The Pandora Report

Highlights in this slightly longer report include BioWatch in the (Los Angeles) news, bird flu in Cambodia, nixing Staph’s Nicking enzyme, West Nile at your next wine tasting, blue light is the new red light when stopping bacteria, TB lurking in bone marrow, developing a better antidote to cyanide, and a chandelier made of petri dishes which actually grows bacteria (hang it in the dining room for a truly meta dining experience). Happy Friday!

House investigators seek BioWatch documents

It was only a matter of time before the LA Times was going to weigh in on the new BioWatch contract – $3.1 billion is a lot of money. So in what came as a surprise to absolutely no one,  the LA Times had a piece yesterday discussing stonewalling on the part of BioWatch officials. Transparency and accountability are both critically important…I’m just going to end that sentence there. 

LA Times – “Leaders of a House committee probing BioWatch, the nation’s troubled system for detecting biological attacks, complained Thursday that administration officials had blocked them from seeing documents held by two senior federal scientists known to have been privately skeptical of the nationwide program…In a letter, the House Energy and Commerce Committee urged Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to produce the requested emails and other documents held by the scientists, who are based at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta…The scientists’ firsthand assessments of BioWatch are known to diverge from those voiced by representatives of the Department of Homeland Security, who have repeatedly denied the existence of any false alarms or other serious deficiencies.”

H5N1 Bird Flu Re-Emerges in Cambodia, 3 New Cases & 2 Deaths
H5N1, which is endemic to the region, has resurfaced in Cambodia. Two of the three cases were in children, and all three cases were thought to have developed following contact with raw poultry.

The Guardian Express
– “The Cambodian Ministry of Health in conjunction with the World Health Organization announced in a joint press release that 3 new human cases of the Avian influenza H5N1 were reported near Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Of the 3 cases, 2 have resulted in the death of the patients.Cambodia 1st reported an outbreak of the H5n1 influenza virus in December 2004, and also reported a major outbreak of the virus in March 2006 that lasted until November 2006.”

Scientists Unveil a Superbug’s Secret to Antibiotic Resistance
Scientists at UNC were able to prevent a specific enzyme (NES) from binding with an equally specific groove on the bacterial plasmid, thereby preventing the enzyme from nicking a specific strand of DNA which confers antibiotic resistance. Science. Easy to understand, impossible to summarize. 

Science Daily– ” Worldwide, many strains of the bacterium Staphyloccocus aureus are already resistant to all antibiotics except vancomycin. But as bacteria are becoming resistant to this once powerful antidote, S. aureus has moved one step closer to becoming an unstoppable killer. Now, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have not only identified the mechanism by which vancomycin resistance spreads from one bacterium to the next, but also have suggested ways to potentially stop the transfer.”

West Nile Virus Spreading Due to Mosquitoes in Orchards and Vineyards, Experts Warn

If you’ve been enjoying a nice glass of wine on one of Virginia’s beautiful orchards, then a) get back inside you maniac it’s 19 degrees outside and b) make sure you apply mosquito repellent. Apparently agricultural areas, in which diseases in horses and birds tend to be more prevalent, unsurprisingly also have more mosquitoes. More mosquitoes = greater likelihood of diease.

Science Daily – “Washington State University researchers have linked orchards and vineyards with a greater prevalence of West Nile virus in mosquitoes and the insects’ ability to spread the virus to birds, horses and people.The finding, reported in the latest issue of the journal PLOS ONE, is the most finely scaled look at the interplay between land use and the virus’s activity in key hosts. By giving a more detailed description of how the disease moves across the landscape, the study opens the door to management efforts that might bring the disease under control, says David Crowder, a WSU entomologist and the paper’s lead author.”

Bacteria-killing blue light used to stop infections

Blue light to the rescue! We’re going to go ahead and lead the clarion call here and say that all lights should officially be blue. Blue school lights, blue work lights, blue bathroom lights. Think how clean we’d all be. Possibly a little pale, but so clean.

Gizmag – “Over the past few years, blue light has allowed us to understand heart problems, control brain functions, and activate muscle tissue. Now, another biomedical function can be added to its list – because it’s known to have antimicrobial qualities, it’s been used to stop infections of the skin and soft tissues…In a proof-of-concept study, led by Dr. Michael R. Hamblin of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, an array of blue LEDs was used to treat infected burns on lab mice. More specifically, the blue light was used to selectively eradicate potentially-lethal Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria in the animals’ skin and soft tissues.”

Tuberculosis Hiding in Bone Marrow Helps Deadly Bacteria Survive

As if TB, which affects over 2 billion people globally,  wasn’t hard enough to eradicate as it is, scientists have discovered that the bacteria causing the disease has been found in bone marrow.

Bloomberg – “Investigators writing today in Science Translational Medicine said they have uncovered the first evidence of tuberculosis nestled in mesenchymal stem cells in the bone marrow of people treated for the disease. The bacteria’s hideout in the self-renewing cells, where they capitalize on protection from the body’s own immune system, may explain how the germs survive. The next step is to find out how a re-infection is triggered, and then how to stop it, researchers said.”

Promising substance for better cyanide antidote for terrorist attacks

Not technically bio, but chem is a close enough cousin that we thought we’d include this piece. Scientists are developing a more effective antidote for cyanide, that bastion of Cold War spies and disgruntled office employees.

Homeland Security News Wire – “In an advance toward closing a major gap in defenses against terrorist attacks and other mass casualty events, scientists are reporting discovery of a promising substance that could be the basis for development of a better antidote for cyanide poisoning. An ACS release reports that their report, which describes a potential antidote that could be self-administered, much like the medication delivered by allergy injection pens, appears in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.”

This Weeks Odd Piece: Bacterioptica

"And that one is our son's cheek bacteria, and that one is some dirt we cultured just to see what grew, and that last one was from a swab of my cell phone - I know, ew"
“And that one is our son’s cheek bacteria, and that one is some dirt we cultured just for the heck of it, and that big one is from a swab of my cell phone – would you like to try and culture yours?”

For the microbiologist with expensive taste – why not showcase your work in your dining room with this stylish conversation piece? Regale your guests with tales of culturing your favorite bacteria, while actually pointing at cultures of bacteria. Why should the food on the table steal the limelight (literally)? All kidding aside, the fixture itself is actually quite pretty.

Madlabs – “Bacterioptica breaks from design norms, a light fixture outfitted with petri dishes. Designed to be adaptive, not only in its form and mechanics, but more importantly, in the way it evolves. Bacterioptica is not your typical chandelier, just as no family is a typical unit of interactions. Its on/off switch does not control it. Bacterioptica is alive. It grows. It is itself a household organism. It is living and breathing the same air and bacteria we are.”

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