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Press release

October- 2022

A microbe's local environment can be the difference between life and death

     The microbial world shapes essentially every facet of our lives. Whether they are in the soils where our food is grown, or the lungs of a person with an infection, or at the bottom of the ocean, microbes live in diverse communities made up of multiple species all working together and impacting each other. Just like in our own neighborhoods, the geography of how a microbial community is laid out affects how those microbes live and function together.

Source: Phys

 

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Finding microbes rarer than a ticket to the moon

     Considering the expense, it makes sense that the number of people who journeyed to the Moon would be low. But peeking into the microscopic realm doesn't require a billion-dollar budget, only a microscope and someone willing to sit in front of it.

Source: Phys

 

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Marine bacteria take in carbon dioxide through photosynthesis

     Knowing whether or not marine microbes engage in photosynthesis—the use of sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into energy—could help scientists to learn if ocean bacteria play a role in the global carbon cycle. However, most marine microbes remain unstudied, in part because they do not grow under laboratory conditions, which limits the scientific community's knowledge on if these species use photosynthesis.

Source: Phys

 

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Methane-eating 'Borgs' have been assimilating Earth's microbes

     In Star Trek, the Borg are a ruthless, hive-minded collective that assimilate other beings with the intent of taking over the galaxy. Here on nonfictional planet Earth, Borgs are DNA packages that could help humans fight climate change. Last year, a team led by Jill Banfield discovered DNA structures within a methane-consuming microbe called Methanoperedens that appear to supercharge the organism's metabolic rate. They named the genetic elements "Borgs" because the DNA within them contains genes assimilated from many organisms. In a study published today as the cover item in Nature, the researchers describe the curious collection of genes within Borgs and begin to investigate the role these DNA packages play in environmental processes, such as carbon cycling.

Source: Phys

 

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September- 2022

Single-cell tools give insight into active antibiotic resistome in soils

     Soil antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is posing increasing health risks due to possible transmission to humans through direct contact and through the food chain. However, soil AMR studies have relied mostly on environmental DNA that could come from dead/dominant cells and extracellular DNA, leading to potential overestimation of AMR and associated risks because the vast majority of soil microbes are yet uncultured. Active antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) in soils play a critical role in driving AMR dissemination but are not well understood.

Source: Phys

 

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Analyzing the structural microdiversity of lake bacterioplankton genomes

     Part of humanity's quest to better understand ourselves is to understand what constitutes the genetic makeup of the microorganisms in our environment. Through metagenomic analysis, which bypasses culturing to enable the extraction of genomic information, from environmental microbes, scientists may be getting closer to unlocking the secrets of microbial diversity.

Source: Phys

 

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Gutter to gut: How antimicrobial-resistant microbes journey from environment to humans

     From sore throats to fevers and life-threatening infections, most people have periodically used antibiotics. Recent reports show that the global COVID-19 pandemic has increased the use of antibiotics. Some microbes may be naturally resistant to certain antimicrobials. In other cases, improper use of antimicrobials promotes the modification of microbial genes (genes are units of DNA), making the microbes resistant to antimicrobials.

Source: Phys

 

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Some microbes lie in wait until their hosts unknowingly give them the signal to start multiplying and kill them

     After more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might picture a virus as a nasty spiked ball—a mindless killer that gets into a cell and hijacks its machinery to create a gazillion copies of itself before bursting out. For many viruses, including the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the "mindless killer" epithet is essentially true. Exactly what moment HIV is waiting for is still an area of active study. But research on other viruses has long hinted that these pathogens can be quite "thoughtful" about killing. Of course, viruses cannot think the way you and I do. But, as it turns out, evolution has endowed them with some pretty elaborate decision-making mechanisms. Some viruses, for instance, will choose to leave the cell they have been residing in if they detect DNA damage. Not even viruses, it appears, like to stay in a sinking ship.

Source: Phys

 

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August- 2022

Microbiologists study giant viruses in climate-endangered Arctic Epishelf Lake

     Less than 500 miles from the North Pole, the Milne Fiord Epishelf Lake is a unique freshwater lake that floats atop the Arctic Ocean, held in place only by a coating of ice. The lake is dominated by single-celled organisms, notably cyanobacteria, that are frequently infected by unusual "giant viruses." Investigators from Université Laval, Québec, Canada have produced the first assessment of the abundance of the viruses in this lake. The research is published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Source: Phys

 

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Could two Georgia companies help solve the plastic crisis?

     A time-lapse video shows a baby blue straw sitting in a tank of water and rocks. Not much happens at first, as a counter of days zips from 1 to 24. But by Day 25, layers of the straw begin to peel away. As the counter reaches Day 43, holes line the sides before the straw breaks apart on Day 45. About two weeks later—on Day 58—the straw is gone.

