News from the cutting edge of microbiological research

This week the Society for General Microbiology (SGM) is holding their fall meeting at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and weat Nobel Intent are keen to bring our readers the cutting edge of research in the field. The material presented here is from conference lectures and posters, which precede peer-reviewed publications. While the individual studies have not yet undergone peer-review, this work was deemed important enough to be presented to the microbiology community at large. HangZhou Night Net

One of the major risks of staying in a hospital is the possibility of acquiring an infection. Most infections can be cured with a simple course of antibiotics, but recent outbreaks ofmethicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are cause for alarm since traditional remedies don't work. Professor Gerald Pier from Harvard Medical School reported on work that alters the complex sugarPNAG and uses it as an MRSA vaccine. Through chemical manipulation, researchers have found a way to successfully elicit an immune response to the ccompound in animals. In addition to acting as a potential vaccine, the group has created antibodies that can be administered to patients at risk of an infection, and hope to begin using it on humans in the next 12 to 18 months.

Staying on the topic of infections in hospitals, the best way to avoid them is clearly to not let harmful bacteria spread. Research presented in another seminar at the conference looked at a material, already used in buildings, that may be able to stop bacteria dead: paint. Researchers found that titanium dioxide, the compound that makes white paint white, has antibacterial properties on the nanoscale when excited by UV light. Through some tweaking, they found that they could kill E. Coli bacteria using this paint and normal florescent lights. However, other typical paint additives lessened the effectiveness.

While the best way to stay healthy is to not get infected in the first place, a third group of researchers looked at way of using light to cure infections.Dr. Ghada Omar from University College in London reports on his group's work using a green dye and near-infrared light to kill MRSA bacteria. The dye, indocyanine green, is harmless to humans but, when excited with near-IR light, it emits a toxic chemical that kills bacteria in the presence of oxygen. Dr. Omar reports that "even with low oxygen levels, a very wide range of bacteria were killed, including over 70% of Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus aureus."

Moving from infections that can come from hospitals to infections that can come from restaurants and food, sessions at the conference discussed research into methods to reduce and prevent food-borne illnesses. Dr Jeong-Weon Huh found that, if a brass plate is placed at the bottom of fish tanks, then the risk of food poisoning from eating the tank's content can be greatly reduced. Work has shown that copper ions from the brass can kill off Vibrio, a bacterium related to cholera that lives on the fish. Dr. Huh's work found that the brass plate killed off over 99.99 percent of Vibrio bacterium after 40 hours in the tank. This work explains why raw fish and shellfish served in traditional Korean bowls calledbangzza is safer: bangzza kitchenware is 78 percent copper.

Researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University discussed findings that suggest that food-borne illness can be reduced by changing food preparation surfaces from stainless steel to titanium. While the work mentioned above showed that TiO2 can kill bacteria, the reduction in bacteria here comes from the fact that titanium is hard to scratch, dent, or damage. The researchers found that different types of bacteria readily hide in different sized and shaped scratches in steel surfaces, even after cleaning—Listeria was found to remain in scratches less than half a micron across. The presenters believe that a harder titanium coating will reduce the space for bacteria to hide.

Finally, at least as far as our coverage of the conference goes, is work that found that Listeria can exist on surfaces for longer periods of time if they get a little help from their friends. Researchers from the University of Nottingham found that if Pseudomonas fluorescens—another food spoilage bacteria—is present on surfaces, then Listeria monocytogenes will have a much easier time attaching to the surface. The same work also examined the effect of various meats on surfaces, and found that bacteria can more readily stick on surfaces where duck was prepared compared to other types of meat, such as beef, pork, lamb, chicken. For the duck lovers among us, be extra careful dealing with your cooking surfaces; no matter how tasty that duck carpaccio might be, food poisoning will surely ruin it.

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