Flesh-eating bacteria in Australia might be spread by mosquitoes

September 25, 2017 by  
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Cases of infections from a flesh-eating bacteria seem to be increasing in Australia . The bacteria Mycobacterium ulcerans can bring about Buruli ulcers, non-healing sores that slowly grow bigger. The ulcers are already a huge health issue in West Africa , and now Australia seems to be experiencing more cases. Scientists aren’t quite sure how humans get infected – though they suspect either possums or mosquitoes . Victoria, Australia saw 89 reported cases of Buruli ulcers in 2014. In 2015, that number increased to 107, and in 2016 it was 182. Already, as of this month in 2017, there have been 159 reported cases, according to Allen Cheng, professor in infectious diseases epidemiology at Monash University , who wrote an article on the flesh-eating bacteria for The Conversation. Related: This billboard imitates human sweat to snare mosquitoes 32 countries in West Africa have seen cases of Buruli ulcers, which grow larger usually on arms or legs for weeks or months. Advanced infections sometimes result in amputation, and in the past people thought surgery was necessary to treat the ulcers. Now, most cases in Australia can be cured with antibiotics , and there’s a trial in Africa testing treatment with antibiotics. It’s not clear how people get infected, although Cheng said circumstantial evidence seems to point towards mosquitoes. The bacteria can be found in the insects, and infections often occur on exposed areas of the body where mosquitoes bite. But researchers also discovered possums, and their feces, seemed to be infected where there have been human cases. Cheng also pointed out that infections happen in areas of the world with different animal and mosquito species. He said early diagnosis is key; the infection is easier to treat before it spreads, but does grow slowly. He recommended asking a doctor about unexplained sores or lumps, especially if they persist for a long time. And even though we can’t say for sure if mosquito bites do spread the bacteria, Cheng recommended mosquito repellents and covering up skin as a way to try and prevent infection. Via The Conversation Images via Pixabay ( 1 , 2 )

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Flesh-eating bacteria in Australia might be spread by mosquitoes

These cyborg bacteria are better at photosynthesis than plants

August 24, 2017 by  
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Could cyborg bacteria generate clean power in the future? Researchers at UC Berkeley covered bacteria with small semiconductors that function like solar panels in order to see how much of the sun’s energy they could capture. The cyborg bacteria have a solar efficiency of 80% – which is four times greater than commercial solar panels and six times greater than the chlorophyll plants use in photosynthesis . Researchers in Peidong Yang’s laboratory gave the nonphotosynthetic bacterium Moorella thermoacetica cadmium, and the bacteria’s natural defense allowed it to produce cadmium sulfide crystals which accrued on the outside of their bodies and essentially acted as mini solar panels. The bacteria normally can produce acetic acid – which can be used for fuel, plastics, or pharmaceuticals – with carbon dioxide (CO2). But using their tiny solar panels, they were able to create acetic acid more efficiently with CO2, light, and water. Related: Cambridge scientists use light and plants to make cheap, clean hydrogen Kelsey Sakimoto of Harvard University , a past member of Yang’s group, told the BBC, “It’s shamefully simple, we’ve harnessed a natural ability of these bacteria that had never been looked at through this lens…You grow them in their liquid broth and you just add small aliquots of cadmium solution and you wait a couple of days and out pops these photosynthetic organisms. It’s all very simple, mix-in-a-pot chemistry .” Artificial photosynthesis techniques can be expensive, but big vats of liquid, in which the bacteria can be kept in sunlight, are really all that’s needed for this new process, so it could work well even in rural areas or developing countries . The self-replicating, self-regenerating bacteria offer a zero-waste technology, according to UC Berkeley. Sakimoto and Yang presented the research at the recent meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C. Via the BBC , The Verge , and the University of California, Berkeley Images via planetMitch aunger on Unsplash and Kelsey K. Sakimoto

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These cyborg bacteria are better at photosynthesis than plants

