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The Germ Guy: Confessions of a Mercurial Microbiologist

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Scientific Article

The Unexpected Taste Of Pure, Pure Water…

In order to survive, almost all life forms require water to live. There are some exceptions, like bacterial spores, some worms, and the most fascinating creature of all…

(The Tardigrade!)

For humans, drinking water may seem to be a rather inert process. We drink, we become hydrated, and we’re good to go. But have you ever taken the time to notice the taste of water?

It may seem odd at first but when you think about it, every water source has a different effect on our tongues. In some circles, the taste of water can determine its quality. There are even, believe it or not…

(Water Sommeliers…)

The key to a good water lies in the content within. Salts, minerals, and other components all add to the flavour of that clear solution. Depending on the concentrations, your tongue will be greeted with a different sensation, which provides your brain with either pleasure or unhappiness.

But what about pure water? Would you think it has a taste?

I’ve tried it myself and I have to admit, I was shocked when I noticed my tongue reacting to the liquid combination of hydrogen and oxygen. Back then, I had no idea what was happening. But now it seems the mechanism behind that taste has been identified.

The answer comes to us in the form of an article entitled, The cellular mechanism for water detection in the mammalian taste system. If you click on the title, you should be directed to a free PDF. If not, I apologize.

The researchers set out to figure out how our tongues perceive the taste of water. As you might expect, they believed the answer lied in the taste buds. If you’ve never seen one at the molecular level, here’s what it looks like…

(Pretty, don’t you think?)

The key to taste is found on the surface of those cells wrapped up in the ball. They are called taste receptor cells, or TRCs. They can sense all five tastes – sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami – and relay that information to the brain.

The team decided to take a look at these cells and the molecules that determine the various tastes, aptly called taste receptors, in the hopes of finding any that would react to pure water. Eventually, they did. The TRCs responded the same way we respond to…

(Acids…)

You’re probably wondering how something that is completely pure and devoid of any acids – or bases for that matter – might trigger an acid response. The researchers did too. The answer came in the form of another normal process we all perform but think very little about…

(Exhaling…)

When we breathe out, we are sending out carbon dioxide into the air. But not all of it goes into the atmosphere. Some of the TRCs will actually grab on to the molecule and mix it with the water in our mouths. The end result is another product we all know quite well but don’t consider to be part of our bodies…

(Bicarbonate…)

This natural base keeps the TRCs prepped for anything acidic that might be considered toxic or noxious. Many possible substances apply in this case although one I had hoped would fit into this category does not…

(But I digress…)

When pure water enters the taste bud area, a dilution effect occurs. The bicarbonate is removed from the area and the TRCs recognize this as the arrival of an acid.

Here’s where it gets interesting…

When the TRCs are triggered, we tend to want to drink more. It’s as if our brains want us to continue the dilution process. That makes sense as water does offer the chance to clear out mouths and reset the balance.

But this has no effect on our sensation of dehydration or the feeling of being full due to water. This is controlled by another system in the body related to stress. In other words, while these TRCs may help us drink a little more, they are not responsible for…

(You get the idea…)

With this in hand, here’s a little experiment for you to try.

When you next decide to take a sip of water, take a moment to decide if first you can taste it. Do you have a slightly acidic feeling on your tongue? If so, what does it bring to your mind?

Next, see if you can just have just that one sip alone. Do you need more right after? You may fine yourself having to go back to the glass or bottle for some more dilution to feel happy.

Finally, when you are finished drinking the total volume, try to discern a taste. Is it different from when you took your first sip? Can you sense the dilution effect?

If you decide to perform the experiment, let me know and share the results in the comments.

Is Social Media Making You Depressed?

Based on all the hype over social media, most people may think logging on is the equivalent of saying…

(A world of opportunities…)

But last month, a study came out that suggests hopping on to the information highway may have a very different result. Instead of finding joy, the researchers suggest we may be making ourselves…

(You get the emoticon idea…)

The paper is entitled, The happiness paradox: your friends are happier than you and it appears in the journal, European Physical Journal Data Science. While the article is a great read, the overall outcome of this report reveals social media – or at least Twitter – is not a reflection of a democratic society. Rather, it is more like another environment all of us have encountered at one time or another…

(High School…)

Anyone who has walked these halls knows amid the goals of education, life learning, and of course, doing well on exams, there is another mission for many a student. We can call it striving interpersonal relationship success, seeking widespread esteem, or developing a cult of personality. But most people tend to call it…

(A Popularity Contest…)

Much like high school, if you are not popular on social media, then you may be ‘missing out’ on the events and activities others may be experiencing. You may also find a lack of interaction leads to a reduction in self-esteem and self-worth. If things get really bad, you may sink into a quasi-depressive state.

