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The Germ Guy: Confessions of a Mercurial Microbiologist

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Infectious Disease

Putting the Poo in Swimming Pools…

Over the last few years, as summer approaches, I tend to receive requests to talk about a phenomenon that might make even the nastiest person go…

(Sorry, Dr. Evil…)

I’m talking, of course, about fecal matter in swimming pools.

I’m sure you may have heard about this occurrence in the news. You may have ignored the story thinking it is another attempt to keep us in the matrix of germophobia. But in this case, the threat is real. Or, to put it another way…

(Thanks, Morpheus)

Feces in pools happens and based on some pretty convincing evidence, it’s more common than you might think. If you don’t believe me, may I suggest you read this wonderful article on the likelihood of finding fecal bacteria and viruses in your local swimming environment.

Assessment of Enteric Pathogen Shedding by Bathers during
Recreational Activity and its Impact on Water Quality

A Microbial Version of Fight Club…

These days, when a scientific article comes out, the title is designed to provide as much information as possible into the specific subject of the study. For those immersed in that branch of science, the words make sense. But for the rest of the population, these titles invoke a rather understandable response…

(What???)

You can’t blame the researchers. They simply are following the rules of what many call the scientific club. Researchers talk in a certain way and title their papers in a scientifically conventional manner. If you don’t follow, you don’t belong.

Unfortunately, when it comes to that wider audience, researchers understand the mere sight of a complex title can leave many thinking…

(I have made a critical mistake…)

But every now and then, someone chooses to fight this convention and come out with a title that is both wonderfully composed and easy to understand. One such article came out recently in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

The article is split into three parts. The first discusses the function of what is known as a Type VI Secretion System, or T6SS for short. It’s a group of proteins assembled together in the form of well…

(A crossbow…)

Not surprisingly, the role of T6SS – as the name implies – is to send out, or secrete, factors from inside the cell to the surrounding area. As to what these factors do, the deliver what can be best described as…

(A vicious punch…)

When a bacterium feels threatened, it uses T6SS to attack other bacterial cells in the hopes of wounding or killing the invader. The authors even provided a lovely visual description of how T6SS is used…

(I couldn’t have drawn it better myself…)

In essence, T6SS is a survival mechanism designed to help ensure bacteria maintain their territory in a diverse environment.

Which brings us to the second part of the paper, where this battle is happening…

 (The gut…)

There are potentially hundreds of different species living in our gastrointestinal tract, especially in the colon. While we might like to think they are all getting along, researchers have shown this is not the case. Instead, there are microcosms in which bacteria are…

(Facing off…)

Many of the bacteria in possession of T6SS are pathogens capable of causing diarrhea and other illnesses such as cholera. The researchers suggest the presence of T6SS gives them an advantage in our guts and can increase the likelihood of symptoms.

Now it’s time for the third part, which the authors magnificently described in the following image…

(Can you guess what is happening here?)

Let’s make this even easier to understand…

  1. The yellow bacterium is a pathogen with a T6SS in place.
  2. The blue bacterium is a friendly species, also known as a commensal.
  3. using genetic engineering, commensals can be given the ability to produce antidotes to T6SS toxins such that they can defend against attack.
  4. Using engineering to give commensals the ability to make T6SS, they also can engage in battle.

The group suggests using these genetically engineered commensal species may be useful in helping to prevent and possibly treat gastrointestinal infections. While this still is little more than a theory, considering the widespread nature of gastrointestinal bacterial infections, and the rise in antibiotic resistance, this strategy may be well worth…

(Further discussion…)

If you’ve been following along, you probably have noticed I haven’t actually given the title of the paper. I first wanted to go through the article and see if you could guess what it would be called.

Based on the science, you might think the article would be called…

“Prospective genetic engineering of commensal bacterial species
as a novel means to prevent T6SS-mediated bacterial gastroenteritis” 

But no.  Instead, the title is one of the best I have seen in a long time. It is simply and brilliantly called…

T6SS: The bacterial “fight club” in the host gut.

When it comes to scientific papers, titles are simply a collection of words designed to match a particular format. Although they may appear challenging and possibly lead you to forego reading on, just remember, the authors probably had no choice. It’s just part of the scientific club.