Source: Phys

 

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Climate change predicted to reduce kelp forests' capacity to trap and store carbon

     Kelp forms vast seaweed forests along temperate coastlines, which sequester large amounts of atmospheric carbon. But according to a study by Karen Filbee-Dexter at the University of Western Australia and the Institute of Marine Research and colleagues, published in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, warming oceans could reduce the capacity of kelp forests to trap carbon for long periods in deep ocean stores, exacerbating the effects of climate change.

Source: Phys

 

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Detection of physical forces produced by bacterial infection can initiate the immune response

     The immune system is under the constant challenge of specifically detecting dangerous microbes to remove them. Dr. Andrea Puhar and her team at The Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS) at Umeå University, discovered that gut cells sense harmful bacteria through the mechanical force exerted on their cell surface during bacterial invasion. A protein called PIEZO1, which is able to sense mechanical signals, is necessary to detect invading bacteria. Activation of PIEZO1 during infection triggers a protective immune response. The study is now published in the scientific journal Cell Reports.

Source: Phys

 

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July- 2022

Bacterial thiosulfate oxidation pathway drives formation of zero-valent sulfur

     A research team led by Prof. Sun Chaomin from the Institute of Oceanology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IOCAS) verified that Erythrobacter flavus (E. flavus) 21-3 formed zero-valent sulfur (ZVS) in deep-sea cold seep through in situ cultivation. The study was published in mBio on July 19. Sulfur is a key element whose transformation and status in the environment are critically dependent upon microbial activities. In their previous study, Prof. Sun's team has found that ZVS is a major sulfur intermediate in the deep-sea cold seep of the South China Sea. They described a novel ZVS-producing pathway determined by thiosulfate dehydrogenase (TsdA) and thiosulfohydrolase (SoxB) mediating the conversion of thiosulfate to ZVS in the deeps-sea E. flavus 21-3.

Source: Phys

 

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Performance of crop-boosting bacteria may depend on delivery method

     Soil bacteria may be the microscopic building blocks to greater crop growth and higher yields—while knocking down chemical fertilizer use—but University of Nebraska–Lincoln researchers recently found that more blocks do not always build taller towers. For more than a million years, plants have co-evolved to closely associate with the billions of bacteria that live in the soil. In this micro-scale community, soil bacteria interact and compete for plant-given nutrients, producing a complex but balanced microbiome that can benefit plant growth. Microbiologists are now capitalizing on this prehistoric relationship by providing crops with ample growth-promoting bacteria.

Source: Phys

 

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Microbial 'dark matter': Centuries-old lava caves of Hawaiʻi Island contain thousands of unknown bacterial species

     The lava caves, lava tubes and geothermal vents on the big island of Hawaiʻi have higher bacterial diversity than scientists expected, reports a new study in Frontiers in Microbiology. These habitats represent how life might have existed on Mars and early Earth in the past, and this study explores the diversity and interactions within these microbial ecosystems.

Source: Phys

 

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Microbes support adaptation to climate change

     Researchers from Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (HHU) and Kiel University (CAU) led by Professor Sebastian Fraune use the example of the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis to investigate the contribution of the microbiome to the thermal adaptation of living organisms. As they discovered, this contribution is critical and they report on it in the current issue of the journal Nature Communications.

Source: Phys

 

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June- 2022

Microbe protects honey bees from poor nutrition, a significant cause of colony loss

     Indiana University researchers have identified a specific bacterial microbe that, when fed to honey bee larvae, can reduce the effects of nutritional stress on developing bees—one of the leading causes of honey bee decline. Their findings were recently published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal. Humans rely on honey bees for food security. Because they will pollinate almost anything, honey bees are extremely useful for agriculture. But over the past few decades, the honey bee population has experienced dramatic declines caused by the effects of multiple stressors, the most pervasive of which is limited nutrition. Beekeepers in the United States reported losing 40.5 percent of their managed colonies between 2015 and 2016 alone, according to a national survey.

Source: Phys

 

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Microbes are recruited in soil environment according to ecosystem demand

     Soil microbes (in terms of functional gene content) are key drivers of ecosystem functions, but their functional characterization and their ecological contributions are not sufficiently understood. It is important to understand how soil microbes ameliorate the nutrient stress environment and maintain their activity to support ecosystem multifunctionality in tropical forests. In a study published in Science of the Total Environment, researchers from the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences tried to evaluate the spatial pattern of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) cycling functional genes and find out their potential influence on the aboveground plant community in a hyper-diverse tropical forest ecosystem in Xishuangbanna.

