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Top 5 Non-COVID-19 Stories of 2020 From Microbiology

Top 5 Non-COVID-19 Stories of 2020 From Microbiology content piece image
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In the field of microbiology, COVID-19 has very much stolen the show this year. However, despite media attention and resources being poured into understanding and combatting SARS-CoV-2, there have still been some exciting developments in microbiology. In this list we take a look at five of the most read non-COVID-19 microbiology news stories of 2020.

Novel strain of antibiotic resistant meningitis identified

A CDC study of meningococcal isolates held by US health departments identified a novel strain of Neisseria meningitidis (N. meningitidis) that is resistant to two of the antibiotics most commonly used to treat bacterial meningitis. The strain, first identified in a patient from Maryland, is resistant to ciprofloxacin and produces beta-lactamase, enabling it to break down beta-lactam antibiotics such as penicillin. This prompted a wider investigation which identified a total of 33 cases between 2013-2020 from which resistant isolates were cultured with no known epidemiological links.

"The detection of geographically diverse cases with penicillin-resistant and ciprofloxacin-resistant N. meningitidis serogroup Y isolates has implications for treatment and prophylaxis of meningococcal disease in the United States," the authors wrote.

Published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

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Bacteria discovered that could help to combat soil pollution

Researchers at Cornell University have found a new species of soil bacteria that is particularly good at breaking down organic matter, including carcinogenic chemicals, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), released by burning coal, gas, oil and refuse. The strain has been named Paraburkholderia madseniana sp. nov. after its discoverer, Gene Madsen, a microbiology professor at the university who sadly died before his discovery could be confirmed. Thanks to its carbon-degrading properties, the bacteria could be a candidate for biodegradation research and an important factor in the soil carbon cycle.

“Microbes have been here since life began, almost four billion years. They created the system that we live in, and they sustain it,” said Dan Buckley, professor of microbial ecology at Cornell University in a press release. “We may not see them, but they’re running the show.”

Published in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology

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Bee salvation comes in the form of engineered bacteria

Colony collapse, caused by a combination of varroa mite infestation and deformed wing virus spread by the mites, lead to the loss of nearly 40% of honeybee colonies across the US last winter – devastating the population and threatening agriculture. But salvation may be in sight in the form of engineered bacteria. Scientists from The University of Texas at Austin engineered one strain of bacteria to target the virus and another for the mites. These bacteria are able to live in the honeybee gut where they pump out molecules that protect the bees from both foes.

"It has direct implications for bee health," said Nancy Moran, a professor of integrative biology and the primary investigator on the study, in a press release. "This is the first time anyone has improved the health of bees by genetically engineering their microbiome," added Sean Leonard, a graduate student and first author of the study.

Published in Science

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First animal-to-human transmission of deadly hantavirus identified in Germany

Germany’s first ever case of animal-to-human transmission of a form of hantavirus called the “Seoul virus” has been confirmed. Whilst hantaviruses spread by mice have been seen in Germany for a number of years, the Seoul virus is mainly found in Asia, transmitted exclusively by rats and known to cause severe disease in people. In this particular case, the virus was isolated from a seriously ill, young female patient and her pet rat. Viral sequencing determined both isolates were the same, confirming zoonotic transmission. This raised concerns regarding the potential import of disease in domesticated animals.

“The fact that this pathogen has been confirmed in a pet rat also means that the virus is capable of being exported, via the trade in these animals, practically anywhere in the world”, cautioned the study’s authors in a press release.

Published in Emerging Infectious Diseases

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Herpes virus code cracked

It had been assumed that there were approximately 80 open reading frames (ORFs) - locations in the genome where the information in DNA is read and translated into proteins - in the genome of herpes simplex virus 1. Using a broad range of the latest systems biology methods, scientists from the University of Würzburg and others revealed that there are actually a lot more. The teams identified 284 ORFs translated from hundreds of novel viral transcripts, which have now also been identified.

"The new findings now make it possible to study the individual genes of the virus much more precisely than before," said Professor Lars Dölken, head of the JMU Chair of Virology, in a press release.

Published in Nature Communications

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