1 in 10 Zika-infected US moms have babies with birth defects, CDC reports.

1 in 10 Zika-infected US moms have babies with birth defects, CDC reports



Summary: A new study from the CDC shows how women in their first trimester who contract Zika are more likely to have a child with birth defects. 15% of mothers with infections during the first trimester had children with birth defects in this study. A large issue with these infections is proper screening of children born to mothers with confirmed Zika infection. Over half of these babies don’t get any kind of brain scan to check for defects. The effects of Zika are not always physically noticeable. Children who have unnoticed birth defects due to Zika will not receive treatment and could have complications later in life.  


Connections: We covered viruses such as zika in class. Zika replicates by using the lytic cycle. It uses its host’s ER to replicate itself (Siaz et al. figure 2). Zika is enveloped and has single stranded RNA (Siaz et al.). They have icosahedral symmetry.


Critical Analysis: The article written by CNN is very simple, it is meant for a very general audience and could be easily understood by someone with little to no background or interest in Microbiology. They did, however, include a link to the CDC study that brought about this article, which I found impressive because most news sources don’t seem to do this. In the video, a mother who contracted zika and her child was affected by zika are introduced. One thing I found interesting was the fact that there was no mention of the little girl being microcephaly, but rather that she had calcifications in her brain. I wasn’t aware that Zika could cause this. I thought that the virus attacked developing fetal nervous tissue, as this has been shown in animals (Nayak et al.). I wonder what in particular caused the calcification?


Question: Why are the mechanisms of Zika so hard to identify? Is it because it is a virus, or because it only seems to attack fetal nervous tissue, making it harder to study in humans?





A2: Microbes in the News- Scientists find a new treatment for antibiotic-resistant bacteria


CTV News

Article published April 3rd, 2017

Researchers from Birmingham University in the UK have developed an interesting alternative to using antibiotics for a certain rare lung disease that can be caused by several bacterium including P. aeruginosa. They would run a similar process to dialysis, called plasmapheresis, but instead of removing waste from the blood they would remove a certain antibody from the blood that was in excess, which prevented them from fighting the infecting bacterium. They would run this several times a week, replacing antibodies via blood transfusions, and this reduced hospitalization time and reduced the effects of it significantly, all without antibiotics. Research is being done to see if this is a viable replacement to some antibiotic treatments.

This relates to class material because we covered usage of antibiotics and how to prevent resistance. This would be a very good way to eliminate adding resistance to bacterium that can be fought this way significantly by not even using antibiotics.

I thought it was interesting how they are trying to find ways to avoid antibiotics completely, which would significantly decrease the worry of antibiotic resistance. It is a fairly new treatment, but it looks very plausible and accurate based on the reasoning in the article. It is fairly simplified for the public but is in depth enough so that the treatment process can be understood.

One question I would ask is how this could be expanded upon to more diseases beyond just filtering out antibodies from the blood. Could this be applied to other immune response diseases? People who are immune suppressed?

Parkinson’s Disease and Microbiome

“Gut microbe mix may spark Parkinson’s’

Science News Magazine online article

December 1, 2016



This article describes several studies which, together, suggest that Parkinson’s disease is caused by the intestinal microbiome when it has a specific composition. It was found that the gut microbiome of diseased patients caused alpha-synuclein, the substance present in Parkinson’s patients, to clump in the brain compared to the gut microbiome of a healthy person transferred to mice with high levels of alpha-synuclein. In the second case, the mice did not show as many symptoms and the alpha-synuclein did not clump in the brain (this is what is believed to cause Parkinson’s disease).

We have discussed ideas of the human microbiome determining overall health. This has to do with the “ubiquity of microbes’, meaning they are found in all types of environments. We know that the bacteria in our gut produce byproducts while helping us break down and process our food. It is very interesting that they might be able to send signals to our brains. It seems like microbes must gain something beneficial by sending signals to the brain to make the organism act in a way that helps the microbe gain what it wants. We talked a little bit about microorganisms that infect insects to control them. The article was a summary of several peer-reviewed studies so I think they are credible. This is written in a very good way to communicate science to the general public since that is the purpose of this magazine. It pulls only the important parts of the methods and results to make it easy for the reader but also gives you enough information to critically think about it.