But, if scientists had the ability to be a little more like the authors of this paper, I can assure you they would. Because while you may think researchers are highly focused, straight-laced, thinking machines devoted to the club of science – and they are – deep inside many of them, there also lies an inner…

(Tyler Durden…)

I would suggest it’s worth going past the title and learning more about what makes these people work and well, fight, as hard as they do.

Why Spring May Tick You Off…

It’s that time of the year when the days last longer than the nights, the temperature warms, and many take a needed breath of relief. Winter has come to an end and we welcome the arrival of…

(Spring!)

From a health perspective, the change of season should signify a slowing down of the hectic pace caused by colds, flu, and other winter-associated illnesses. Yet, over the last decade, the stress has continued although the reason is far different.

Instead of the invisible bacteria and viruses causing all the trouble, another itchy subject has taken over as the public enemy Number 1…

(Ticks…)

As soon as the temperature holds steady at four degrees Celsius, these insects emerge from their hibernation and begin to forage for food. As you can imagine, after months of slumber, they are hungry for blood. They aren’t all that choosy either. If it’s filled with blood and has skin that is easy to penetrate, any animal – including a human – is fair game.

Ticks haven’t always been this troublesome as they used to be only present in woodlands and other rural areas. But they have claimed much more territory and call urban parks and other recreational gathering spaces home. How much you might ask…well, how about this…

(Don’t even ask to see the 2050 or 2080 estimates…)

Of course, the tick itself isn’t really the problem. Much like the mosquito, an invasion is little more than a nuisance that can quickly be remedied. But, inside many of these crawlers are microbes known to cause over a dozen different types of infections.

You may not have heard of some of the pathogens, such as Babesia, which causes anemia, or Powassan virus, which can cause fatal encephalitis. But I’m sure by now you know about the most common worry…

(Needless to say, it’s horrid…)

The mere threat of acquiring one of these infections may be enough to convince you to keep that bare skin covered or use insect repellents containing DEET. Yet, if this concern is not enough to take precautions, perhaps this might offer a good enough reason to keep these insects away…

(Welcome to the microscopic world…)

What you are looking at are the chelicerae (pronounced keh-lees-er-ay) of the tick. If you haven’t guessed what this particular appendage happens to accomplish, you might want to watch a certain video showing what it does. But before I show it, I have two quick notes.

First, this footage was made as a part of a scientific article examining how ticks actually manage to get into the skin. You can read it here:  How ticks get under your skin: insertion mechanics of the feeding apparatus of Ixodes ricinus ticks.

Second, if you happen to be squeamish in any way, you might want to forego watching the video. Although i find it fascinating, some people might consider it a little too um, well…

 (You get the idea…)

If you’re still willing, here’s the video in its entirety. It lasts for a few minutes but for those of you who really want to know how a tick begins its journey into the body, it’s worth the time.

 

Harnessing What Dogs Do Best To Save Lives…

Although I am more of a “cat person,” I concede dogs are incredible creatures. They love attention and return it in their own loving ways. They can be a person’s best friend as well as provide comfort to those who are truly in need.

The only drawback – if you can call it one – to these four-legged companions is their propensity to well…

(You get the idea…)

The reason behind this habit is biological in nature. The most important physiological signals are emitted from two organs known as the anal sacs. As the name implies, they are found in a rather discreet area of the body. When dogs want to learn more information about their counterpart, they attempt to find out using one of their most sensitive environmental detectors…

(The nose knows…)

For most of us, this activity may seem rather odd. But when you realize a dog’s sense of smell is hundreds of times more sensitive than humans (if not more), this is the perfect way to gain valuable information on a potential park mate.

It’s also far more effective than some other routes humans have chosen to acquire details on others such as…

(I spy…)

The olfactory superiority of dogs may be little more than a welcome piece of trivia for those moments when parties and get-togethers tend to drag on. But in 2012, a group of researchers in the Netherlands had a better use for this knowledge. The team wondered if those sensational snouts could be put to good use in a rather unlikely place…

(The hospital…)

The idea came as a result of a rather unfortunate reality occurring in health care. There was a significant rise in the number of infections caused by a pestering pathogen…

(Clostridium difficile…)

I’ve worked with this bacterium and I can tell you it has a rather unique smell. When you get to know the combination of different aromatics, you can identify it almost anywhere.

