Grand Rounds, and last call for Tangled Bank!

This week’s Grand Rounds is up over at A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure. Ones that caught my eye: Dr. Andy’s discussion of mandatory vaccination; Flea on gambling with meningitis; Orac’s tales of surgery (warning: not quite what you think); a depressing STD tale over at The blog that ate Manhattan; Interested Participant on MRSA, and the always-funny Science Creative Quarterly on Asparagus and stinky pee.

One final reminder for Tangled Bank as well–get those entries to me ASAP. TB goes live tomorrow.

Evolution of resistance–bacteria win again

I’m swamped today, so alas, nothing new from me. However, since many of you are newer readers, I thought I’d totally cheat and dig up one from the archives on antimicrobial resistance. This one I cross-posted to Panda’s Thumb where it received some decent discussion; it was also mentioned in a write-up of Panda’s Thumb featured in Science magazine. I also find it very fitting since we have a number of commenters discussing a number of things microbes “can’t” do, as the post tells the story of one scientist who made a similar comment, was taken up on that, and proven wrong.

Resistance to antibiotics has been a concern of scientists almost since their widespread use began. In a 1945 interview with the New York Times, Alexander Fleming himself warned that the misuse of penicillin could lead to selection of resistant forms of bacteria, and indeed, he’d already derived such strains in the lab by varying doses of penicillin the bacteria were subjected to. A short 5 years later, several hospitals had reported that a majority of their Staph isolates were, as predicted, resistant to penicillin. This decline in effectiveness has led to a search for new sources and kinds of antimicrobial agents. One strategy involves going back to a decades-old approach researched by Soviet scientists: phage therapy. Here, they pit one microbe directly against another, using viruses called bacteriophage to infect, and kill, pathogenic bacteria. Vincent Fischetti at the Rockefeller University has used this successfully to kill anthrax, Streptococcus pyogenes, and others. Another novel source of antibiotics has come from our own innate immune system, one of our initial defenses against microbial invaders.
Continue reading “Evolution of resistance–bacteria win again”

“Flesh eating” bacteria strikes Boulder

Necrotizing fasciitis (the so-called “flesh-eating disease”) is a rare manifestation of infection with the group A streptococcus (Streptococcus pyogenes, though occasionally other bacteria cause it as well). Apparently, it’s been a banner year for the infection in Boulder, Colorado. The Daily Camera (registration required) has the story:

Sixteen months after University of Colorado physicist Eric Cornell lost his left arm and shoulder to a rare, invasive form of strep A, at least three more otherwise healthy Boulder residents have been stricken by the same disease in the past four months.

Two who live within one-half mile of each other developed necrotizing fasciitis, otherwise known as flesh-eating bacteria, and had to have multiple surgeries to remove infected tissue. A third developed an infection in the blood and brain and died within 48 hours after first complaining of an ear infection.
Continue reading ““Flesh eating” bacteria strikes Boulder”

Another virus-cancer link

This time for prostate cancer.

In a surprising discovery, researchers say they have found a virus in some prostate cancer patients, a finding that opens new research avenues in the most common major cancer among men in the United States.

The virus, closely related to one previously found only in mice, was found in cancerous prostates removed from men with a certain genetic defect. The researchers, with the University of California, San Francisco and the Cleveland Clinic, warn that they have not discovered any links between the virus and prostate cancer, but they were nonetheless excited about prospects for future research.

Shouldn’t really be too surprising by now. Entire texts have been written on infectious causes of cancer; this is just one more potential virus to throw into the pot. (And it should be strongly emphasized right now that even the link between the virus and prostate cancer hasn’t been well-established yet, much less a causation. What they have now is an intriguing finding that needs more follow-up).

These findings are again for a symposium presentation, which is always frustrating to me when it’s reported in the news because, even if it’s been published in the literature (and generally it hasn’t yet), they never mention the journal. But the story does mention a bit about their methods:

“This is a class of virus no one would have looked for in prostate cancer,” said UCSF researcher Joe DeRisi, who developed the so-called “gene chip” that made the discovery. DeRisi’s chip contains 20,000 snippets of vital genetic material from every known virus. It is the same chip that confirmed a previously undiscovered virus in the cold family that caused the SARS outbreak three years ago.

There’s some background on the gene chip in this story from 2003 about the identification of SARS, and a PLoS Biology paper on the technique here. It’s a technique with a lot of promise for identifying other previously-unrecognized pathogens as well. I’m still hoping for a breast cancer virus. These have been found in other animals (for example, mice) and have been examined in humans, but nothing solid has come out of that yet. As far as I know, that’s not been tested using the new gene chips, however.

Some posts from elsewhere worth checking out

A lot on my plate this morning, but if you’ve not seen these already from yesterday, check out Respectful Insolence, where Orac has a post on using chemical castration as a treatment for autism. Just when you think things couldn’t get any crazier…

PZ also has a post drawing your attention to a statement in this week’s Science magazine: Medicine needs evolution.

The citation of “Evolution in Action” as Science’s 2005 breakthrough of the year confirms that evolution is the vibrant foundation for all biology. Its contributions to understanding infectious disease and genetics are widely recognized, but its full potential for use in medicine has yet to be realized. Some insights have immediate clinical applications, but most are fundamental, as is the case in other basic sciences. Simply put, training in evolutionary thinking can help both biomedical researchers and clinicians ask useful questions that they might not otherwise pose.