This topic makes me question many things like: What kind of chemical signals could microbes send to the brain to cause the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease? Is it a byproduct of their way of living or is it an intentionally released signal?

A Superbug That Resisted 26 Antibiotics

Title:    A Superbug That Resisted 26 Antibiotics


Source: NPR.com

Summary:  A 70- year-old woman was hospitalized in Reno, Nevada with a superbug that was resistant to all 26 antibiotics that are available in the United States. The strain was even resistant to carpananbems; antibiotics usually given as a last resort against antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Connections:  In class, we learned about different antibiotics and how they work to treat different bacterial infections. We also learned about antibiotics resistance, and pathogen’s abilities to circumvent antibiotic treatments. This superbug must have had mechanisms to avoid the chemicals in all antibiotics available to us.

Critical analysis:  Since this article is from NPR, I would assume it’s meant for the general public. I think it does a good job of communicating the concepts of antibiotic resistance simply enough for someone who may not have an interest in microbiology to understand. As far as I can tell, there are no inaccuracies in this article.

Questions:  This article made me wonder what kind of physiological methods that this particular strain of bacteria had that made it resistant to antibiotics. The article also mentions that CRE infections are most common in India and parts of China. Since some parts of these countries may not have access to a wide variety of antibiotics, how are superbugs occurring there? If they haven’t been exposed to all antibiotics, how are they developing resistance to them?

A Microbe Hunter Plies Her Trade In Space

Title: A Microbe Hunter Plies her Trade in Space

Date: March 14, 2017

Link: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/03/14/511891419/a-microbe-hunter-plies-her-trade-in-space

Summary: Microbiologist Kate Rubins has been investigating the unique microbiome of the International Space Station and establishing a microbiology lab in space. There has been 16 years of accumulation of the microbes brought by varying crews up from Earth, and microbes tend to stick around. While most of the microbes are harmless, some do have the potential to cause problems for crew, varying from infection to mold growing on the wall panels of the Space Station.

Microbiology in space is incredibly important to the future of space travel, be it for identifying alien life, preventing disease while in orbit, or simply improving the quality of life for spacefaring explorers.

Connections: We have been working to identify microbes from various environments and biomes, just as Rubins has, albeit from a less prestigious location. Being able to quickly and accurately identify microbes in all scenarios is something emphasized through the course, and Rubins is putting what we are learning to practical application whilst in orbit.

Critical Analysis: This article was actually a transcript of an NPR broadcast, and so read a little bit differently than most traditional news articles. It was filled with interview blurbs from Rubins, recollections of her time in space, and easy-to-follow explanations of her work. I know NPR works to tell stories as well as news, and this article was an interesting and engaging story. However, if you want the hard details about what Rubins was doing, or the specific microbial work done in the International Space Station, this is not the article for you. This is, more than anything, a story, and is not meant for conveying details. However, as a springboard for ideas, or an interesting illustration that your job can sometimes take you in strange and exciting directions, this is a good read or listen.

Questions: What other positions has NASA been searching for since it has stopped focusing on pilots? Rubins is a microbiologist, but what other branches of the sciences or other professions have gone to space?

Candida auris Outbreak in the U.S.

Title: “Deadly Drug Resistant Fungal Infection Outbreak Causing Concern In U.S.”

Source: ReliaWire

Date:  March 12, 2017

Link:  https://reliawire.com/candida-auris/

Summary:  Candida auris  has led to almost 30 infections in the United States. The outbreak is troubling because the fungal strain happens to be multi-drug resistant and is linked to a high death rate.  Even though that the outbreak is fairly new, researchers are confident that there may be a way to work against it.

