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3D Human Skin Maps Aid Study of Relationships Between Molecules, Microbes and Environment
Data reveals diversity in molecular and microbial composition, as well as prevalence of personal hygiene products

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences used information collected from hundreds of skin swabs to produce three-dimensional maps of molecular and microbial variations across the body. These maps provide a baseline for future studies of the interplay between the molecules that make up our skin, the microbes that live on us, our personal hygiene routines and other environmental factors. The study, published March 30 by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may help further our understanding of the skin’s role in human health and disease.

“This is the first study of its kind to characterize the surface distribution of skin molecules and pair that data with microbial diversity,” said senior author Pieter Dorrestein, PhD, professor of pharmacology in the UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy. “Previous studies were limited to select areas of the skin, rather than the whole body, and examined skin chemistry and microbial populations separately.”

To sample human skin nearly in its entirety, Dorrestein and team swabbed 400 different body sites of two healthy adult volunteers, one male and one female, who had not bathed, shampooed or moisturized for three days. They used a technique called mass spectrometry to determine the molecular and chemical composition of the samples. They also sequenced microbial DNA in the samples to identify the bacterial species present and map their locations across the body. The team then used MATLAB software to construct 3D models that illustrated the data for each sampling spot.

Despite the three-day moratorium on personal hygiene products, the most abundant molecular features in the skin swabs still came from hygiene and beauty products, such as sunscreen. According to the researchers, this finding suggests that 3D skin maps may be able to detect both current and past behaviors and environmental exposures. The study also demonstrates that human skin is not just made up of molecules derived from human or bacterial cells. Rather, the external environment, such as plastics found in clothing, diet, hygiene and beauty products, also contribute to the skin’s chemical composition. The maps now allow these factors to be taken into account and correlated with local microbial communities.

“This is a starting point for future investigations into the many factors that help us maintain, or alter, the human skin ecosystem — things like personal hygiene and beauty practices — and how those variations influence our health and susceptibility to disease,” Dorrestein said.

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Anglo Saxon remedy kills hospital superbug MRSA

30 March 2015 by Clare Wilson, New Scientist Magazine  (photo source)

Take cropleek and garlic, of both equal quantities, pound them well together… take wine and bullocks gall, mix with the leek… let it stand nine days in the brass vessel…

So goes a thousand-year-old Anglo Saxon recipe to vanquish a stye, an infected eyelash follicle.

The medieval medics might have been on to something. A modern-day recreation of this remedy seems to alleviate infections caused by the bacteria that are usually responsible for styes. The work might ultimately help create drugs for hard-to-treat skin infections.

The project was born when a microbiologist at the University of Nottingham, UK, got talking to an Anglo Saxon scholar. They decided to test a recipe from an Old English medical compendium called Bald’s Leechbook, housed in the British Library.

Some of the ingredients, such as copper from the brass vessel, kill bacteria grown in a dish – but it was unknown if they would work on a real infection or how they would combine.

Sourcing authentic ingredients was a major challenge, says Freya Harrison, the microbiologist. They had to hope for the best with the leeks and garlic because modern crop varieties are likely to be quite different to ancient ones – even those branded as heritage. For the wine they used an organic vintage from a historic English vineyard.

As “brass vessels” would be hard to sterilise – and expensive – they used glass bottles with squares of brass sheet immersed in the mixture. Bullocks gall was easy, though, as cow’s bile salts are sold as a supplement for people who have had their gall bladders removed.

After nine days of stewing, the potion had killed all the soil bacteria introduced by the leek and garlic. “It was self-sterilising,” says Harrison. “That was the first inkling that this crazy idea just might have some use.”

A side effect was that it made the lab smell of garlic. “It was not unpleasant,” says Harrison. “It’s all edible stuff. Everyone thought we were making lunch.”

The potion was tested on scraps of skin taken from mice infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. This is an antibiotic-resistant version of the bacteria that causes styes, more commonly known as the hospital superbug MRSA. The potion killed 90 per cent of the bacteria. Vancomycin, the antibiotic generally used for MRSA, killed about the same proportion when it was added to the skin scraps.

Unexpectedly, the ingredients had little effect unless they were all brought together. “The big challenge is trying to find out why that combination works,” says Steve Diggle, another of the researchers. Do the components work in synergy or do they trigger the formation of new potent compounds?

Using exactly the right method also seems to be crucial, says Harrison, as another group tried to recreate the remedy in 2005 and found that their potion failed to kill bacteria grown in a dish. “With the nine-day waiting period, the preparation turned into a kind of loathsome, odorous slime,” says Michael Drout of Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.