Now, as you might expect, for a human to pick up on the odour, the population needs to be in the billions, such as in a petri plate culture or from a human stool sample.

I know what you’re thinking…

(Believe me, it is…)

But for a dog, that smell may be picked up from far fewer numbers. Not to mention, the smell might be a whole new type of wonderful. It therefore should not surprise you to know when researchers went out to test their theory, the dog was…

(Happy to oblige…)

The end result was a rather interesting paper revealing a new means to identify C. difficile in healthcare facilities. You can read the study here:

Using a dog’s superior olfactory sensitivity to identify
Clostridium difficile in stools and patients: proof of principle study 

The paper was so warmly received that other institutions decided to use dogs to find the pathogen wherever it may be hiding. This included Vancouver General Hospital who recently added a new staff member to its infection prevention and control team…

(Angus…)

The spaniel has been working since November and has sniffed out dozens of C. difficile hiding spots. In each case, this happy-go-lucky worker has helped to keep hundreds of patients safe from the devious disease. His efforts have been so successful the hospital is looking to add more sniffing staff to its roster.

This is without a doubt one of those feel-good stories although for public health officials, the introduction of canine Clostridium hunters may lead to a different response…


(If you don’t get this, ask your parents…)

Considering this one bacterial species has become one of the greatest threats in healthcare facilities, any help to prevent its impact on patients is welcome news.

This story also offers one more benefit to those dog lovers out there. They finally may have a way to defuse those awkward situations when a cold nose happens to venture a little too close to certain sensitive zone…

(But it saves lives…)

Okay, maybe not…

A Hesitance in (Vaccine) Hesitancy…

If you happen to live in the United States or Canada, you’ve probably heard about the recent rise in cases of mumps or as some people like to call it…

(The Chubby Cheeks Virus…)

I’ve spoken on the virus quite a few times over the last month. Most of what I’ve said is summarized in my recent Huffington Post article, which you can read here:

Here’s The Reason Mumps Has Made A Comeback

As most people know, the best way to stay safe from this infection is vaccination. The mumps vaccine has been around for fifty years and continues to be the most effective means to keep the virus at bay.

But that doesn’t mean I am safe when I talk about these vaccine-preventable diseases. As per usual, I ensure I do my research on the history, the current situation, and any small details that could enrich the message.

Yet I also prepare for…

(A Battle of Words…)

Usually, as soon as I begin to promote vaccines, I can expect to be assailed by a small yet very vocal population of people who are against vaccination as a whole. There are a number of different names associated with these individuals but the most common in today’s scientific lingo is…

(Vaccine Hesitancy…)

The usual argument follows a similar script.

Me: Vaccines are effective.
Them: Vaccines are bad!
Me: Vaccines are safe.
Them: Vaccines are bad!
Me: Vaccines prevent infection
Them: Vaccines are bad!
(Repeat ad nauseum)

No matter what clinical evidence or molecular mechanism I provide, there is simply no room for these valuable medicines in their world. Eventually, the tone gets ugly and at times the attacks change from scientific to personal. At that point, there’s no other option than to…

(Give up the goose…)

As the mumps stories appeared, I readied myself for the assaults. I had all my arguments intact. Although the end result most likely would be a stalemate, I was prepared to go to social media war.

But something strange happened. Instead of flames and vitriol, the response to my efforts could be best described as…

(Crickets…)

There was no push back. There were no accusations of being a shill. The only comments I received shared thanks and appreciation. I even tried to stir the pot a little by spreading the word across different platforms. Yet still, there was no response. It’s as if there was hesitance in the hesitancy.

I know…

(Call it the Vinny Barbarino effect…)

I decided to ask around to find out if there were others feeling the effects of hesitancy but again, there was nothing. Instead, it seemed the advice to seek out vaccination against mumps was being left alone.

