Archive | Microorganisms

EU Urged to Act on Invasive Species

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Sept. 17 (UPI) — Europe-wide legislation should be put in place by next year to protect native wildlife from invasive species, conservationists say.

Wildlife experts are demanding urgent action by the European Union to protect Europe’s indigenous species from “alien invaders,” the BBC reported Friday.

Scientists meeting at a conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, say invasive, non-native animals, plants and microorganisms cause at least $16 billion in damage in Europe each year.

Invasive species are defined as ones introduced accidentally or deliberately into a place where they are not normally found.

A European inventory in 2008 found more than 10,000 alien species in Europe, with 1,300 having some kind of impact either on the environment, economy or on human health, researchers say.

“For many species we have no idea what damage they cause or their economic impact. This is just a fraction of the actual cost,” Piero Genovesi, chair of the Invasive Species Specialist Group, told BBC News.

“We’re asking the EU to rapidly develop and approve a policy on invasive species, fulfilling the formal commitment agreed by the council of European ministers in June 2009,” Genovesi said.

“This is urgent; we would like this to be in place by next year.”

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Plants 'armor Up' with Metals

OXFORD, England, Sept. 13 (UPI) — British scientists say an alpine wildflower that accumulates metals in its leaves is using the metals as a sort of “armor” against bacteriological infections.

Scientists from Oxford University say that when Alpine pennycress plants accumulate metals in their leaves, they become resistant to attack by disease-causing bacteria, a university release said Monday.

The small plant in the mustard family grows on metal-rich soils scattered around Britain and Europe, such as the sites of former mine workings.

It has been found to accumulate zinc, nickel and cadmium to very high concentrations in its leaves, researchers say.

“Our results demonstrate that these plants are exploiting their metal-rich environment to armor themselves against disease,” Gail Preston of the university’s Department of Plant Sciences said. “What we’ve found is a direct link between these high metal concentrations and resistance to bacterial infection.”

The researchers also say bacteria surviving on plants on the site of a former lead-zinc mine in Wales had a higher tolerance for zinc than bacteria on plants growing on normal soils. Both the plant and its attackers show evidence of adaptation to survival in metal-rich environments, researchers say.

“Heavy metals may be part of an evolutionary ‘arms race’ between plants and the microorganisms that try to colonize them,” said Dr. Preston.

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Toxic Algae Grow by 'enslavement'

JERUSALEM, Aug. 12 (UPI) — Algae blooms in freshwater bodies occur when toxic blue-green algae out-competes other organisms using what one scientist says is an “enslavement” strategy.

The increasing occurrence of toxic cyanobacterial blooms in freshwater bodies is a matter of growing international concern as they can be detrimental to water quality and can in extreme cases cause death in humans and animals, a Hebrew University of Jerusalem release said Thursday.

A university researcher studying the conditions promoting these toxic blooms and other toxin formations may have discovered how they happen.

Yehonatan Bar-Yosef, a Ph.D. student at the university, has suggested a novel mechanism to explain the ability of toxic algae called Aphanizomenon to form massive toxic blooms by overcoming competition from other microorganisms in the water.

Aphanizomenon is known to produce the toxin cylindrospermopsin, which can interfere with the response of other microorganisms in the ecosystem to phosphate, an essential nutrient for growth.

This means other organism die off even in the presence of ample phosphate in the water, Bar-Yosef says.

Researchers have used the term “enslavement” to describe this novel interspecies interaction.

The research provides an explanation for the significant rise in massive cyanobacterial bloom events worldwide during the last decade despite attempts of water management authorities to reduce the inflow of nutrients, especially phosphate, from agricultural watersheds, researchers say.

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Botanist: Common Plant Could Fight Spill

PHILADELPHIA, June 28 (UPI) — A common plant species in the Mississippi delta has properties that could help reduce the impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, scientists say.

Abundant in the Mobile, Miss., and Atchafalaya deltas, the delta bulrush, Scirpus deltarum, could be instrumental in decomposing the oil, the Academy of Natural Sciences said in a release Monday.

A close relative of the delta bulrush, the common three-square, can transmit oxygen to underwater microorganisms capable of decomposing oil, says Dr. Alfred Ernest Schuyler, the academy’s curator emeritus of botany.

“Presumably, the closely-related delta bulrush can do the same thing,” Schuyler said.

Schuyler discovered and named the delta bulrush during field research in 1970.

Plants like the delta bulrush will be the first that spilled oil will encounter, and may act as a buffer for the rest of the wetlands, Schuyler says.

“Bulrushes are environmental workhorses, effectively used in sewage lagoons to purify water,” Schuyler said.

This capacity to decompose pollutants in sewage could help in decomposing some chemicals in the oil, he says.

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Microbes May Enter Fight Against Oil Spill

HOUSTON, June 25 (UPI) — Microbes with a taste for oil may be deployed against oil and tar balls from the gulf oil spill washing up on Florida beaches, observers say.

The oil-chomping microorganisms are part of a sand-scrubbing machine developed by a Houston company that’s been trying to get oil response crews to adopt its system, The Houston Chronicle reported Friday.

“We’re begging for somebody to just deploy us,” Clean Beach Technologies’ Bill Carmichael said, “but local entities don’t know who is going to pay them, so they’re reluctant to commit.”

Now Pensacola, Fla., may become the company’s first gulf state client, following high winds that brought severe pollution to the state’s northwest beaches Wednesday.

Originally designed to separate crude oil from Canadian tar sands, the company’s equipment works like a giant washing machine for sand. The detergent: microbes that naturally consume oil.

The system can cover 8 to 10 miles of beach a day, processing up to 700 tons of sand, Carmichael said.