If the 9th Century recipe does lead to new drugs, they might be useful against MRSA skin infections such as those that cause foot ulcers in people with diabetes. “These are usually antibiotic-resistant,” says Diggle. However, he doesn’t recommend people try this at home.

It wouldn’t be the first modern drug to be derived from ancient manuscripts – the widely used antimalarial drug artemisinin was discovered by scouring historical Chinese medical texts.

Harrison is due to present the research at the Society for General Microbiology conference in Birmingham, UK, this week.

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Proteus OX19 and the Polish Schindler,

Proteus OX19 is a strain of the bacterium Proteus vulgaris, a simple gram negative bacteria that is commonly found in dirt and water.  It is a fairly unremarkable bacteria, some exposed to it might suffer urinary tract infections or infections of wounds.  However, most infected with the bacteria will suffer few symptoms as the body’s immune system eradicates the invading microbe.  It does have one interesting reaction, however.  People exposed to Proteus OX19 often test false positive for typhus, a disease which is much deadlier and can cause terrible outbreaks and epidemics.

When Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1st, 1939, Dr. Eugeniusz Lazowski served as an army doctor with the Polish Army.  After the occupation of Poland by Germany, Dr. Lazowski returned home to Rozwadow to continue his private medical practice.  However, he heard news of mass deportations of Poles and Jews by the Nazi’s.  Hundreds of thousands of Jews were being rounded up and deported to concentration camps.  Hundreds of thousands of Poles were also being deported to Germany as forced labor.  It was only a matter of time before the Germans demanded the deportation of Poles from Rozwadow, and Lazowski was determined that the Nazi’s would go empty handed.

Lazowski solution was ingenious and audacious; to keep the Germans away from Rozwadow by simulating a fake typhus epidemic. At the time, Germany was terrified of the prospect of a typhus outbreak spreading across the Fatherland, and strict protocols were in place to isolate and quarantine infected areas.  Inspired by the Proteus microbe, Lazowski informed German medical officials that Rozwadow was being ravaged by a terrible typhus epidemic.  With the help of his friend, Dr Stanisław Matulewicz, Dr. Lazowski injected the people of Rozwadow with proteus OX19, as well as the residents of several nearby Jewish ghettos, so that they would all test false positive for typhus.  He then sent blood samples to German medical officials.  As predicted, the samples all tested false positive for typhus.

In response, the Germans sent three medical inspectors to assess the seriousness of the epidemic.  The three inspectors were greeted cordially and plied with food and generous amounts of vodka.  They were then given a short tour of the town.  Due to fears of contracting the disease, the Germans only made a cursory examination of the town.  Then they were led to a fake medical ward filled with severely ill patients.  Dr. Lazowski claimed they were suffering from typhus, and again due to the German’s fear of contracting the disease, they made no medical assessments.  Instead they took Dr. Lazowski at his word and sped out of Razwadow, declaring the town and surrounding area to be in a state of quarantine.  Little did they know, the so called “patients” the German’s were led to were people with flu and pneumonia, told to act as sick as possible.

Due to the quarantine, the Germans never deported anyone from Razwadow or the ghettos.  As a result, he is credited with saving 8,000 Jews from certain death, and thousands of other Poles from deportation.  Throughout the rest of the war he lent his medical services to the Polish resistance, and worked to smuggle Jews to safety from the Nazi’s.  After the war he moved to the United States and worked as a pediatrician.  He died in 2006 at the age of 96.

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A tardigrade (waterbear) hatching. 

Tardigrades reproduce sexually and females lay eggs. She’ll actually shed her skin first and then lay her eggs inside of it. The babies then hatch from their eggs and then have to crawl out of the skin husk. Fun fact: tardigrades are born with the same number of cells as their adult counterparts - their cells just get bigger as they age. 

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Bacteria that thrive on your Mobile Phone

This week the University of Surrey in England released images of the types of bacteria that live on cell phones.

Scientist at the university put their phones in petri dishes containing agar—a gelatinous substance, obtained from algae that is supplemented with nutrients—to document the bacteria’s growth over three days. Though the images look gross most of the bacteria are harmless, and the final photos give a close-up view of the microscopic world with which we all intimately interact on a daily basis.

The most troublesome bacterium found was staphylococcus aureus that can cause skin rash, respiratory disease and food poisoning. The boffins at Surrey thought the staphylococcus aureus contamination had been caused by someone picking their nose.