But this isn’t the worst of the situation. In high school, the interaction within the population lasts only about six hours a day and is interrupted by classes. On social media, this effect can be continuous. By seeing the experiences of other individuals and comparing them to yours, you may be amplifying the effect and worsening the potential for…

(Mental Health Concerns…)

From a social perspective, this paper probably makes quite a bit of sense. But mechanistically speaking, there is little information to help us understand why this effect happens.

Thankfully, the answer was found some seven years ago in a paper entitled, A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind, which was published in the journal, Science.

The study was simple in that the researchers contacted 2250 adults at random times and asked them a series of questions beginning with their state of happiness. With that in place, they asked about what the individual was doing at that moment, whether the mind was wandering, and if so, on what imagery.

When the results came back, the team discovered a wandering mind was in a way similar to what is commonly associated with idle hands…

 (They do the devil’s work…)

Almost half the people contacted were suffering from a wandering mind. When they were asked about the nature of the wandering, most were thinking of pleasant topics while only about a quarter were thinking of unpleasant situations. As one might expect, the latter group were not feeling altogether happy. But even those who were thinking of pleasing situations were also not any happier.

I admit, after I read this, I was probably thinking the same thing as you…

(It makes no sense…)

But when you think about it, those who were wandering to pleasant thoughts were trying to get away from an unpleasant reality. They were not happy to begin with and no amount of daydreaming would help.

As for those thinking unpleasant thoughts, it seemed to be a consequence of a lack of focused action. They were either bored or doing something that required little focus, such as watching television, doing errands, commuting, or trying to keep themselves busy by…

(I’m sure you guessed this already…)

This develops a vicious cycle in which a combination of a lack of focus and low popularity on social media lead a person down a rather unfortunate path of even more unpleasant thoughts.

The best way to avoid all this trouble is to give yourself the opportunity to get away from the contests and the lack of focus. This could come in the form of a good book, a compelling movie or television series, a hobby, skill, or exercise.

There’s also one other activity some may considering. It was found by the researchers in the second study to cause the least amount of mind wandering…

 (If you don’t get this, Google, “The Newlywed Game”)

 

 

Consider The Conceit Behind The Concept…

When I wrote The Germ Files I had one goal in mind. I wanted readers to better understand the role of microbes in their lives and in their health. In doing so, I avoided using the names of specific species unless it was warranted. Instead, I grouped the hundreds to thousands of species found in and on our bodies into three major groups.

  • Friends
  • Foes
  • Bystanders

As I’ve learned, this strategy was quite effective as it kept the focus on the information, mechanisms, and any relevant advice I shared.

I also made it very clear this book was composed for all audiences, not just those in the scientific community. This was not a 300 page academic paper. Although the statements were based on over a thousand scientific articles – and some of my own research – I had no intention of regurgitating the information. Doing so would have put me into a corner and limited the reach of my message.

If you haven’t read the book yet, I invite you to pick it up and give it a read because it will help to understand what I am about to discuss.

Last week, a paper came out in the journal PLoS ONE entitled: Microbiome restoration diet improves digestion, cognition and physical and emotional wellbeing. As you might expect, this initially caught my eye as it appeared to parallel what I like to call the “good germs friendly diet” I discuss in my book. I was anxious to give it a read.

The concept appeared to be relatively straightforward. A group of 21 volunteers underwent a month-long diet called The Gut Makeover. The paper outlined the diet, which involved the following steps:

  • Three main meals each day with no snacks between;
  • Nothing between dinner and breakfast;
  • Five cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit;
  • Add some protein;
  • Keep the plants varied between 20 and 30 over the course of a week;
  • At least 20 chews per bite
  • Use virgin olive oil and coconut oil as the base for any cooking

As for the restrictions, there were quite a few including refined sugars, grains, alcohol, caffeine, and dairy products.

At this point, the diet seemed to be similar to almost all diets out there. Nothing seemed to be unique.

The difference involved the inclusion of fermented and prebiotic foods after the second week. This included kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, and miso on the fermented side and a variety of fibre-filled vegetables and fruit as prebiotics.

Once I had arrived at this, I had mixed feelings. All of these recommendations are part of a “good germs friendly diet.” Most also can be found in the best diet for our microbes, the Mediterranean diet. But as this was a “microbiome restoration” plan, I figured there would be some good news to come.

I was wrong.

As the title implies, many of the people who undertook the diet did lose weight and had improved physical and emotional well-being. That wasn’t so bad. What truly disappointed me was the lack of any experiments examining the nature of the microbial population in the gut. Considering the title of the document I figured there might be at least some evidence to show restoration had occurred. Yet there was nothing.

