MCR-1 and a Post-Antibiotic Future

The first observation of a bacterial gene called MCR-1 in the United States has scientists worried, if not surprised. The gene provides resistance to colistin, an antibiotic with nasty side effects used to combat multidrug-resistant bacteria. On Aetiology, Tara C. Smith writes “colistin has seen a new life in the last decade or so as a last line of defense against some of these almost-untreatable infections.” But now, bacteria wielding MCR-1 threaten to leave humans defenseless. On The Pump Handle, Liz Borkowski explains “MCR-1 is of particular concern because it’s carried on a plasmid, a small piece of DNA that can easily transfer from one strain of bacteria to another.” This raises the specter of future pathogens resistant to all known antibiotics. As Smith writes, “I’m not an advocate of panic myself, but I do think this is yet another concern and another hit on our antibiotic arsenal.”


Ebola: Horror and Hope for a Cure

As an unprecedented outbreak of Ebola crosses borders in West Africa, people are asking new questions about the virus and its potential to turn into a global pandemic (hint: it’s not gonna happen). Greg Laden writes “The disease is too hot to not burn itself out, and it has no human reservoir. Ebola accidentally broke into the human population earlier this year or late last year.” The current numbers from the WHO suggest 1800 confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola so far with a mortality rate edging down toward 55%.

Last week some in the U.S. objected to bringing two American patients back home, but Tara C. Smith writes that Ebola has been there all along, in government labs, while related viruses like Lassa and Marburg have been imported by infected travelers without causing additional cases. The one characteristic of Ebola we can be thankful for is that it is only spread through contact with bodily fluids, not through the air like a cold or flu. Smith concludes, “Ebola is exotic and its symptoms can be terrifying, but also much easier to contain by people who know their stuff.” Meanwhile, Greg Laden writes that an extremely rare, untested ‘cure’ for the illness does exist, and it has also been given to the two infected Americans. He’s referring to anti-serum, i.e. blood serum containing natural Ebola antibodies modelled after those generated by infected mice. On Discovering Biology in a Digital World, Sandra Porter shows how the antibodies lock onto viral proteins, and says it is time to focus on mass-producing an effective antiserum for this horrible disease. On ERV, Abbie Smith explains how the manufacturing process works: genetically modifying viruses to contain blueprints for parts of Ebola antibodies, putting the viruses in bacteria as delivery vehicles, and using the bacteria to infect GMO tobacco plants whose cellular machinery will be hijacked to make molecules. Smith writes, “Plants are a pretty cheap way to produce a lot of protein. Blow up the plant cells, purify your protein, and BAM! A ton of anti-Ebola antibodies.”

Last Week on

Scientists use a ‘gene gun’ to insert a gene from a flowering plant called rockcress into the cells of wheat seeds. The genetically modified wheat became more resistant to a fungus called take-all, which in real life can cause “a 40-60% reduction in wheat yields.”

T-cells from six HIV+ patients were removed from their bodies, treated with a zinc-finger nuclease designed to snip a gene out of the cell’s DNA, and put back in the patients.  Removal of the gene mimics a naturally occurring mutation which confers resistance to the HIV virus.  But only 25% of the treated cells showed evidence of being successfully edited.

Researchers “use time-resolved X-ray microtomography to visualize the muscles and hinges in three-dimensions” of fly wings, modelling the complex physical processes that enable flies’ flight.

Even with the cost of building new energy storage infrastructure, wind energy will continue to offer a net gain of power.  Plus: wind produces enough surplus electricity to offer 72 hours of backup power (vs. 24 hours for solar panels).  Researchers say that the industry of onshore wind turbines can “double in size each year—and still maintain an energy surplus.”

Researchers cremated the remains of young piglets to investigate why there’s little evidence of high infant mortality in the archaeological record. To no avail.

Men in ‘traditional’ marriages (whose wives are not employed) are more likely to look negatively upon women in the workplace.

Regardless of the structural integrity of a shoulder (rotator cuff) repair, patients have improved function and reduced pain after surgery.

Stem cells are influenced by the rigidity of the substrate they grew up on: “spending 10 days on a particular bed leads to irreversible future differentiation of the stem cells into stiff-environment-loving bone or soft-loving fat cells.”  That could lead to considerable demand for a new scaffolding material “based on a biocompatible silk-alginate hydrogel” which can be made to varying standards of firmness.

By appearing to tap test subjects on the hand with a small hammer while playing the recorded sounds of a hammer tapping stone, researchers made people feel their hands were more stone-like (or numb).

A gene coincidentally named FAT10 ( for F Adjacent Transcript) actually “regulates lipid metabolism and longevity,” and model mice who lacked the gene were leaner, had a faster metabolism, and lived up to 20% longer.

Encapsulating immature pancreatic cells grown from human stem cells and implanting them under the skin of mice showed the cells could produce insulin whenever needed and reduce diabetic symptoms.

The CDC revised it autism prevalence rate upward again; in 2010 about 1 in 68 eight-year-olds had an autism spectrum disorder.

At age six, children award beneficial resources to members of their ‘in-group;’ at age eight they also assign harmful or negative resources to members of an ‘out-group.’

People with OCD were less likely than controls to believe they could influence a light bulb by pressing a space bar whenever they want. The light bulb blinked randomly on and off.

A virus affecting crickets not only sterilizes them, but makes them more eager to initiate courtship. Males perhaps uninhibited by the virus would start playing a courtship song for a female much sooner than their healthy peers.  Intimacy may be the virus’s way of spreading.

Within the ultrapure water purification system of a nuclear reactor, scientists found oligotrophic bacteria, including new species, growing in biofilms “visible to the naked eye” on ceramic filter surfaces.