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MMP #17: How bacteria can change graphene to propel rotors.

Host: Jeff Fox with special guests, Julia Yeomans and Vikas Berry. Julia Yeomans of Oxford University in the United Kingdom and chemical engineer Vikas Berry of the University of Illinois, Chicago, talk with Jeff Fox about their separate, but in some ways similar, research efforts in which they use bacteria to perturb and probe the physical properties of simple machines, in one case, and unusual materials, in the other. Yeomans and her collaborators are developing models of miniature...


MMP #16: Insights into Toxoplasma gondii parasites

Host: Jeff Fox with special guest, Emma Wilson. Emma H. Wilson of the University of California, Riverside, talks with Jeff Fox about efforts, with her collaborators to determine more precisely how Toxoplasma gondii parasites disrupt the mammalian brain—in this case, the brains of mice. This same parasite infects about one-third of the human population, but is held in check by the immune system unless those host defense mechanisms become impaired. Wilson and her collaborators find that...


MMP #15: A Scientific Roadmap for Antibiotic Discovery

Host: Jeff Fox with special guests, Carolyn Shore and Ruben Tommasi. Carolyn Shore of Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C., and Ruben Tommasi of Entasis Therapeutics in Waltham, Massachusetts, talk with Jeff Fox about what’s needed to identify and develop new antimicrobial agents to treat infections caused by bacterial pathogens, with an emphasis on gram-negative bacterial pathogens. According to that recent report from Pew Charitable Trust, which is based in Philadelphia, the...


MMP #14: A look at several microorganisms involved with electricity.

Host: Jeff Fox with special guests, Gemma Reguera and Geoffrey Gadd. Gemma Reguera of Michigan State University in East Lansing and Geoffrey Gadd of the University of Dundee in Scotland talk with Jeff Fox about their efforts, to probe some of the electrical properties of materials produced naturally by specific microorganisms. Thus, Geobacter bacteria make protein filaments, called pili, that act as nanowires, transporting 1 billion electrons per second, according to Reguera and her...


MMP #13: Redetermining the ratio of microbial to human cells – correcting the widely held view that this ratio is 10 to 1

Host: Jeff Fox with special guests, Ron Milo and Shai Fuchs. Ron Milo of Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and Shai Fuchs at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, talk with Jeff Fox about their efforts, with Ron Sender at Weizmann, to redetermine the ratio of microbial to human cells. This ratio, widely cited as being 10 to 1, is closer to even, they find, while arguing that it may prove helpful in the long run to have a better and more rigorous grasp of how...


MMP #12: Hydrogen from ground rocks can furnish microbial ecosystems with energy to drive growth.

Host: Jeff Fox with special guest, Jon Telling. Jon Telling of Bristol University in Bristol, United Kingdom talks with Jeff Fox about his findings suggesting that the grinding of glaciers over rocks can liberate hydrogen, which, in turn, drives the growth of methanogens within microbial ecosystems. Telling and his collaborators provide evidence that the grinding of rocks beneath glaciers can free hydrogen gas from minerals in those rocks. In turn, that hydrogen provides energy to furnish...


MMP011: Reexamining the emergence of land plants based on an analysis of the cell walls of charophycean green algae.

Host: Jeff Fox with special guests, Øjvind Moestrup, Peter Ulvskov, and Jesper Harholt. Øjvind Moestrup and Peter Ulvskov, both at the University of Copenhagen and Jesper Harholt at Carlsberg Laboratory, also in Copenhagen, Denmark, talk with Jeff Fox about their hypothesis about terrestrial plants, based on analyses of the cell walls of charophycean green algae. Moestrup, Peter Ulvskov, and Jesper Harholt thought that something was amiss with our current understanding of the evolutionary...


MMP010: Examining the gut microbiota of American Indians of Cheyenne and Arapaho ancestry with Cecil M. Lewis, Jr. and Krithivasan Sankaranarayanan.

Host: Jeff Fox with special guests,Cecil M. Lewis, Jr. and Krithivasan Sankaranarayanan. Lewis and Krithivasan Sankaranarayanan—“Krithi”-- both from the University of Oklahoma in Norman talk with Jeff Fox about their analyses of the gut microbiomes of American Indians of Cheyenne and Arapaho ancestry. Lewis, Krithi, and their collaborators learned that the gut microbial taxonomic profiles of these Native Americans are characterized by a reduced abundance of anti-inflammatory bacteria and...