Source: Phys

 

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Study highlights undiscovered potential of bacterial compounds and genes linked to colon cancer-related toxin

     The last two decades have seen the development of sophisticated computational tools that explore the DNA of bacteria. These tools are on the lookout for interesting metabolites (metabolism-related molecules) that illicit a strong biological reaction. Their impact might be toxic, or it might be life enhancing; for example, informing the development of new antibiotics, anti-cancer drugs or bio-based insecticides for use in agriculture.

Source: Phys

 

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Light-induced changes in shape power a pump in a marine bacterium

     RIKEN biochemists have discovered how a miniscule pump in a marine microbe shuttles negative ions into the cell by changing shape when activated by light. As well as providing insights into how these ion pumps work, the findings will be useful for improving light-based tools for brain research. Many bacteria and single-cell algae ferry ions into and out of their cells using pumps that are driven by light. By expelling or accepting ions, these pumps allow cells to regulate their contents relative to their environment. They work by altering their shape when activated by light.

Source: Phys

 

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May- 2022

Studying ways to maximize environmental benefits of green algae

     There's a special class of green algae that has the potential to revolutionize sustainability efforts. These so-called diatoms are abundant in nature and their structures could be used for environmentally friendly, high-value products, technologies to clean our air and new methods to purify our water. Furthermore, their residual biomass could become sources of green energy, reducing future carbon emissions.

Source: Phys

 

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Microplastics threaten typical remote cryospheric regions

     Microplastics usually refer to plastic fibers, films, fragments, and microbes with size less than five millimeters. They are widely distributed in water, soil, sediment, the atmosphere, and even snow and ice, which impacts Earth's climate and environment.

Source: Phys

 

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Beyond flora and fauna: Why it's time to include fungi in global conservation goals

     Other forms of life are also under pressure, but they are harder to count and assess. Some scientists have warned of mass insect die-offs, although others say the case hasn't been proved. And then there are fungi—microbes that often go unnoticed, with an estimated 2 million to 4 million species. Fewer than 150,000 fungi have received formal scientific descriptions and classifications.

Source: Phys

 

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'Coarse-graining' can help scientists understand complex microbial ecosystems, theory suggests

     When many microbes live together and grow in interrelated ways, it can be hard to identify the functional role of any individual player. But some complex microbial ecosystems could actually be easier to understand than those with fewer players, according to a new study in Physical Review X led by theoretical physicist Mikhail Tikhonov at Washington University in St. Louis.

Source: Phys

 

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April- 2022

Scientists find a hidden source of greenhouse gases: Organic matter in groundwater

     Groundwater has been hugely beneficial to us for use in agriculture or as drinking water. As the world warms and waterways dry up, this extraction will only increase. But there's a hidden problem. We used to think the organic matter in groundwater didn't react when brought up. Sadly, the reverse is true. Our new research published in Nature Communications has found when groundwater—especially from deep down—is pumped to the surface, it brings with it dissolved organic matter preserved from long ago. Once sunlight and oxygen hit this matter, it can easily turn into carbon dioxide.

Source: Phys

 

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Microbial response to a changing and fire-prone arctic ecosystem

     Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities have caused Earth's climate to change—and in Arctic regions, air temperatures are warming twice as fast as the global average. Permanently frozen Arctic soils located in tundra ecosystems store approximately twice the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere. This frozen organic matter is thawing, thus increasing microbial decomposition, which releases carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Arctic climate change can also lead to more droughts, lower air moisture, and more lightning—all factors that can increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires.

Source: Phys

 

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Marine microbes swim towards their favorite food

     Although invisible to us, every teaspoon of seawater contains more than a million marine bacteria. These tiny microbes play pivotal roles in governing the chemical cycles that control our climate and shape the health of the global ocean, but are they passive drifters or purposeful hunters? New research demonstrates that bacteria in the ocean use similar behaviors to many foraging animals, swimming through their environment while hunting and selecting their preferred "food" among a soup of chemicals in seawater.

Source: Phys

 

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Wastewater provides a planet-wide laboratory for the study of human health

     Of the many contemporary conveniences often taken for granted in developed countries, modern sanitation may be among the most important. A new study suggests that wastewater infrastructure may provide societal benefits far beyond the dramatic improvements in community hygiene. The research highlights a technique known as Wastewater-based Epidemiology (WBE), in which samples of municipal wastewater can be used as a diagnostic tool to explore a surprisingly broad range of community-wide health indices.

Source: Phys

 

 

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March- 2022

Adding fungi to soil may introduce invasive species, threatening ecosystems

     Invasive, alien species are bad for ecosystems. They reduce bidoversity and disrupt food chains, including our own. History is full of examples of intentional and unintentional introductions of invasive species. The introduction of cane toads to Northern Australia in the 1930s to fight cane beetles led to decline of many native predators. The fungus that causes chestnut blight snuck into North America via infected nursery stock; four billion trees died in 40 years.