Dr. Simon Park, senior lecturer in molecular biology told the Daily Mirror:

“From these results, it seems that the mobile phone doesn’t just remember telephone numbers, but also harbours a history of our personal and physical contacts such as other people, soil and other matter,” he said.

“[The experiment] was a way of showing [our students] directly and quite strikingly how contaminated their phones could be.”

The best advice to stopping this kind on bacteria thriving on your smart or cell phone is simply to clean it every week with some disinfectant. [Daily Mirror]

+Previously: The hidden life on your phone – the bacteria that lurk on your mobile

First new antibiotic in 30 years discovered in major breakthrough

The first new antibiotic to be discovered in nearly 30 years has been hailed as a ‘paradigm shift’ in the fight against the growing resistance to drugs.

Teixobactin has been found to treat many common bacterial infections such as tuberculosis, septicaemia and C. diff, and could be available within five years.

But more importantly it could pave the way for a new generation of antibiotics because of the way it was discovered.

Scientists have always believed that the soil was teeming with new and potent antibiotics because bacteria have developed novel ways to fight off other microbes.

But 99 per cent of microbes will not grow in laboratory conditions leaving researchers frustrated that they could not get to the life-saving natural drugs.

Now a team from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, have discovered a way of using an electronic chip to grow the microbes in the soil and then isolate their antibiotic chemical compounds.

They discovered that one compound, Teixobactin, is highly effective against common bacterial infections Clostridium difficile, Mycobacterium tuberculous and Staphylococcus aureus.

Professor Kim Lewis, Director of the Antimicrobial Discovery Centre said: “Apart from the immediate implementation, there is also I think a paradigm shift in our minds because we have been operating on the basis that resistance development is inevitable and that we have to focus on introducing drugs faster than resistance

“Teixobactin shows how we can adopt an alternative strategy and develop compounds to which bacteria are not resistant.”

More

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Microbes Discovered In Massive Aquifers Two Miles Below Seafloor

Scientists probing the mysterious world buried under two miles of ocean water and seafloor have discovered new species of microbes that live on sulfates.

The organisms, found by researchers at NASA and the universities of Southern California and Hawaii, have yet to be classified or named and appear to live in buried aquifers under the crust that makes up ocean bottoms.

Scientists now estimate up to a third of the planet’s total mass of living organisms exist in these isolated aquifers made of porous basaltic rock below the oceans. Such large stores of living microbes could play a major role in the global carbon cycle.

See below for a video, a graphic on the work and to read more.

Keep reading

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Have We Found Alien Life?

Kenneth Nealson is looking awfully sane for a man who’s basically just told me that he has a colony of aliens incubating in his laboratory.

We’re huddled in his modest office at the University of Southern California (USC), on the fifth floor of Stauffer Hall. Nealson is wearing a rumpled short-sleeve shirt, a pair of old suede loafers, white socks—your standard relaxed academic attire—and leaning back comfortably in his chair. An encouraging collection of academic awards hangs on one wall. Propped behind him is a well-worn guitar, which he sometimes breaks out to accompany his wife’s singing. And across the hall is the explanation for his quiet confidence: beakers and bottles full of bacteria that are busily breaking the long-accepted rules of biology.

Life, Nealson is explaining, all comes down to energy. From the mightiest blue whale to the most humble microbe, every organism depends on moving and manipulating electrons; it’s the fuel that living matter uses to survive, grow, and reproduce. The bacteria at USC depend on energy, too, but they obtain it in a fundamentally different fashion. They don’t breathe in the sense that you and I do. In the most extreme cases, they don’t consume any conventional food, either. Instead, they power themselves in the most elemental way: by eating and breathing electricity. Nealson gestures at his lab. That’s what they are doing right there, right now.

“All the textbooks say it shouldn’t be possible,” he says, “but by golly, those things just keep growing on the electrode, and there’s no other source of energy there.”Growing on the electrode.It sounds incredible. Nealson pivots on his chair to face me and gives a mischievous grin. “It is kind of like science fiction,” he says. To a biologist, finding life that chugs along without a molecular energy source such as carbohydrates is about as unlikely as seeing passengers flying through the air without an airplane.

Continue Reading.

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How brain parasites change their host’s behavior

The biggest challenge in a parasite’s life is to move from one host to another. Intriguingly, many parasites have evolved the ability to manipulate the behavior of their hosts to improve their own survival — sometimes even by direct brain control. Jaap de Roode details a few parasites that can really mess with the mind.

View full lesson: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-parasites-change-their-host-s-behavior-jaap-de-roode

Lesson by Jaap de Roode, animation by Andrew Foerster.

By: TED-Ed.