MMP009: Customizing phage by swapping tail genes to target specific pathogens with Timothy Lu.

Host: Jeff Fox with special guest, Timothy Lu. Lu, an Associate Professor of Biological Engineering and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, talks with Jeff Fox about efforts to develop new phage varieties, swapping in phage tail genes that enable them to target specific bacterial pathogens, including those carrying virulence or antibiotic resistance factors. Lu and other members of the MIT team worked with T7...


MMP008: Producing yeast strains for making lager beers with new flavor notes with Stijn Mertens.

Host: Jeff Fox with special guest, Stijn Mertens. Mertens, a graduate student working with Kevin Verstrepen at the University of Leuven in Belgium, talks with Jeff Fox about their efforts to develop new yeast strains for making lager beers—imparting novel flavor and aroma notes without detracting from the freshness and drinkability of lagers. Unlike other beers, lagers are brewed at low temperatures and with two special hybrid versions of yeast that date back about 600 years. Those hybrids...


MMP007: A virtual robot with its own virtual microbiome telling it what to do with Warren C. Ruder

Warren C. Ruder of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg, Virginia talks with Jeff Fox about efforts to develop an electronic model system that incorporates a robot for a host and two slightly different kinds of simulated bacteria for its microbiome.The model carries an engineered bacterial population onboard to stand in for the microbiome, while the robot serves as a proxy for an animal host. When conditions are changed a bit, and the robot is...


MMP006: A fused, single-subunit bacterial ribosome with Alexander Mankin and Michael Jewett

Alexander Mankin –called Shura --of the University of Illinois, Chicago, and Michael Jewett at Northwestern University talk with Jeff Fox about their recent success in joining the 30S and 50S bacterial ribosomal subunits into a single, functioning entity and the implications of that work in terms of making specialized proteins and for studying antibiotics that target the ribosome. This story was featured in the October 2015 issue of Microbe magazine. Visit microbeworld.org/mmp for more.


MMP005: Fruitflies, microbes, and aggression with Jeremy Brownlie

Jeremy Brownlie of Griffıth University in Brisbane, Australia, talks with Jeff Fox about how bacteria influence aggressive behavior in an animal. Fruit flies infected with the wMelPop strain of Wolbachia were less aggressive than their uninfected peers. The neurotransmitter octopamine regulates fruit fly aggression, and Brownlie and his collaborators found that the infected flies produce less of the compound than their uninfected peers, and expression of two genes that encode enzymes...


MMP004: Deep-Sea Archaea and the Tree of Life with Thijs Ettema

Thijs Ettema of Uppsala University in Sweden talks with Jeff Fox about a deep-sea archaeon, named Lokiarchaeum for the underwater volcano between Greenland and Norway near where it was found, that might be related to the last common ancestor of eukaryotes. “The shape-shifting deity ‘Loki’ is described as complex and confusing; thus, ‘Lokiarchaeum’ seems a very appropriate name for our typical prokaryote with a whole bunch of eukaryotic genes,” he says. “Importantly, the genes we found in...


MMP003: Smallpox and the Native Americans with Paul Kelton

Paul Kelton of the University of Kansas, Lawrence, talks with Jeff Fox about the introduction of infectious diseases among Native American populations. Kelton’s book Cherokee Medicine, Colonial Germs: an Indigenous Nation’s Fight against Smallpox, 1518–1824, published in April 2015 by the University of Oklahoma Press, looks at how Native American communities responded to new diseases, including establishing quarantines, to protect themselves against smallpox and other diseases. He offers...


MMP002: Ultrasmall bacteria with Birgit Luef and Chris Brown

Birgit Luef of Trondheim University in Norway and Chris Brown of the University of California, Berkeley, talk with Jeff Fox about ultrasmall bacteria. Birgit Luef and Chris Brown of Jill Banfield’s lab at UC Berkeley went looking for bacteria with small genomes. They found large numbers of organisms that not only had small genomes but also were extremely small in size—small enough to pass through a 0.2-micrometer filter, with many in the 250-nanometer range. Such ultrasmall bacteria are...


MMP001: Polio Virus Vesicles with Nihal Altan-Bonnet

Although virologists long assumed that lone viruses independently infect target cells, in the case of poliovirus and other enteroviruses, several viral particles can cluster within lipid vesicles—from which they collectively enter target cells, improving overall infectivity and yields, the NIH researchers report. Nihal Altan-Bonnet at the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md., and her collaborators focused on poliovirus, a...


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