Inexpensive new battery generates power with just a drop of saliva

August 10, 2017 by  
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In addition to aiding digestion, it turns out saliva can also power batteries. Researchers at Binghamton University discovered this while inventing a small, paper-based battery that generates energy when mixed with a drop of saliva. The batteries, which are more like tiny microbial fuel cells, are inexpensive to make and could be used in natural disasters and remote settings where on-demand power is hard (if not impossible) to come by. As a result, access to medical care and screenings in rural settings could improve. Binghamton University Electrical and Computer Science Assistant Professor Seokheun Choi spent the past five years developing the micro-power sources. His ultimate goal was to find a way to power medical diagnostic tests in poverty-stricken regions; finally, he succeeded at developing paper-based bacteria -powered batteries “On-demand micro-power generation is required especially for point-of-care diagnostic applications in developing countries,” said Choi. “Typically, those applications require only several tens of microwatt-level power for several minutes, but commercial batteries or other energy harvesting technologies are too expensive and over-qualified. Also, they pose environmental pollution issues.” Related: Indian startup pioneers new battery swapping system for electric buses The batteries contain freeze-dried exoelectrogenic cells which generate power when saliva is added. Astonishingly, with just one drop of spit, the paper batteries can produce enough power for low-power biological sensors in just a matter of minutes. Eureka Alert reports that a benefit of freeze drying the cells is that they can be stored for a long time before use. This means they can be stocked in medical clinics around the world. An additional perk is that the required biological fluid (saliva) can be easily obtained anywhere, anytime. At present, the battery can only produce a few microwatts of power per square centimeter. However, Choi and his research assistant, Maedeh Mohammadifar, are working on boosting the output. In the future, the team hopes to make the paper batteries more robust so they can sustain devices other than LED lights when connected in a series. The paper, “A Papertronic, On-Demand and Disposable Biobattery: Saliva-Activated Electricity Generation from Lyophilized Exoelectrogens Preinoculated on Paper,” was published in Advanced Materials Technologies. + Binghamton University Via Eureka Alert Images via  Binghamton University , Pixabay

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Inexpensive new battery generates power with just a drop of saliva

This tiny off-grid cabin in the UK is clad with reclaimed slate tiles

June 27, 2017 by  
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This rustic writer’s retreat in UK’s Snowdonia National Park is covered with local stone and slate tiles reclaimed from nearby farms. Architecture studio TRIAS based the Slate Cabin’s design around local and historically significant materials, with carefully arranged openings that capture small vignettes and views of the gorgeous hills and pastures of Wales. The cabin is set in a lush green valley surrounded by Snowdonia National Park. The structure has a simple, rectangular volume and muted exterior contrasted by the warm birch interior. The interior is bright and simple, with a single room for essential activities– sleeping, cooking, resting and relaxing– and a bathroom tucked behind. The bed sits up on a raised platform, and pulls back at one end to provide space for a seat and desk. Related: Trek-in prefab cabin offers luxury sustainable lodgings for campers The bed head does double duty to support a built-in seat and table. Stairs to the bed platform are a space to store books and shoes, while a shelf above the bathroom acts as a slot for stashing hiking packs. A continuous lantern of high windows bathe the space in natural light , while smaller openings offer curated views of the surrounding landscape. + TRIAS Via Uncrate Photos via Epic Retreats

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This tiny off-grid cabin in the UK is clad with reclaimed slate tiles

Superbug resistant to last-resort antibiotics found on US pig farm

December 9, 2016 by  
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Antibiotic resistance is a looming public health concern expected to kill up to 10 million people annually by 2050. Now, in the latest worrying development in the United States, Ohio State University researchers have found a bacteria resistant to last resort antibiotics, called carbapenems, on a pig farm that is barred from using them. The pig farm followed what the researchers describe as “typical US production practices” by giving their animals the antibiotic ceftiofur. Newborn pigs receive the antibiotic when they’re born, and when males are castrated, they’re given another dose. Ceftiofur is part of the cephalosporin family, but kills bacteria in a manner comparable to carbapenems. Related: ‘Nightmare’ bacteria found in the U.S. resists all known antibiotics The Ohio State researchers collected samples from the pig farm for five months to discover the superbug, Enterobacteriaceae , which Natural Resources Defense Council expert David Wallinga described in a blog post as “one of the nastier superbugs.” The journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy published the researchers’ study online this week. Study co-author Thomas Wittum told TIME, “How the [resistant bacteria] got onto the farm we really don’t know. But probably it was introduced from the outside from movements of wildlife, people, equipment, etc.” During the study the researchers didn’t discover the bacteria in the pigs, but Wittum told TIME they later did see the superbug in piglets and sows. He said, “…that is the concern: that it could happen on this or other farms .” What does this discovery mean for US agriculture? In 2012, the Obama administration established guidelines that will go into effect in January 2017. The guidelines would limit the use of antibiotics on farms, but they are voluntary. Meanwhile, according to Mother Jones, advisers to the new President-elect appear to be resistant to regulation when it comes to food production. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the bacteria found on the pig farm already kills as many as 600 people every year. Via TIME and Mother Jones Images via Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay

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99-million-year-old dinosaur tail found immaculately preserved in amber

December 9, 2016 by  
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When a small, sparrow-sized dinosaur died about 99 million years ago, part of its tail was immaculately preserved in amber. Researchers who recently discovered the tail from a Hukawng Valley amber mine in Myanmar say it’s a notable find not only because it is the first dinosaur tail ever identified, but also because it is covered in feathers. Co-first author Lida Xing of China University of Geosciences found the amber piece in a Myanmar market in 2015, according to NPR . The Dexu Institute of Palaeontology agreed to purchase the specimen, and Xing and colleagues got to work scrutinizing it. Related: First dinosaur brain tissue discovered in 130-million-year-old fossil The dinosaur was likely a carnivorous coelurosaurus, part of a group that includes the mighty Tyrannosaurus , although the discovered dinosaur probably wasn’t very mighty itself. Scientists can tell it was tiny from the tail bone, which is a mere two millimeters across. Part of the mystery of dinosaurs with feathers is that many probably didn’t use that plumage to fly. The structure of the little dinosaur’s feathers instead resembles ornamental feathers seen on some modern birds . Scientists can see the way the feathers’ barbs bend means they’re far more flexible than feathers used for flight, and could have been employed to send signals or regulate the dinosaur’s temperature. The top of the feathers could have been dark brown, the scientists think, with the underside having no color at all. That or carotenoids – pigments responsible for orange, red, and yellow hues – may have brightened the underside feathers in life but broke down swiftly when the dinosaur died. Thrilled with the discovery, the scientists hope they might be able to find even more specimens in the future. With a conflict between the Kachin Independence Army – who currently possess the Hukawng Valley – and the Myanmar government hopefully coming to a close, scientists may be able to get more access to the amber mines, according to Xing. He speculated they might even find a whole dinosaur one day. 14 scientists from international institutions participated in a new study published by the journal Current Biology . Via National Geographic and The Economist Images via Lida Xing, et al.

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99-million-year-old dinosaur tail found immaculately preserved in amber

This electricity-free LED lamp is powered by living bacteria

November 3, 2016 by  
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Dutch designer Teresa van Dongen has unveiled a fascinating LED pendant lamp that is powered by living, electrochemically-active bacteria. Called “Spark of Light,” this lamp builds on van Dongen’s previous work harnessing bioluminescent bacteria. The lamp is completely self-contained, and can operate without a plug or batteries. However, the organisms within do need to be fed to continue producing light. The spherical lamp is made of four separate compartments containing the bacteria . As long as they’re happy and healthy, these microorganisms constantly give off small electrical currents. An electrode within each section captures these currents and powers the LEDs in the center of the light. Van Dongen explained in an interview with Dezeen that as long as a teaspoon of acetate is added to the fluid within the lamp every two weeks, the light will continue to glow without any additional electricity, 24 hours a day. Every few months, the vessels within the lamp must be cleaned and refilled with tap water, salt, and vitamins. Related: The Electricity-Free Biobulb Uses Bacteria to Glow in the Dark The Spark of Life is just the latest zero-electricity lighting product van Dongen has developed. It should come as no surprise that she studied biology before deciding to pursue a design education in Eindhoven. With any luck, this innovative lamp will soon be available as a consumer product and not just a prototype. The pendant was showcased last month during 2016 Dutch Design Week. + Teresa van Dongen Via Dezeen

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Scientists reprogram E. coli bacteria to attack tumor cells