While I cannot say for sure what caused this lack of response to the mumps vaccine, I wonder if something else convinced them to stay clear of the issue. If I am right, then it may have something to do with a rather common symptom associated with infection…

(This is an actual ad…)

Maybe the fear of having excruciating pain in certain sensitive areas could overtake the urge to fight unwinnable battles. Perhaps the worry of infertility – for both men and women – could replace the baseless concerns over widespread vaccine harm. Or could it be that when it comes to an actual problem with lasting effects, such as diabetes and brain damage, people will turn to whatever works even if it goes against their principles?

In other words real fear may actually defeat…

(You get the idea…)

If this premise is correct, the result does leave a bitter taste. If the only way to gain the public’s trust is to scare them into acting on recommendations, we will continually need to have greater health threats in order to succeed. Granted, this may do some good in the short term but over the long haul, the efforts will end up hurting everyone. We’ll live in a continually worrisome society, which is as the hesitancy crowd would say…bad.

Not to mention, it may backfire such that we may have to worry about an even greater problem based on irrational fear. If you don’t believe me, let me bring back a word from a few years ago…

 (Need more be said?)

 

A Case of Extreme Vexing…

Every year, an infectious disease spreads like wildfire across North America bringing along with it misery for those who ends up being afflicted. People find themselves rushing to run to the bathroom to relieve that feeling of being sick to their stomachs. Although the condition only lasts a few days, the nightmare is not soon forgotten.

For those wondering, I’m not talking about…

bieber_fever(Although it it quite contagious…)

Instead I’m talking about an illness with many names. Some fifty years ago, it was known as the Winter Vomiting Disease. Then in the 1970s, it was called Norwalk Virus, named after the city in which the virus was originally isolated. Some know it as the cruise ship virus due to its ability to turn a joyful voyage on the sea into a ugly nightmare. Officially, however, it’s known as…

(Norovirus…or noro)

Having studies this organism in the lab, I can tell you it is quite possibly the perfect outbreak pathogen. It has everything going for it…

  1. It can survive for weeks on surfaces – it can be picked up quite easily;
  2. It has a low infectious dose – you only need to ingest a few to develop illness;
  3. It continues to spread after you feel better;
  4. It can resist regular disinfection procedures.

To say the least, this is a true…

eenie-meenie(Eenie Meenie…)

The moment noro finds its way into a confined environment, such as a cruise ship, college dormitory, school, or hospital ward, the situation becomes one of extreme vexing. The virus simply moves its way around from person to person until the entire population has been affected.

To gain any kind of control over this problem, officials need to use equally extreme interventions, such as closing a ward, cancelling the cruise ship trip, or banishing dorm residents for a week. If this were to happen under any other circumstance, it would lead to a massive request for these authorities to say…

sorry(And here’s some money too…)

But when the cause of the conflict is noro, there really is no other recourse.

Although noro hits each year around this time, some seasons end up being far more troublesome than others. The virus seems to affect more people and cause even greater damage. Even more vexing, those who believe they are immune to the virus – because they already had suffered from it – suddenly find themselves back at the toilet again wondering…

mean(What Do You Mean?!)

This happens to be one of those years. It’s not really anyone’s fault, mind you. The trouble is due to the natural ability of the virus to evolve. Much like that other, more famous virus, influenza, noro has several circulating strains, known as genotypes. Just this year alone, the CDC has estimated the number of virus types spreading in the United States is at least six…

norovirus(Although not distributed evenly…)

Unless a person happens to have had come into contact with all of these different genotypes, the risk for infection is always present. This sets up a rather inconvenient truth in which we much admit no matter how many times we may end up with the illness, we must…

neversaynever(No matter how much we would like to…)

There is a small bright side to this situation. Unlike respiratory viruses, noro needs to get into our gastrointestinal tracts in order to harm us. There is only one cell type the virus likes to attack and it’s deep inside the intestines. If we can prevent entry of the invader, we may be able to stay safe.

Granted, this does mean we have to ask one question…

wherenow(Where Are U Now?)

Yet as this image suggests, the answer is relatively easy. Most of the time noro spreads, it’s because it was on someone’s hands. People can pick up the virus from a surface, such as a sink tap or a washroom door handle and readily transfer it to other surfaces or, in the case of self-inoculation, the mouth.