Source: Phys

 

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Sponges, not just their microbes, make biologically potent compounds

     Soft and immobile, sea sponges may appear inert, but these simple animals are rich with chemistry. From them, scientists have uncovered plenty of biologically active compounds, some of which have gone on to become medications. All of these small molecules, however, actually originate from bacteria living within these animals. Now, new research has uncovered an exception. Today, scientists report that sponges themselves, not their resident microbes, produce at least one promising group of compounds.

Source: Phys

 

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Without helpful microbes, tadpoles can't stand the heat

     In a warming world, animals could live or die by what's in their gut. That's one conclusion of a new study by Pitt biologists showing that tadpoles are less able to cope with hot temperatures without the help of microbes. The results could spell a one-two punch for amphibians and other sensitive animals.

Source: Phys

 

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Bacteria genes gave ancient plants traits to colonize land

     Genes jumping from microbes to green algae hundreds of millions of years ago might have driven the evolution of land plants, researchers report March 1 in the journal Molecular Plant. Their analysis reveals that hundreds of genes from bacteria, fungi, and viruses have been integrated into plants, giving them desirable traits for a terrestrial life.

Source: Phys

 

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February- 2022

Soil pH drives the distribution of soil bacterial communities along a short elevational gradient

     Soil microbes are highly diverse and play a key role in the regulation of biogeochemical cycling processes and the maintenance of ecosystem functions. Knowledge of the elevational distribution patterns of soil microbes and the driving mechanisms will be essential to understand the impact of climate change and anthropogenic disturbances on terrestrial ecosystems.This study demonstrates that soil bacterial communities on Zijin Mountain are significantly distinct along a small elevation gradient, and soil pH is the most important driver of the community variation. The researchers' finding appeared December 23, 2021 in Soil Ecology Letters.

Source: Phys

 

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Researchers discover how deep-sea bacteria sense blue light

     As a ubiquitous energy source and environmental signal, light affects the lifestyle of organisms living in the photiczone. Different forms of geoluminescence or bioluminescence exist not only in hydrothermal areas but also in other deep-sea habitats such as cold seeps. However, the responses of deep-sea microbes to light are largely unknown, even though blue light is proposed to be distributed in the deep ocean.

Source: Phys

 

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Microorganism discovered in spacecraft assembly facility named for Berkeley Lab microbiologist

     Space exploration has allowed humans to journey from earth to space—but humans may not be the only organisms hitching a ride by spacecraft. Microbiologists who study extreme environments are on the lookout for microorganisms present on spacecraft surfaces that could potentially contaminate the pristine environments of outer space. Now a new fungal strain has been discovered in a spacecraft assembly facility and named after a long-time Berkeley Lab microbiologist, Tamas Torok.

Source: Phys

 

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A microbial compound in the gut leads to anxious behaviors in mice

     A Caltech-led team of researchers has discovered that a small-molecule metabolite, produced by bacteria that reside in the mouse gut, can travel to the brain and alter the function of brain cells, leading to increased anxiety in mice. The work helps uncover a molecular explanation for recent observations that gut microbiome changes are associated with complex emotional behaviors.

Source: Phys

 

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January- 2022

Team develops microscope to image microbes in soil and plants at micrometer scale

     Live imaging of microbes in soil would help scientists understand how soil microbial processes occur on the scale of micrometers, where microbial cells interact with minerals, organic matter, plant roots and other microorganisms. Because the soil environment is both heterogeneous and dynamic, these interactions may vary substantially within a small area and over short timescales.

Source: Phys

 

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Bacteria build communities using chemical signals comparable to radio waves

     The thought of bacteria joining together to form a socially organized community capable of cooperation, competition and sophisticated communication might at first seem like the stuff of science fiction—or just plain gross. But biofilm communities have important implications for human health, from causing illness to aiding digestion. And they play a role in a range of emerging technologies meant to protect the environment and generate clean energy.

Source: Phys

 

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Scientists map geographic patterns of soil microbe communities in Hexi Corridor deserts

     A research group led by Li Yuqiang from the Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources (NIEER) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences recently mapped biogeographic patterns of soil microbe communities in the Hexi Corridor deserts of northern China.

Source: Phys

 

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Copper-based chemicals may be contributing to ozone depletion

     Copper released into the environment from fungicides, brake pads, antifouling paints on boats and other sources may be contributing significantly to stratospheric ozone depletion, according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley. In a paper appearing this week in the journal Nature Communications, UC Berkeley geochemists show that copper in soil and seawater acts as a catalyst to turn organic matter into both methyl bromide and methyl chloride, two potent halocarbon compounds that destroy ozone. Sunlight worsens the situation, producing about 10 times the amount of these methyl halides.

Source: Phys

 

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