Air pollution is a big problem. It's our single largest environmental health risk, and causes an eighth of all global deaths worldwide.
We know that air pollution increases respiratory diseases and the risk of infections like pneumonia. But now, new research suggests air pollution may alter the properties of bacteria themselves, in some potentially worrying ways.
This month, we spoke to Dr Julie Morrissey from the University of Leicester about the study, and what it means for our health.
Image credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources / Flickr
Earlier this month, the Microbiology Society hosted our Annual Conference 2017 in Edinburgh. While we were there, we managed to catch up with just a few of the researchers presenting posters and giving talks.
First up, we spoke to Kirsty Fraser from Heriot-Watt University about a weird protist pathogen wreaking havoc on golf courses.
Next, Dr Terry McGenity from the University of Essex told us about microbes that can survive for millennia trapped inside salt crystals.
Finally, we spoke with Saskia Rughöft from the Molecular Microbial Ecology Group at the University of Tubingen. Saskia is researching the impact of oil spills and cleanup chemicals on microbes in the ocean.
Music: In the Dust by Alex Fitch
In 1901, Captain Robert Falcon Scott led a team of men on the Discovery Expedition to explore the mysteries of Antarctica.
The expedition is famous for its scientific legacy, including the discovery of snow-free valleys, emperor penguin colonies and the location of the South Magnetic Pole.
But the team also brought back some mysterious life forms living at the bottom of a lake. It took nearly 60 years for scientists to work out what they really were: cyanobacteria.
Dr Anne Jungblut is a microbiologist studying cyanobacteria today at the Natural History Museum. In this episode, we visit the museum to learn more about these microbes, and see the very samples that Scott’s team brought back over 100 years ago….
Music: Alex Fitch
Image: Scott's Expedition Leaving for Antarctica - 1901, Archives New Zealand
Everyone knows the story of the Trojan horse.
The Greeks, in a war against the Trojans, hid some soldiers inside a giant wooden horse and left it outside the city of Troy. Thinking that they’d won, the Trojans dragged the horse inside the city walls. Later that night, the Greek soldiers crept out and sacked Troy from the inside, winning the war.
Our story this month is also set in ancient Troy, and has a few things in common with this mythical tale. There’s no great battle, but there is death. And instead of soldiers hiding inside a wooden horse, it involves some unexpected microbes hiding inside the chest of a woman who died 800 years ago.
We spoke to Caitlin Pepperell from the University of Wisconsin–Madison about her research into this woman’s story, and the remarkable molecular portrait of her life and death that scientists were able to piece together.
Music: Chris Zabriskie
What’s it like to travel right down to the bottom of the ocean?
Deep sea microbiologist Julie Huber should know. Her group, at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts, USA, is trying to uncover more about the microbes living in the deepest darkest depths of the ocean. But that’s not all – there are even microbes living thousands of metres beneath the ocean floor itself, within the rocks and sediment.
This is an environment that couldn’t be more different to our world on land – no light, huge pressures, underwater volcanoes and hardly any nutrients. So what kind of microbes do we see living there, and how do they manage to make a living?
Image credit: NOAA Submarine Ring of Fire 2006
Music: Sacred Motion by staRpauSe
What gives beer its taste? Why do some ales taste of berries, bananas or chocolate?
A big part of the answer is the type of yeast used to ferment it. There are hundreds of different strains that brewers can use to make beer, and many of them can be found at the National Collection of Yeast Cultures in Norwich.
We went for a pint with scientists from the NCYC to find out how different yeasts affect the taste of ales, and learn about their research to find strains that can produce new and better beers.
Music: Live Action Fez – Carol of the Bells
When pathogenic viruses pass from their animal reservoir into humans – known as ‘spillover events’ – the consequences can be severe. For example, it is thought that the West African Ebola outbreak began with an 18-month-old child in Guinea contracting the virus from a wild animal.
To prevent future disease epidemics, we need a better understanding of the nature of spillover events, and the viruses involved in them. In this month’s podcast, we spoke to Professor Jonna Mazet, Director of the One Health Institute at the University of California, Davis. Jonna is also the Global Director of PREDICT, an ambitious project that is trying to identify any pathogens that might pose a threat to human health, and working to build capacity in areas of the world that are at risk of disease emergence.
Image credit: UCDavis
Music: Velella Velella - That's a terrible name for a song
The National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) building in Boston is a high-tech facility for the study of emerging, and re-emerging, microbial diseases of humans and animals. The building, part of Boston University, is equipped up to Biosafety level 4 (BSL-4), allowing the researchers there to safely study dangerous viruses like Ebola or Nipah.
In this episode, we got special access to the facility to have a look round, guided by Professor Paul Duprex, a Microbiology Society member and an Editor of our Journal of General Virology.
On the tour we got to meet the NEIDL’s Director, Professor Ron Corley, who told us about the building’s architecture and function, and talked with Dr Nahid Bhadelia who runs the facility’s back-up medical programme.
Music: Ryan Cross – Out
Image credit: Tim Llewellyn for Boston University Photography
The threat of antibiotic resistance is large and looming. Drugs that once worked miracles are now failing to work at all as bacteria become resistant to them.
This could mean a future where a simple operation, a minor infection, or even a scratch could kill.
In this month's podcast, we bring you a recording from a panel event at New Scientist Live. The discussion is fantastic primer on the issue of antibacterial resistance, why it’s so important that we act now, and what we can all do to prevent it.
Laura Bowater – senior lecturer at Norwich Medical School
Caroline Barker – clinician at University of East Anglia
Anthony McDonnell – head of economic research for the Prime Minister’s Review on Antimicrobial Resistance
Tamar Ghosh – lead on the Longitude Prize to solve antibiotic resistance
The event was organised by the Microbiology Society and the Biochemical Society.
"Every one of us is a zoo in our own right – a colony enclosed within a single body. A multi-species collective. An entire world."
In this episode, we chat to science writer Ed Yong about his upcoming book and The New York Times Bestseller, 'I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life'.
It's a book about the trillions of microbes that live on us and within us; microbes that build our bodies and organs, protect us from disease, shape our behaviour and drive the processes for life on earth.