microbial communities

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Think again before you compost that

Spring has arrived, gardens are planted, and now, we eagerly await the harvest of fruits and vegetables. This spring awakening brings not only new plant life, but fungi also come out to feast. Phytophthora root rot is a common fungal disease in plants, infecting over 250 plant genera including peppers, tomatoes, berries, and eggplants. At least a hundred species of fungi are responsible for phytophthora root rot. Chemical efforts to treat phytophthora root rot have been ineffective to control disease and have mostly been banned. So what is a gardener or farmer to do? (more…)

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Meet a Microbiologist: Erica Hartmann

Erica’s foray into science didn’t specifically begin with microbiology. Her father worked at NASA and while accompanying him to work on “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” every year, she’s tried all sorts of things, even astronaut ice cream. She’s read a lot about science and her interest grew. “The Hot Zone especially scared the bejeezus out of me but was also fascinating,” she recalls. She grew up near Reston, Virginia, where Reston Virus (causes Ebola symptoms in non-human primates) was discovered. While she was in high school, she closely followed the race to sequence the human genome. “It felt hugely important and revolutionary, and I wanted to be a part of it,” Erica says. (more…)

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Timeshares are for bacteria too

Bacteria were once thought of as solitary individual organisms. We are finding out more and more that they behave quite contrary to this long-time perception. Bacteria form complex three-dimensional communities called biofilms. In biofilms, cells stick to each other and are encased in a sticky, slimy matrix proteins and sugars. It has been known for some time that cells within a biofilm communicate with one another. Now, researchers from the University of California San Diego and Universitat Pompeu Fabra determined for the first time, that neighboring biofilm communities communicate with one another to share resources. (more…)

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The underground social network between trees

When I picked up Peter Wohlleben's book The Hidden Life of Trees, I expected to read about interactions between fungi and plant life. And indeed, the fascinating relationships between these diverse life forms were discussed at great depths. Together, tree roots and fungi form the mycorrhiza which some have referred to as the Wood Wide Web. Fungi are fundamental to the underground social networks that trees use to communicate to one another, to warm others of danger, and to transport nutrients and water.

This symbiotic Wood Wide Web provides nutrients to the tree and the fungi. Trees that cooperate with fungi take in about twice as much nitrogen and phosphorus than plants that tap the soil alone. Fungi also filter out heavy metals and guard the tree against destructive bacteria or fungi. For their help, the fungi get something in return. Nearly a third of the tree's total food production is shuttled to the fungi. (more…)

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How microbes flavor kefir

We can thank microbes for the tangy flavor and the effervescent creamy texture of kefir. This fermented milk product relies on dozens of bacteria and yeasts to convert the lactose and other compounds found in milk to small molecules that contribute to the taste and texture of kefir. As we know get to know more about the microbiology of food, food scientists may be able to streamline production, improve health benefits, and customize the flavors of fermented foods.

So what are these helpful microbes and how do they contribute to the fermentation of kefir? (more…)