Microbiology Today August 1999

This issue focuses on the spread of pathogenic micro-organisms.

What are the risks of contracting infections in hospital? Nick Brown, a consultant medical microbiologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, describes some opportunist pathogens which are compromising the health of patients. Gastro-enteritis causes misery to millions of people every year, but the major role of small, round structured viruses (SRSVs) as agents of diarrhoeal illness have only recently become apparent. Barry Vipond and his colleagues from Southampton Hospital and the Bristol PHLS reveal how molecular methods are aiding the research into the transmission and diagnosis of these organisms. Foot-and-mouth disease is one of the most important infections of farm animals in the world. Alex Donaldson, Head of the Pirbright Laboratory of the Institute for Animal Health, describes the airborne transmission of the causal virus and explains how computer models can be used to predict and thus control its spread. Q Fever, caused by Coxiella burnetii, affects both animals and man. The parasite is endemic throughout the world, and as Ulrich Desselberger, PHLS, Addenbrooke's Hospital, shows, is transmitted to humans mainly from chronically infected animals. However, direct contact is not necessary as several large outbreaks have been attributed to windborne spread of spores from a source several miles away. Plant diseases are no less important than animal infections and often lead to immense economic losses as well as posing the threat of starvation in some parts of the world. Jim Duncan of the Scottish Crop Research Institute describes how Phytophthora infestans, the fungus causing late blight, which was responsible for the Irish Potato Famine in the mid 1840s, is once again threatening food supplies now that a Mexican strain has spread to Eurasia. Rhizomania of sugar beet is a fascinating disease, caused by a virus, yet transmitted by a fungus in the soil. Mike Asher of BBSRC Institute of Arable Crops Research, Brooms Barn, describes how the disease is spreading rapidly around the world on beet seed contaminated with soil containing virus-infected fungal spores. Rhizomania is now a major economic problem for the sugar beet industries and the major hope for control lies in the development of virus-resistant varieties of the crop. Cultures are the foundation of microbiological research. David Smith of the UK National Culture Collections describes the new system in place as a result of the recent restructuring and the services that are now available to scientists. Although based in the UK, SGM is a truly international society and its journals are well received all over the world. Although we welcome members and subscribers from each and every country, the Society has carried out little direct marketing overseas. This year we took the new step of exhibiting at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, a huge conference which regularly attracts around 10,000 delegates. Ron Fraser and Janet Hurst, of the Marlborough House staff, recount their adventures in Chicago. Hot off the Press [Acrobat PDF] highlights some new developments in microbiological research that have been published in the Society's journals - Microbiology, Journal of General Virology and International Journal of Systematic Bacteriology. Topics covered include:
  • Hip to be square - Haloarcula, extremophiles with a square shape
  • The mystery of TTV - a distillation of seven papers on this recently discovered virus
  • Revealing the secrets within the cystic fibrosis lung - the possible role of Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • The enemy within - Burkholderia cepacia, a cause of lung infections, is found to survive inside nasal amoebae
  • Ancient and modern - two new species of microbes are associated with medieval times. Clostridium isatidis is found in the fermentation vat when blue dye is produced from woad, whereas Agrococcus citreus is isolated from a decaying medieval wall painting.

Going Public [Acrobat PDF] focuses on SGM activities at the 1999 Edinburgh International Science Festival. Jane Westwell of the SGM External Relations Office describes in some detail the packed session and debate on the problems of antimicrobial resistance and shows how hands-on workshops can interest children as young as six in the fascinating world of microbes.

  • Antibiotics: use or abuse?
  • SGM workshops

Last updated 29 May 2003