Contamination of objects may not lead to an outbreak. But, when hands come into contact with food, all bets are off. This route usually is the one causing large numbers of infections in restaurants and on cruise ships. Usually, the incident occurs because one or more people simply did not wash their hands properly prior to handling fresh foods not meant for cooking. The end result sadly, is a mass of people disposing of their recent meals from both ends.

This latter situation is exactly why adhering to food safety protocols is so important. It’s also why I feel avoiding even the simplest actions to keep food safe makes…

nosense(No Sense!)

As each year passes and more cases are recorded, I imagine the virus will reach a certain level of infamy. People all over the world may find themselves wanting to avoid the gut-wrenching symptoms and those days of vexation. Granted, it won’t be easy as noro is an able opponent. Yet, as far as I can see, all we need is a combination of purpose, prowess, power and possibly…

bieber-pronger(Pronger!)

With these in place, we can do our best to ensure the virus stays out of our guts for good.

PS: Have you ever had norovirus? If you have, let me know how it felt.

PPS: For the record, I had it and hated it although not as much as when Chris Pronger pretty much did the same thing to the Ottawa Senators during the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals as he did to Bieber yesterday.

A Moment That Changed The World…

Late last year, something unbelievable happened. As news spread, the world woke up to a new reality. Nothing would ever be the same again.

Most people were shocked by the revelation, as it was thought to be impossible. Yet a handful of people knew this would occur. Almost no one believed in them but they continued on tirelessly. They did everything they could to skew the odds in their favour. They hacked what was once thought to be an impenetrable defense and used viral tools to ensure success. In the end, their efforts paid off and these once slighted individuals reaped the rewards with almost sinful delight.

If you haven’t already guessed what that event was, I’ll fill you in…

(The Ebola Vaccine was 100% Effective!)

Believe it or not, vaccination proved to be perfect in the most recent clinical trial. For researchers, public health officials, and even the World Health Organization, this was a hallmark moment. It was time for a…

celebration(Celebration!)

If you hadn’t heard of this incredible news, you can’t be blamed.  The article came out right before Christmas. Most people including the media were rightfully focused on the festive season of the Holidays. They also were dealing with the hangover of another world-changing event that happened six weeks earlier…

trump-pres(Which, if you didn’t know, culminates today…)

If you think about it, there were similarities between these two events. The premise of a President Trump or a 100% effective vaccine was considered ludicrous just a year before. Although both had shown themselves to be capable of achieving these heights, few really believed they would succeed. Yet, as the human tallies came in, the picture became clear. At the end of it all, there was only one word to describe what had occurred…

 dali(Surreal…)

But there is one significant difference between these two announcements. One has created a significant amount of debate, backlash, and concern while the other has created a sense of hope not seen since…

hope(Susan Lucci’s Winless Streak Ended…)

Putting the parallels with American politics and daytime soap operas aside, there are three reasons behind the optimism from the Ebola vaccine. The first and most obvious is a future in which epidemics like the one seen in 2014-2016 may never happen again. After everything the people in the West African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia went through (and yes, America), this announcement provides…

relief(Some welcome relief…)

The second has to do with the ability of a vaccine to protect. For what might be the first time, there is an option with 100% effectiveness. This has always been the goal of researchers but until recently, figuring out how to develop the perfect candidate has been nearly impossible. A new benchmark has been set against which future vaccines will be evaluated. Granted, finding a way to protect against Ebola is much easier than say…

flu(A constantly evolving virus…)

Yet even flu researchers are getting closer to a universal vaccine that may one day protect us against all possible variations of this more common – and possibly more troublesome – pathogen.

The final reason deals with the nature of the vaccine. It was made through a combination of different genetic engineering processes. The virus used isn’t even Ebola but one that is harmless to humans. Although it is officially known as a recombinant, some might prefer to call it a…

gmo(Genetically Modified Organism…)

As you probably know, there is a significant amount of debate on GMOs with good reason. These products have entered the agricultural industry and the food marketplace without much consultation or information being given to the public. Not surprisingly, some have reacted quite negatively to this and called for an all out ban on genetic engineering.

