Virus vs. Bacteria: Mortal combat

By Ada Hagan

Every predator is prey to something. The antelope falls to the lion, the lion falls to the human, and the human, to viruses and bacteria. Bacterial infection is one of the things we fear most. Infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria can conquer the strongest and smartest of us.  But… do the bacteria that live in and around us, that even prey on us, have a predator themselves?

Yes. They do. There is an enormous amount of variety in viruses and the types of cells they infect, so just as there are viruses that infect human cells, there are viruses called bacteriophages that prey on bacteria. Like other predators and their prey, bacteriophages and bacteria are locked in a bitter evolutionary arms race. Continue reading “Virus vs. Bacteria: Mortal combat”

The fecal frontier

By Kevin Boehnke

Written for the prompt: What is the most important fundamental mystery in biology today that, if unlocked by basic research, would yield the greatest dividends for human health?

Poop. For good reason (it harbors deadly pathogens), this ubiquitous, noxious substance provokes an instinctive reaction of disgust. Despite the near-universality of poop and fart jokes, humans have spent much time, energy, and money to avoid contact with feces. Yet poop has great potential to improve human health through medical treatments,prevent disease through microbiome maintenance, and mitigate effects of antibiotic resistance. A better understanding of poop could improve millions of lives and save billions of dollars per year in healthcare costs. Continue reading “The fecal frontier”

Peanuts and probiotics

By Ada Hagan

Image Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/peanuts-nuts-food-peanut-healthy-316608/
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George Washington Carver, probably without realizing it, was one of the first proponents of plant probiotics. Carver was a faculty member at the Tuskegee Institute in the early 1900’s and re-introduced the concept of crop rotation with peanuts, soy, and other legumes to U.S. agriculture. By alternating corn and cotton crops with peanuts, farmers could replenish the nutrients in the soil but continue harvesting a cash crop. Legumes are an intriguing type of plant since they rely on bacteria, such as Rhizobia, that grow in specialized nodules on their roots to provide them with nutrients, like nitrogen. In return, the plants supply the bacteria with sugars and oxygen for growth, a symbiotic exchange for nutrients the legumes cannot produce themselves.

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The budding brain: How yeast give rise to treatments for neurodegenerative diseases

By Sara Wong

What do humans and baker’s yeast have in common? Surprisingly, they share a massive amount of genetic information and are governed by many of the same cellular processes. Although yeast do not have organs or limbs, they work like human cells and can be used to study a wide range of human diseases. Yeast are cheap, grow quickly, and are easily manipulated. These qualities allow scientists who study yeast to discover new genes and pathways relatively easily compared to other model organisms, like mice. One area of yeast research focuses on understanding neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

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The how and why of a universal flu vaccine

By Shauna Bennett

A new school year has started, crispness is returning to the night air, the maple leaves are reddening, and everything is pumpkin spiced. This can only mean… flu season is coming.

The influenza (flu) virus is associated with thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations each year, and flu season has become synonymous with the winter months. The best way to combat flu infections is the vaccine offered each fall. The seasonal flu vaccine has its limitations, however, due to its extensive development process.

What would it take to make a vaccine that doesn’t need to be revamped every year? Scientists are getting close to an answer, but it’s easier said than done.

Continue reading “The how and why of a universal flu vaccine”