Clean Beach demonstrated the system Thursday in Escambia County, Fla., which includes Pensacola, in hopes the county would lease the machine at a daily rate of $25,000, the Chronicle reported.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Genomic Human Microbes Collection Created

BETHESDA, Md., May 20 (UPI) — The U.S. National Institutes of Health says its Human Microbiome Project has analyzed 178 genomes from microbes living in or on the human body.

The researchers said they discovered novel genes and proteins that serve functions in human health and disease, adding a new level of understanding to what is known about the complexity and diversity of these organisms.

The NIH said the human microbiome consists of all the microorganisms that reside in or on the human body.

“Outnumbering cells in the human body by 10 to 1, some of the microorganisms cause illnesses, but many are necessary for good health,” NIH scientists said. “Currently, researchers can grow only some of the bacteria, fungi and viruses in a laboratory setting. However, new genomic techniques can identify minute amounts of microbial DNA in an individual and determine its identity by comparing the genetic signature to known sequences in the project’s data base.”

NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said the work is critical for understanding the role the microbiome plays in human health and disease.

“We are only at the very beginning of a fascinating voyage that will transform how we diagnose, treat and ultimately, prevent many health conditions,” Collins said.

The NIH said the Human Microbiome Project, started in 2008, is a $157 million, five-year effort designed to reveal the interactive role of the microbiome in human health.

The research appears in the journal Science.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Genomic Human Microbes Collection Created

BETHESDA, Md., May 20 (UPI) — The U.S. National Institutes of Health says its Human Microbiome Project has analyzed 178 genomes from microbes living in or on the human body.

The researchers said they discovered novel genes and proteins that serve functions in human health and disease, adding a new level of understanding to what is known about the complexity and diversity of these organisms.

The NIH said the human microbiome consists of all the microorganisms that reside in or on the human body.

“Outnumbering cells in the human body by 10 to 1, some of the microorganisms cause illnesses, but many are necessary for good health,” NIH scientists said. “Currently, researchers can grow only some of the bacteria, fungi and viruses in a laboratory setting. However, new genomic techniques can identify minute amounts of microbial DNA in an individual and determine its identity by comparing the genetic signature to known sequences in the project’s data base.

NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said the work is critical for understanding the role the microbiome plays in human health and disease.

“We are only at the very beginning of a fascinating voyage that will transform how we diagnose, treat and ultimately, prevent many health conditions,” Collins said.

The NIH said the Human Microbiome Project, started in 2008, is a $157 million, five-year effort designed to reveal the interactive role of the microbiome in human health.

The research appears in the journal Science.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Hawking: Aliens Likely out There; Beware

LONDON, April 26 (UPI) — British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking says it’s likely aliens are somewhere out there in space and humans had best steer clear of them.

Hawking says in a new Discovery Channel documentary to air next month that it seems “perfectly rational” alien beings exist, given the huge number of galaxies in the universe, The Guardian reported Monday. Mostly likely, they are no match for us — just microorganisms or lower-level animals — but they also could be intelligent species out to conquer a new world, he says.

“I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet,” Hawking said. “Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.

“If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

The Christian Science Monitor reported online, however, other scientists don’t agree we should try to keep quiet and hope aliens don’t spot us.

“Ignoring the possibility (alien life) and hiding your head in the sand, waiting for them to find us is certainly isn’t a scientifically intelligent way to proceed or a good cultural way to anticipate something like that either,” Mary Voytek, senior scientist for astrobiology at NASA, told the Monitor. “Our approach to it has been to be prepared. We’re not going to get caught, say like the Native Americans when Columbus came to their shores. We’ve been actively listening and hopefully we get some information before any eventual encounter ever happens.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Hawking: Aliens Likely out There; Beware

LONDON, April 26 (UPI) — British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking says it’s likely aliens are somewhere out there in space and humans had best steer clear of them.

Hawking says in a new Discovery Channel documentary to air next month that it seems “perfectly rational” alien beings exist, given the huge number of galaxies in the university, The Guardian reported Monday. Mostly likely, they are no match for us — just microorganisms or lower-level animals — but they also could be intelligent species out to conquer a new world, he says.

“I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet,” Hawking said. “Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.

“If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

The Christian Science Monitor reported online, however, other scientists don’t agree we should try to keep quiet and hope aliens don’t spot us.

“Ignoring the possibility (alien life) and hiding your head in the sand, waiting for them to find us is certainly isn’t a scientifically intelligent way to proceed or a good cultural way to anticipate something like that either,” Mary Voytek, senior scientist for astrobiology at NASA, told the Monitor. “Our approach to it has been to be prepared. We’re not going to get caught, say like the Native Americans when Columbus came to their shores. We’ve been actively listening and hopefully we get some information before any eventual encounter ever happens.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Excessive Cleanliness May Boost Allergies

MONTREAL, April 14 (UPI) — Excessive cleanliness may be to blame for people suffering from allergies, a researcher in Montreal says.

Dr. Guy Delespesse, a professor at the Universite de Montreal and director of the Laboratory for Allergy Research, says allergies can be linked to family history, air pollution, processed foods, stress and tobacco use, but there is an inverse relationship between the level of hygiene and the incidence of allergies and autoimmune diseases.

“The more sterile the environment a child lives in, the higher the risk he or she will develop allergies or an immune problem in their lifetime,” Delespesse says in a statement

Hygiene is necessary and reduces exposure to harmful bacteria, but it may also limit exposure to beneficial microorganisms and the bacterial flora of the digestive system isn’t what it used to be, Delespesse says.

In 1980, 10 percent of the Western population suffered from allergies, but within 30 years that number jumped to 30 percent, Delespesse says.

Delespesse recommends probiotics — found in yogurt — to boost beneficial microorganisms.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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