Microbiome Mondays

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A Case of the Missing Microbes

Most animals depend on their gut microbes for digestive help. The caterpillar, however, seems to lack resident gut microbes all together.

By characterizing the microbial composition across 124 species of caterpillars from North America and Costa Rica, Tobin Hammer and colleagues at the University of Colorado Boulder found that caterpillars do not have microbial friends living in their gut. Fecal material from the caterpillars contained several orders of magnitude fewer microbes compared to other organisms. (more…)

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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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The buzz about the honey bee microbiome

Imagine you are at a picnic on a nice sunny day. Several bees stop by buzzing around your food particularly intrigued by a bowl of fruit. Though bees may be a nuisance on this particular day, they serve an essential role in the production of much of the food we eat. They produce honey, beeswax and other products we enjoy. Bees are also crucial in pollination and without honey bees, we may not be able to enjoy fruits, nuts, and vegetables that we do today.

In the past decades, the honey bee population have declined rapidly. Between April 2015 and March 2016, beekeepers lost 44.1% of their colonies. This decline in the honey bee population could be due to many reasons including pesticides, parasites, and disease. More curiously, many colonies have fallen to colony collapse disorder (CCD), where adult worker bees die-off and surprisingly, no dead bees are found in or around the hives. The exact cause of CCD is not completely known thought many have attributed pesticides, pathogens, antibiotics, and climate change as the cause. (more…)

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Scared of subway germs? Fear not, for they are harmless

"You can either embrace the dirt and the germs as part of the risky joy of living in an exciting, overpopulated metropolis, or you can spend lots of mental real estate obsessing over whether you touched a few extra microbes when you got on the subway.” - Zack Love

I have to admit that I am somewhat of a germaphobe. When I first moved to Boston and spent over two hours a day on the subway (called the T) to get to and from lab, I feared I would get sick all the time from touching things or sitting next to someone coughing up a lung. But was my fear of the T warranted? (more…)