Editors: Theresa Mau, Alex Taylor, and Kevin Boehnke
What exactly separates us from other animals? For that matter, what makes any species or group of species special? How is life so diverse? How can cephalopods camouflage themselves so well, and how did platypuses become so bizarre?
Part of the answer is in genes. Genes are sections of DNA that perform a specific function, usually after being translated into proteins by special cellular machinery. Every species has genes that code for proteins, but different species have different numbers of genes. Humans have around 20,000, fruit flies have around 18,000, and the tiny water-flea has around 31,000 genes. Different sets of genes produce animals with different structures and functions.
Whether you have heard about it or not, antibiotic resistance is a growing threat that affects us all.
For generations, we have benefited from antibiotics to fight bacterial infections that would otherwise threaten our lives. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of antibiotics is increasingly at risk. Bacterial infections resistant to antibiotics already have already taken a significant toll and the severity of the problem is only growing. In the United States, it already costs us over 23,000 lives and an estimated $55 billion each year.
As we head into a new school year and the colder winter months when illness risks seem to rise, the timing couldn’t be better to remind you that everyone (yes, you!) plays a role in combating this growing problem of antibiotic resistance. But first we need to understand the basics of this problem, including the three major factors at play.
In 1917, almost a century ago, a French-Canadian scientist, Felix d’Herelle, and his colleagues discovered bacteriophage. As I discussed in a previous post, bacteriophage (phage) are the viruses that prey on bacteria, turning them into viral factories. The battle between phage and bacteria has raged for millennia, resulting in a beautiful co-evolution where predator and prey each grapple for a temporary upper hand.
We’ve been exploring the depths of this complex relationship, searching for ways to use this enemy of our enemy as a tool against the bacterial infections that plague us. Along the way, we’ve found a number of different techniques to exploit these micro-allies.
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”
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.