause hepatitis; he recognized that the viral genome was incomplete. Once he was able to engineer a complete genome he demonstrated he could infect primates.

  3. Because of the research of these three laureates, sensitive blood tests and antiviral drugs were able to be developed.

Food & Agriculture Microbiology

  1. Scientist Ian Tannenbaum studies the innate microbiome of the ryegrass seeds through adulthood and back to seed.

  2. His research finds the seed microbiome is unique from the adult plant but is stable from first-gen seed to the next generation.

  3. Gammaproteobacteria was the most abundant in the ryegrass seed microbiome.

2. Helper bacteria halt and disarm mushroom pathogens by linearizing structurally diverse cyclolipopeptides - Ron Hermenau, Susann Kugel, Anna J. Komor, and Christian Hertweck

  1. At the root of science is “why”. Why do we get sick? Why does our food rot? Why does the food not rot with the addition of this microbe? But more importantly than ‘why’ is ‘how’. This is the question Hermenau and colleagues discovered in their recent research trying to decipher exactly how a specific bacteria is able to stop brown blotch disease of white button mushrooms.

  2. Using cutting edge techniques in the world of metabolomics, Researchers found that Mycetocola bacteria can diffuse the toxin that pathogen Pseudomonas tolaasii uses to cause brown blotch disease.

  3. Not only did Mycetocola spp. sabotage the toxins, they also rendered Pseudomonas tolaasii immobile, so the pathogen could not spread across the host!

  1. Scientists developed 2 transparent soil substitutes, one being synthetic called Nafion while the other using Cryolite, a natural crystal.

  2. Using these substitutes, they were able to visualize live bacteria in the substitutes and also measure their overall metabolic activity.

  3. The scientists also showed that bacteria survive in dry periods when interacting with fungi; in particular, the bacteria that survived were able to by feeding off of dead fungi.

Environmental & Marine Microbiology

1. Siderophore piracy enhances Vibrio cholerae environmental survival and pathogenesis - Hyuntae Byun, I-Ji Jung, Jiandong Chen, Jessie Larios Valencia, and Jay Zhu

a. Iron is essential for microbial life but it is often in limiting usable quantities.

To harvest iron, microbes create specialized compounds called


b. While V. cholerae has its own siderophore, vibriobactin, authors showed

that V. cholerae flourishes by stealing others' siderophores rather than

just using its own.

c. Byuan and colleagues grew V. cholerae with other microbes which produce siderophores and saw this enhanced V. cholerae’s growth, suggesting

that V. cholerae is a siderophore pirate, stealing limited resources from

other microbes!

2. Environmental and microbial controls on microbial necromass recycling, an important precursor for soil carbon stabilization - Kate Buckeridge, Kelly Mason, Niall McNamara, Nick Ostle, Jeremy Puissant, Tim Goodall, Robert Frittiths, Andrew Stott and Jeanette Whitaker

a. Soil carbon storage affects food security and climate change making it

extremely important to our current environmental crises. Microbes play a

key role in stabilizing environmental carbon. When microbes die what's

left is called ‘necromass’ which forms 50-80% of stable soil organic


b. Buckeridge and colleagues conducted this study to answer some key

questions such as the recycling efficiency of necromass under different

land-use management, find microbes which have high necromass

recycling efficiency and understand the environmental and microbial

factors that play a role in recycling efficiency.

c. Authors found that Actinobacteria and Sphingomonadales are associated

it's high efficiency necromass recycling. But conclude that a lot more

research is needed to understand necromass carbon stabilization.

a. Scientists found a new genus of parasitic bacteria, Candidatus

Aquarickettsia, which thrive when coral reefs are polluted with nutrients.

b. An abundance of this bacteria is a marker for disease susceptibility in

Caribbean staghorn coral.

c.This is seen particularly in times of heat stress which shows a loss of

dominant species in the coral's microbiome, allowing this genus to


Biotech & Microbial Products

  1. Looking for a new career in microbiology? The demand for agricultural microbiological products is currently exploding with rapid growth in companies trying to meet this demand including Indigo, NewLeaf, GinkGo Bioworks, Zymergen, Bioconsortia among others.

  2. How can microbes be used in the agro-industry? They can be formulated into biostimulants (helps plants grow), biopesticides (kills pathogens/vectors), biofertilizers (helps plants grow and keep healthy soil).

  3. There are several challenges to the field, mainly that microbial products need to be applied to fields, which are open, complex systems with humans, insects, plants, thousands of microbes, and the environment always constantly changing the conditions making it hard to formulate a microbe(s) that can be functional in all these dynamic conditions.

  1. Plant-Grow Inc. is creating a risk-free trial for farmers to use their microbial products to improve farm profits.

  2. New customers will pay 50% cost and if they do not see a positive return on investment, then the payment is returned.

  3. Plant Grow Inc. develops microbial products that help restore nutrients to the soil, assist the plant in absorbing more nutrients, preventing disease, etc. to replace pesticides and fertilizers.

  1. Our current diagnostic methods for COVID-19 are not always accurate depending on the stage of disease progression. But (wo)man’s best friend may just help fill in these gaps. Scientists from Finland to France have found dogs can detect COVID in people before they start showing symptoms and even when PCR tests come back negative.

  2. The olfactory glands of dogs are far superior to our own. When you get sick or have a disease, your odor changes. Dogs have helped mankind sniff out everything from drugs and bombs to diseases like cancer or C. diff. Now, we can add COVID detectors to the long list of ways dogs help mankind.

  3. Unlike PCRs which take days and volunteer testing, the dogs can be placed in any public places like airports to rapidly detect if someone nearby has the disease. Unfortunately, this option takes a lot of training and discipline. Researchers are working to produce machines that mirror the olfactory glands of dogs to better detect diseases rapidly.

What's your favorite microbiology news?

Tell us in a comment below!

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