But thanks to this vaccine, we can realize not all genetically modified organisms are bad. After all, if you want to look at a GMO, all you need to do is…

timberlake(You are not a clone…)

Perhaps this good news GMO story may balance the scales a little. Maybe those calling for an end to this technique will realize it only can hurt scientific advancement and put other discoveries such as this vaccine in peril.

I hope all people will understand the need for genetic engineering in health and medicine and appreciate the potential it brings. Most importantly, I wish all those who are skeptical of scientific research understand for the most part, the work, while at times seemingly out of touch with reality, ultimately is attempting to improve our world and make it a better place for all.

Okay, I know that may have sounded like an…

inaurgural(Inaugural speech…)

But as this day only comes once every four years, I figured it would be worth the risk.

If you want to read more on the vaccine, you can check out the World Health Organization for more details:  Final trial results confirm Ebola vaccine provides high protection against disease.

Guest Post: We Need To See Shields To Deactivate Them…

It’s been a few days since I made the open call for guest posts and I’ve already heard from some like-minded science communicators…

kermit(Me so happy!)

I have a feeling the coming year will be highlighted with some incredible articles sharing some of the most interesting – and of course, amusing – science out there.

For the first guest post, let me introduce you to…

ben(Dr. Ben Libberton)

For you Bones, fans, Ben might make you think of Dr. Jack Hodgins, better known as…

king-lab(The similarity is uncanny!)

Ben might not be a king but he is a microbiologist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. He also has a passion for science communication. He’s written for some of the highest rated publications including, Nature.

I know…

whoa(He’s king of the lab comms!)

You learn more about Ben at his website: http://www.benlibberton.com/.

When we talked about a guest piece, Ben had a fascinating story from his lab involving helping doctors get a better handle on bacterial infections. It also is rather timely in light of a new movie that happened to come out last week. I won’t give it away but I will suggest you think about this as you read it…

gingerbread (The Win In This One Is Strong…)

And now…here’s Ben Libberton’s guest post…and remember, if you like it, please let him know with a nice comment below.


How can we deactivate the shield generator if we can’t see it?

It’s the story of almost every movie set in space. A plucky band of misfits converges on the giant enemy spaceship. Against all the odds, they pull together and gain a chance of winning the battle. The Captain gives the order to open fire and the first laser cannon discharges its payload. We watch as the laser beam approaches the enemy spaceship. As it gets closer and closer we hold our breath, waiting for an epic explosion.

If you’ve ever seen this type of film, you know what is about to happen. Just before reaching the enemy spaceship, the laser hits an invisible barrier. At the moment of impact, we see that the enemy is actually completely surrounded by a powerful and invisible shield. At this point, someone in the crew yells, “Retreat” or, “It’s a trap!” The once optimistic comrades scatter to avoid total annihilation.

While this scenario is a staple for science fiction, there is a realistic counterpart although instead of a telescope, you need a microscope to see it.   It happens when doctors try to kill certain types of bacteria with antibiotics. Officially, this is known as biofilm-mediated antibiotic resistance but it can be best described as humanity’s worst health nightmare.

When bacteria, such as the foodborne pathogen, Salmonella attach to a surface like a piece of food or a catheter, they start to grow and clump together. Once they have reached a large enough number, they begin building a defensive barrier that will protect them from all kinds of external threats. This structure is called a biofilm.

Researchers have long been able to see the bacteria cells within a biofilm, much like our brave fleet can see the enemy spaceship, however, they find it much more difficult to see the bacterial defenses.  It’s officially called an extracellular matrix  and it’s made of a sticky, jelly-like substance that coats and surrounds each bacterial cell like a slimy coat of armor. This is a serious problem that can extend a person’s fight with the pathogen and could possibly kill them. .

Fortunately, a team of researchers from Karolinksa Institutet in Stockholm have synthesized a new chemical compound that lights up these bacterial defenses. It’s a molecular beacon that can tell scientists exactly what type of biofilm they are dealing with. More importantly, it can help researchers learn how these defenses are made and more importantly, how they can be destroyed.

Imagine before you go into an epic space battle you already know if the enemy had a shield or not. That would be incredibly useful information to have, right? You would know that you had to deactivate the shield before you could attack. Your chances at winning would increase dramatically.