The statement was written in part by Randolph Nesse, an author of the book Why we get sick: the new science of Darwinian medicine. I’ve written before about working on getting doctors involved in the fight to teach good science and voice support for evolution, since medicine is really where the rubber hits the road as far as usefulness of the discoveries and theory of evolutionary biology. The authors make some suggestions:

What actions would bring the full power of evolutionary biology to bear on human disease? We suggest three. First, include questions about evolution in medical licensing examinations; this will motivate curriculum committees to incorporate relevant basic science education. Second, ensure evolutionary expertise in agencies that fund biomedical research. Third, incorporate evolution into every relevant high school, undergraduate, and graduate course. These three changes will help clinicians and biomedical researchers understand that both the human body and its pathogens are not perfectly designed machines but evolving biological systems shaped by selection under the constraints of tradeoffs that produce specific compromises and vulnerabilities. Powerful insights from evolutionary biology generate new questions whose answers will help improve human health.

As was brought up in my previous discussion of physicians and evolution, there are a sizable fraction that are creationists or ID supporters. I don’t know that Neese et al.’s suggestions would reduce that fraction or not, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to show more clearly how evolution permeates so many facets of medicine, instead of having it just as an intro topic you need to study as an undergraduate to get into medical school in the first place.

Phew, that’s a relief!

You don’t need to worry about security.

I don’t know whether having a UAE company manage our ports would increase our vulnerability to terrorism or not, but I find it highly, highly ironic that an administration who’s spent so much time telling us how *not* safe we are (wasn’t electing Kerry going to bring on another terrorist attack?) are now reassuring us that there’s nothing to worry about. I bet the folks in New Orleans would beg to differ.

Discussion of the Padian paper

As promised, a discussion on the paper, Heterosexual transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in northern California: results from a ten-year study.

First, let’s backtrack a bit and see what’s already been said, lest I repeat myself. The little summary below can also catch anyone up who’s not up to wading through 250-odd comments. Those who’ve already done so can skip the quoted parts and scroll down…

[Note: I’ve uploaded a .pdf of the Padian paper for anyone to access Here.]
Continue reading “Discussion of the Padian paper”

Animalcules vol. 1.2

Good morning! Welcome to your semimonthly dose of wholesome microbial goodness.

Lots on your plate this morning.

To whet your appetite, check out a study described over at Biology News examining the genomics of bacteria that cause ehrlichiosis. While you’re there, you might want to do some jaw exercises by repeating the names of the bacteria examined: Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Ehrlichia chaffeensis, and Neorickettsia sennetsu. Talk about a mouthful.

Speaking of mouthful, PharmaBawd’s all about the herpes viruses, including chicken pox (varicella) and HHV-8: the cause of Kaposi’s sarcoma. Grab a salad, ’cause you’re going to want something to cleanse your palate after reading her post.

Mike the not-only-mad-but-also-famous biologist offers you an extra refreshing beverage, though you may want to hold the ice. And make sure you wash your hands–Mike edumacates you on the origin of antimicrobial resistance, and why more education is a good thing.

Microbial diversity is the main course today. Lunchlady Sandra fills you in on a project at Johns Hopkins, getting students involved in examining the microbial diversity all around them, while her co-worker Ruth discusses marriage–specifically, that of microbial ecology and environmental biotechnology to harness some of this diversity in order to benefit not only humans but the environment.

For dessert, Joseph cooks up a bioterrorism attack scenario. Not like Grandma used to make, I’d dare say.

Ewen’s responsible for the non-edible portion today, filling us in on how West Nile relates to Poison. No, not that poison. This Poison.————->
If that’s not exactly your cup of tea, check out his interview with astrobiologist Norman Pace, who studies extremophiles on earth in order to get an idea of what life on other planets may be like.

Someone must have forgotten to do the dishes, ’cause I see something scummy growing. Paul fills us in on the culprit–likely a bacterial biofilm. He also shares an idea that may help to eradicate it.

Of course, after a big meal, nothing sounds better than a nap. Speaking of which, gee, I wonder–do microbes “nap?” Whaddya know–Coturnix discusses circadian clocks–and it appears that at least some microbes do indeed possess one.

That’s it for this week. Be sure to stop back by in 2 weeks, where Animalcules will make its last stop here for awhile before it goes on the road–and again, let me know if you’re interested in hosting. Check out the schedule for available dates–I’ll fill ’em as I get volunteers.

Wasn’t this a Law & Order episode?

New York man falls ill with anthrax

Musician reportedly had contact with natural anthrax sources

A New York musician has tested positive for anthrax that authorities say came from unprocessed animal skins used to make traditional African instruments.

“The man poses no public health threat of transmitting anthrax to the community or the health care providers caring for him,” the department said in a statement.

The 44-year-old man recently traveled to Africa, where he bought animal hides and took them back to New York City to make drums, the department said.

The man, who plays native African music, complained of flu-like symptoms before collapsing last week at the end of the Kotchegna Dance Company show at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania, sources said.

“At this time, there is no indication that the exposure was from an intentional release of anthrax,” according to a release from the department. “The patient has a history of contact with unprocessed animal hides and recently traveled to Africa, where he purchased unprocessed hides.”

It adds, “Unprocessed animal hides can be a source of anthrax spores.”

I don’t watch much TV, but I admit I’m a bit of an addict to Law & Order (regular and SVU) reruns. I swear this was the plot in one of them.

Lest it be said that I shirk from dares…

One last picture and then that will probably be it for me today (too much to catch up on!) I mentioned here the ugliest childhood picture ever. Joseph over at Immunoblogging decided to call me out and double/triple/quadruple dare me to post the pic. Be warned: not every kid in glasses is cute. I don’t have a scanner handy, so I took a picture of the picture with my digital camera. I ain’t responsible for broken monitors and the like that may result…