August 8, 2016 by  
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Scientists at MIT and the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) have re-engineered E. Coli bacteria to create a helpful super-microbe that attacks tumor cells. Researchers programmed human-safe  E. Coli as bombers in the war against cancer , dropping toxic cocktails in affected areas. When combined with traditional cancer treatment, the altered bacteria shrank aggressive liver tumors in mice far quicker than either treatment separately. “Tumors can be friendly environments for bacteria to grow, and we’re taking advantage of that,” says Sangeeta Bhatia, researcher at MIT and senior co-author of the recent paper that documented these findings. Boosted by a suppressed immune system, bacteria naturally gathers in areas affected by disease. Some bacteria is well adapted to a low-oxygen environment, such as that of a tumor. Harmless E. Coli fits right into this microecosystem and possesses three different mechanisms, provided by artificial genetic circuits, for attacking tumors. One circuit in the altered bacteria creates hemolysin, which damages the cell membranes of tumor cells. Another conjures a drug that tells the tumor cells to self-destruct, while the third delivers a protein which encourages the body’s immune system to attack the tumor. Related: Hacking living cells just got so much easier In addition, the altered E. Coli  possesses a genetic circuit that allows it to sense the nearby population of bacteria through a process called quorum sensing. If the population of helpful  E. Coli  exceeds a certain limit, bacteria are programmed to self-destruct until there is only a small population remaining. “That allows us to maintain the burden of the bacteria in the whole organism at a low level and to keep pumping the drugs only into the tumor,” says Bhatia. The research collaborators are now working to program bacteria to use other weapons against dangerous cells while refining their cancer hunting  E. Coli to suit different forms of cancer. Via MIT News Images via NIAID

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MAPAs prefab house can be installed and disassembled with minimal environmental harm

August 8, 2016 by  
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The Retreat in Finca Aguy was prefabricated offsite in a factory near Montevideo in a process that minimizes construction waste and saves on costs. The compact structure comprises two identical blocky modules , each measuring around 12.5 meters (41 feet) in length. A truck transported the completed modules 200 kilometers (124 miles) to Pueblo Edén, where they were lowered into place and joined together atop two intersecting stone walls. The architects also installed additional structural elements, hidden from view, to ensure the home’s stability. Related: MAPA Architects’ Tiny MINIMOD House is a LED-Lit Prefab Home for Off-Grid Living Set within an olive grove overlooking beautiful rural views, the house is fortified against the elements with its corrugated metal facade. Full-height glazing is installed into the two long sides of the home but can be shielded from view with movable timber louvers. The interior matches the facade’s material palette, with timber lining the walls, floors, and ceilings, while handsome black furnishings and countertops provide contrast. “In landscapes of high natural value, it is fundamental to respect their original condition and so a reversibility condition is essential,” said the architects to Dezeen . “Prefabrication allows us to work with industrialised materials that enable high-precision processes, thus reducing the impact of construction on the ground, minimising waste, staff in-situ and displacement.” + MAPA Architects Via Dezeen

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MAPAs prefab house can be installed and disassembled with minimal environmental harm

Antarctic sea-ice bacteria could be contaminating seafood with a dangerous form of mercury

August 4, 2016 by  
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Pollution in the Antarctic may not turn many heads, but seafood lovers must beware of mercury-tainted fish from the southern seas finding its way onto their plates. New research shows how a certain type of sea-ice bacteria may be converting existing mercury into an even more potent neurotoxin that is harmful to the environment, marine life, and those higher up the food chain. A study published in the journal Nature discovered how the Nitrospinia bacterium is turning mercury into methylmercury, which can cause developmental impairments in infants and children. Through biomagnification, or the substance concentrating in the fatty tissue of animals who are then consumed by bigger animals, the toxin can easily make its way into the human food supply and wreak havoc. Related: Mercury pollution poison threatens to wipe out a remote tribe of indigenous Amazon people Mercury can accumulate in the environment through both natural means, such as volcanic eruptions, or manmade means, including gold smelting and burning fossil fuels . The discovery of the methylmercury conversion process in the south raises questions about worldwide pollution , especially as the planet gets hotter. Dr. Moreau, a geomicrobiologist, said , “We need to understand more about marine mercury pollution. Particularly in a warming climate and when depleted fish stocks means more seafood companies are looking south.” Via Popular Science Images via Wikimedia , Pixabay

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Antarctic sea-ice bacteria could be contaminating seafood with a dangerous form of mercury

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