It’s the same with bacteria and antibiotics. If you could see what defenses are present before you write a prescription, you gain the upper hand. You can use appropriate options and reduce the chances for an elongated battle.

The team has recently published this work and you can read all about it here: “Real-time opto-tracing of curli and cellulose into live Salmonella biofilms using luminescent oligothiophenes.”

As for those science-fiction-turned-real battles with biofilms, The researchers from Karolinska foresee that this molecular probe will be used to help other scientists study the bacterial defenses in more detail. The goal will be to find weak points in the shield and then find ways to cause a cascade of biofilm catastrophe. This would eventually turn into a treatment to go along with antibiotics.

For now, however, this technique is destined to be put into hospitals as a way to diagnose more serious infections. While we are not there quite yet, doctors will soon learn the nature of their microbial enemies and gain that winning edge to ride infections and more importantly, save lives.


 

Is My Car Out To Kill Me?

Anyone who has a car knows how valuable it can be in getting around. But this great modern invention does come with some drawbacks. It’s been considered a major source of pollution and contributes to global warming.

Thankfully there’s a solution for that…

green-carGreen Cars!

Then there are the issues with having to deal with other drivers. Although most of the time people are reasonably safe, there are moments when you realize the roads can be rather stressful…

cutmeoff(If you don’t get this, Google “Gotye”)

Most of the time, the downsides are not due to the car itself but rather the use of the vehicle. Then, out of nowhere, a report came out last week suggesting the lowly automobile is….

sickcarAn automaton of health woes!

The story was covered by several media organizations but the most amusing came from the Daily Mail. You can read it here: Is YOUR car a health hazard? Study reveals vehicle interiors are 2,144% filthier than smartphones.

As the title of the story implies, the car is a haven for microbes and may be a source of infection. But if you read further, there is an even greater consequence. If you don’t do something about those germs, your car may depreciate faster as a result of odours and rust accumulation.

When I read this, my immediate reaction was….

jon-stewart-confused-what(this speaks for itself)

It turns out the study was sponsored by a company called SellCar.co.uk, which as you might expect, is devoted to the car trade business. For them, the latter risks appeared to be more important than health.

That being said, the implication of the car as a bastion of bacterial badness can leave people wondering whether their cars can indeed make them sick. Unfortunately, the Daily Mail article as well as others don’t address this issue.

Thankfully, there was one person who was up to the task of answering this question once and for all…

joelatimer(Dr. Joe Latimer from the University of Salford)

Dr. Latimer was the scientist behind the study and was happy to share some valuable information about the study and the results.

The first interesting tidbit was that 2144% number used in the title of the Daily Mail article. The number was not an exaggeration. Certain areas of the car did have that many more bacteria than smartphones. However, when it comes to the actual numbers isolated, the picture becomes a little less worrisome.

In a square centimetre (that’s about 0.15 square inches), smartphones had on average 1.4 bacterial colonies. Now multiply that by 2144% and you get the whopping total of…

31(Yup, that’s it.)

Now, just to put this into perspective, compare that number to say, a dishcloth, which has about 120,000 colonies. As for your gut, there are about 33 million colonies in that same area.

If you’re wondering what the total concentration of microbes in the car might be, a simple calculation can help. The entire surface area of the interior is about 20 metres squared. If you had the same number found in this study, you’d get to a total of about 6 million bacterial colonies.

This may seem like quite a bit, yet remember, each and every hour, you are shedding about 1 million bacteria as part of your microbial cloud. You’ll shed even more – up to 37 million – if you happen to be…

cardancing(Car dancing!)

If you happen to be worried about whether any of those 31 found were pathogens, despite all the efforts made to identify potential infection-causing bacteria, the search came up empty. The bacteria were part of the normal human microflora and definitely would not cause you – or your car for that matter – harm.

Obviously, the study commissioned by SellCar.co.uk made for a great headline and it gained quite a bit of interest. However, in terms of the actual risk to your health, the conclusion is rather clear…

jedi(No Jedi mind trick required…)

There is, however, one very important exception. One car – and only one – truly has your worst interest in mind. If you happen to come across this vehicle, be sure to get away as fast as you can. If you don’t it could be the end. This car is…

christine(You had to know I would go there…)

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