Connections: We’ve talked about antimicrobial resistance in class and this is an example of a drug resistant fungus. This also incorporates with the overarching theme that public health and science are intertwined.

Critical Analysis: I find it interesting that this fungus has been able to cause an outbreak despite how many downfalls it has. For example, C. auris cannot produce spores. This is surprising considering that it has been able to spread and infect  patients so easily in hospitals. Also, not every strain even has the enzymes that allow for infections in body tissues. It is strange that the fungus has been able to be so successful considering these things. This article seems to be factually correct. It quotes both the CDC and a professor at the Center for Medical Mycology at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine. The article may have had some scientific terms that could be tough to understand for someone that is unfamiliar with medicine or biology. Despite that, it was not written to be misleading and does not describe the infection in a way that would cause panic in the public. Instead, it describes what has happened to cause the outbreak and what researchers and healthcare workers are doing to prevent spread.

Question: The article mentioned that combatting this fungus is an issue because it can be especially hard to identify in labs. What could be a method to properly identify the pathogen?

New Factors Contributing to Parkinson’s Disease

Source: Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock

Title: Even More Evidence Has Linked Parkinson’s Disease to Our Gut Bacteria

Source:  Mark McRae from Science Alert

Date:  March 4, 2017


Summary: Recent evidence has found that Parkinson’s disease may not only be influenced by the brain, but by gut bacteria too. Also, people’s bodies and the microorganisms they have may influence how they respond to the treatment provided to battle Parkinson’s disease. Even though studies are starting to make the link between microbes and Parkinson’s, these studies can help lead microbiologists and other scientists in the direction of making better medications and treatments for those fighting this disease.

Connections: There was a brief moment in the article that mentioned making medications specific to the individual that needs it based on the microbes within their system, which involved genetics. The bioinformatics lab gives us a glimpse into what goes into identifying bacteria based on their genetic sequence and the different functions that the bacteria’s genes carry out.

Critical Analysis: The title of the article caught my attention because I have been hearing more and more about Parkinson’s disease recently. Also, I was curious to see what the author had to say about other factors that play a role in this disease, instead of being just one component of the body. However, the way that the author wrote the article was a little confusing at times because it seemed as though the author would start to go into more details about the studies that they discuss, but then they would quickly become vague what the researchers were saying based on the results from the studies. Also, there were times that the author seemed to be a little disorganized when it came to presenting their thoughts and backing up their argument with a study.

Question:  Since more studies are starting to link bacteria with the cause of Parkinson’s disease, is there a way to protect against these specific bacteria increasing the chances of someone getting Parkinson’s?

What’s Going on With Our Phones?

Title: Scientists Discover 3 New Species of Microbes Growing on Mobile Phones

Source: Press Trust of India from Gadgets

Date: March 6, 2017


Summary: A lot of people have their cell phones attached to their hands wherever they go, but what researchers have recently found is that phones are starting to become a home for a diverse array of microbes. In the midst of their research, scientists came across three new species of bacteria, as well as one new species of fungi. Not only that, but the researchers found that people’s phones contain more species of microbes than what they found on toilet seats. On the plus side, these scientists found that from the phones that they sampled, there were no dangerous bacteria species.

Connections: The microbial world is extremely diverse between the different species of bacteria, fungi, and archaea. Bacteria and fungi can flourish in any place that provides them with the optimal growing conditions, like temperature or amount of light. We have briefly explored how diverse the Bacteria domain is, as well as discussed different types of environmental conditions that assist with the growth and survival of bacteria based on their composition.

Critical Analysis: Reading through this article, I was surprised about how many species of bacteria and fungi grew on the surfaces of our phones. Not only that, but the fact that the researchers behind this study discovered 3 new species of bacteria and 1 new fungal species just further proves how diverse microbes can be. The article presented the findings from the study that would stand out and catch the audience’s attention, so I feel as though the article was scientifically accurate, even briefly including some of the methods used to obtain samples. The author even pointed out where the researchers could enhance the study by taking samples from phones that belong to those who work in the medical field. This article was easy to read and was written in a way that was somewhat entertaining and attention grabbing, which helps the audience stay interested in the material presented. I also liked how I was expecting the article to be all doom-and-gloom, but the authors had a positive tone.