This paper clearly demonstrates the problem with what I like to call conceit.

The article was presented in a manner to convince readers the diet would improve one’s microbial population. One month of dieting would restore the number of friends and bystanders while reducing the number of foes. Yet, there was no experimental evidence to prove this transition occurred.

Which brings me to the most important question this paper didn’t answer:  Did the diet really restore the microbial balance? If you have read The Germ Files, you’ll realize the answer is no. Based on several experiments examining the components of this diet, these are the most likely mechanisms.

  • The caloric restrictions would have led to a reduction in proteins known to form fat;
  • The use of fibre would have led to an increase in intestinal bile and decreased cholesterol;
  • The lack of sugars would have led to increased fat oxidation and adipose tissue loss;
  • The polyunsaturated fats would reduce inflammation;
  • The polyphenols in vegetables and fruit would have helped to balance immune function;
  • The addition of fermented foods would have a short term beneficial impact on health.

As for the microbes? Most of these dietary components are anti-foe and pro-friends/bystanders. So one might expect a microbial shift during the change in eating habits. But unless an individual continues this regimen nonstop, the alteration is temporary. Within as little as three days, the foes would most likely return.

Being able to identify the conceit behind the concept is important because it will help gain a grasp on the real message instead of the one being presented.

This paper is only one example – although probably one of the most obvious I’ve seen in a while – of many we see both in the academic literature and on store shelves. Figuring out which are valid and which are not worth the effort can be difficult.

What I can tell you is that when I write, I concentrate on clarity, not conceit.

I want readers to understand the information in a way that makes sense with as little questions as possible. Those of you who have read my books will appreciate what I am saying. If you haven’t had the chance, I hope you give it a shot.

Finally, I usually don’t market my works as I let them stand for themselves and let the clicks and sales happen naturally. But when I see an article such as this diet paper appear in the literature and subsequently gain public attention, I feel the need to offer an alternative. If my words help to keep people from doubting the influence of microbes in our lives and the microbiologists who study them, I believe it’s well worth taking the risk of being called a conceited self-promoter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…

Worming Our Way Around Peanut Allergies…

If you’re a parent, you’ve no doubt come across this image…

peanut(Or any nut for that matter…)

Over the last few decades, the rise of peanut allergies in children has been called everything from a spike to an epidemic. Regardless of how you describe it, more kids than ever are at risk of a life-threatening situation.

The statistics don’t lie…

allergies(Pretty scary when you think about it…)

The reason for this increase is quite an enigma and researchers have been stymied by a lack of any strong connection between human behaviour and allergy occurrence.

However, there is one very interesting statistic most people don’t know. It can be best explained like this…

allergy-rise(A rainbow of risk…)

For some reason, allergies appear to be a problem only in certain regions of the world. More interesting, these areas are more developed, meaning they are richer and have improved standards for food, water, and sanitation safety.

While this may not sound any alarm bells, for certain researchers, this revelation can be best described as an…

ahamoment(A-Ha! Moment…)

Maybe…just maybe there is something in the food, water, or environment giving children in these less hygienic environments an added defense against allergy. If researchers could find that one factor, they might be able to find a way to ensure kids in the more developed countries don’t suffer.

The search has been going on for years and it appears one prime suspect has been found. It’s known as…

shistosoma(Schisto!)

Actually, it’s Schistosoma masoni and it’s better known as a blood fluke.

If you are up to date on your pathogenic microbiology – which I am sure you are – then you also know it’s a rather important infection causing diarrhea, abdominal pain, and an enlarged spleen. It’s prevalent in 78 different countries and up to 700 million people are at risk.

I can imagine what you’re thinking…

crazy(Unlike more cowbell…)

Yet, the signs have continued to point to worm exposure as the one reason children do not develop allergies.

If you happen to be fully versed in immunology – which again, I am sure you happen to be – then you might think of an explanation for this strange coincidence. As far-fetches as it may sound, there may be a protein in worms that helps to prevent peanut allergies.

For years, the usual reaction to this theory was…

twilight(It does not make a Serling argument…)

But, it seems the critics have been proven wrong. It’s all thanks to a recent paper entitled,

Antigenic cross‐reactivity between Schistosoma mansoni and peanut: a role for cross‐reactive carbohydrate determinants (CCDs) and implications for the hygiene hypothesis

You can read the whole paper by clicking on the link but as the name implies, the researchers have shown a link between Schistosoma and protection against allergies. It all comes down to a group of proteins known as glycoproteins.

If you happen to be an expert in organic chemistry – and let’s face it, who isn’t – then you know that this is a molecule containing both amino acids and sugars. These are relatively large molecules allowing them to take on a three-dimensional shape. Sometimes, that formation can appear to be like another completely different glycoprotein.