Question: How would the microbial diversity be on phones that were sampled from people that work in healthcare locations, like a hospital? Would there be deadly bacterial strains and would this effect the sterility of an environment that is supposed to be completely sterile?

Sinks as a Reservoir for Bacteria

Title: Turning the water on in a sink can launch pipe-climbing superbugs

Source:  Ars Technica
More Information: Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2017. DOI: 10.1128/AEM.03327-16
Date:  3/2/2017, 3:10 PM
Photo:  Pseudomonas aeruginosa  taken from CDC website


Summary: Around 2004 and 2006 there were issues in a Canadian hospital when patients began to die from outbreaks of  Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Now, researchers  have described how this outbreak occurred. Bacteria can reside in the P-trap of sink piping and slowly climb up with the use of biofilms. When running water hits the bacteria it scatters on surfaces around the sink. This article also describes how researchers ran their experiments and articulates some of the findings.

Connections:  During the cell structure and function unit in class we discussed biofilms. This article describes an instance of when bacteria are using biofilms. Bacteria attach to the surface of pipes and then happily climb the pipes (at rate of 2.5 cm/day) while having nutrients poured down the sink to them.  More specifically, the lethal incident in the Canadian hospital was a result of a biofilm-forming bacteria we talked about in class-  (Pseudomonas aeruginosa) – which is involved with cystic fibrosis.

Critical analysis:  I had never considered that you could find bacteria thriving in sinks and piping underneath sinks . It makes sense though, especially when you consider that people don’t just wash water down sinks but also dump drinks and other fluids that may act as bacterial nutrients. Also, it was a  bit alarming that the study this article was based off of found that bacteria could splatter up to .75 meters away from the sink and onto touchable surfaces. (And that is in addition to the bacteria moving down the piping to head to other sinks if design allowed for it) I found it a bit ironic since the purpose behind P-traps are to trap debris and to prevent  water in the pipes from becoming gaseous and smelling badly. However, while solving those issues, P-traps have created a whole other problem.

I think the article was concise and easy to read for a public audience. The author of this article actually has a  Ph.D. in microbiology and so I trust her interpretation of the science. She also writes in a way that conveyed experimental methods and results easily and understandably. There was no jargon or any writing that would confuse the reader.


What could be done to prevent microbial growth in piping and from sinks becoming a public health issue?

Microbes Dress for Success: Tolerance or Resistance?

Microbes Dress for Success: Tolerance or Resistance? From: Trends In Microbiology, published January 2017

Article Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0966842X1630169X

Summary: “Tolerance,” in terms of host-invader relationship, has long been thought to be attributed to the immune system within the organism. Although the immune system plays the majority role, recent theories have come to include that some members of the intestinal microbiota have developed mechanisms to encourage tolerance defenses and resistance in their hosts. Recent studies have shown some interesting results on this topic, with results in agreement with the theory. One example of this can be seen in a study done on the microbiota of mice; one microorganism was found to promote tolerance to numerous infections by mediating communications between bodily systems.

Connections: Different microbes serve different purposes and have specific “designs” that play a crucial role in their environment. Possible modifications which allow for a symbiotic relationship between both host and intestinal microbe can help us to better understand the interactions between host, microbe,   and invading   microbes.

Critical Analysis: This article contained multiple examples of the topic while also providing a good connection between them and the point to be proved. The article was written in a style that was easy to read (for  a college student) and was relatively easy for someone not in the field of biology (besides general terminology) and was an interesting read. I found the idea of a more diverse host-microbe relationship quite interesting.

Question: What other microbial interactions and symbiotic relationships exist within the intestinal microbiota?