Here’s where it gets interesting…

When a glycoprotein enters the body, the immune system reacts to the visitation in one of a few ways. It can either recognize it as harmless and do nothing. It can distinguish it as a foe and attack. Or it can see it as a serious threat that needs to be expelled. This latter process is what is also known as an allergic response.

What the researchers found in this study is that the glycoprotein known to cause peanut allergies is very similar in formation to a harmless component found in worm eggs. However, the response to the egg is far more powerful than the peanut. This means having the eggs present in the gastrointestinal tract could ultimately block any response to peanuts.

At its core, this study suggests children should have Schistosoma worm eggs to prevent peanut allergies. Which probably leads to the following reaction…

interseting(Yet evil too…)

After all, no one wants to infect children and put them at risk just to prevent allergies.

Thankfully, there is an alternative option. The eggs can be rendered inert such that they cannot grow into worms. They then could be ingested without worry.

While this concept is still being tested in labs, the potential does appear to be real. If the results continue to be positive, we may even see clinical trials in the near future. The treatment may even reach the level of regulatory approval. Should this ever happen, we may one day be able to help children deal with allergies and never have to worry about a life-to-death situation again.

There is just one catch. Even if this idea gains widespread approval, don’t expect the worm eggs to be widely available. Unlike those other types of eggs…

breakfast(I always prefer sunny side up…)

These will only be available through a doctor.

Are Cell Phones Bringing Us Closer To The Post-Antibiotic Era?

Whenever there is a crisis, people start to play the blame by association game. It’s a natural process. But sometimes, the game gets a little…

preposterous(Out of hand…)

A perfect example of this happened a few weeks ago. In response to the antibiotic resistance crisis, a few researchers decided to publish a paper entitled…

Evaluation of the Effect of Radiofrequency Radiation Emitted From
Wi-Fi Router and Mobile Phone Simulator on the Antibacterial Susceptibility
of Pathogenic Bacteria Listeria monocytogenes and Escherichia coli

You can click on the title to read the whole study. But as the name implies, researchers have attempted to link the use of Wi-Fi and Mobile Phones to increasing rates of antibiotic resistance.

Just hearing this concept may make you want to say…

malarkey(Or balderdash for that matter…)

Yet, a few years ago, researchers did happen to notice an odd occurrence in bacteria placed in the presence of both Wi-Fi and cell phone radiation. The bacteria somehow gained the ability to resist antibiotics. At the time, it was considered to be a…

fluke(Fasciola hepatica to everyone else…) 

However, as with all experimental science, the results did create some interest and led to the aforementioned study.

The bacteria were placed in a zone where either Wi-Fi or cell phone radiation could be absorbed. At the same time, antibiotics were administered in an assay known as a…

zone-inhibition(Zone of Inhibition Test…)

Sensitivity and resistance are measured by the size of the zone of inhibition. The larger the diameter, the more sensitive the bacteria to the antibiotic. If there’s no zone, the bacteria are completely resistant.

The team focused on Escherichia coli and Listeria monocytogenes, two well known pathogens with a penchant for antibiotic resistance. No one actually expected the bacteria to gain resistance and yet…well, it gets weird…

ecoli-gsm
(This is E. coli in the presence of cell phone radiation…)

As you can see, the inhibition zone shrank for all the antibiotics after as little as three hours. This meant the bacteria had somehow figured out a way to resist the drugs. We’re not talking just penicillin but stronger types such as ciprofloxacin, or as we like to call it, cipro.

If you look at the 6 hour mark, you might decide the best thing to do is…

power-off(But can you get out of your contract?)

Mind you, this effect was short-lived. By 9 hours, the resistance began to wane and by 12 hours, there was no difference from the start of the test. As for the Wi-Fi, this is what the researchers observed…

ecoliwifi
(Not so bad…)

In contrast to the E. coli experiments, Listeria monocytogenes was not affected dramatically by the presence of either type of radiation. The bacteria seemingly had no radiation-resistance capability.

Usually when these studies come about, they fall into the type of category I like to call…

provocative(Or if you wish, intriguing…)

There was clearly some type of change going on in E. coli in the presence of cell phone radiation. Whatever it was somehow aided in resisting antibiotics.

This was not an evolutionary shift, mind you. It was instead a reaction to the presence of cell phone radiation. After getting used to the new environment, the bacteria went back to normal and started dying again.

From a microbiological perspective, this result definitely is worth following up. If we can figure out what is happening at the molecular level, we may be able to identify new coping mechanisms in the bacteria. We may also find new targets for therapy.

But in regards to the question posed in the title of this post, the best response happens to be…

no(Especially if you’re reading this post on your cell phone…)

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