Today November 2001
From the cradle to the grave, the human body interacts closely with
micro-organisms. Most of these microbes
are benign, some are essential to our existence and a tiny minority can do
us harm. In this issue of
Microbiology Today we explore some of the relationships encountered
with a whole range of microbes
at different stages in our lives.
The lot of man is characterized by nine months in the uterus followed
by 'three score years and ten'.
Throughout this span there is an ever-present challenge to our health and
well-being from infectious
diseases. Starting in the time before birth and ending with maturity
and old age, Roger Finch
(University of Nottingham) charts the pathogens that we have to contend
Herpesviruses can affect us at all ages, whether it be chicken
pox in childhood, glandular fever
in adolescence, or genital infection through sexual activity. Most adults
are infected with several
herpesviruses, although remarkably the majority do not cause any symptoms.
Paul Griffiths (Royal Free
and University College Medical School, London) describes the various
types, the diseases that they can
produce and the available treatments.
One particularly distressing condition affecting young adults is
acne. Surprisingly, the first
signs of this disease can appear as young as 8 years old. Anne Eady and
Richard Bojar (University of Leeds)
answer the question 'what is acne?' and explore the progress of current
research. Medication for acne is
available, but it seems that spots may not necessarily be all bad news.
There is some evidence that acne
enhances the immune response to worse conditions such as cancer.
Staying on a skin theme, we all use cosmetics and toiletries
every day without a thought for the
problems that manufacturers have in making these products safe from
invasion by micro-organisms. Brian Perry
(Procter and Gamble) reveals how cosmetics become contaminated - mostly by
the user - and how they can spoil.
He covers the microbes most likely to cause problems and the potential
clinical consequences of contamination
before describing manufacturing processes and the principles of
Childbed or puerperal fever caused a high maternal mortality in
the past. Milton Wainwright
(University of Sheffield) shows how implementing simple measures like
handwashing in the 19th century helped
to reduce the death toll, although it is not clear who exactly was the
first to discover the benefits of
such hygienic practices.
But is it possible to be too clean? There may be a link between
hygiene and allergies. Sundeep
Salvi and Stephen Holgate (University of Southampton) discuss the pros and
cons of the Hygiene Hypothesis.
Ulcers were once blamed on stress, but a bacterium is now known
to be the cause. Instead of an
operation, a course of antibiotics can put paid to the harmful effects of
Helicobacter pylori on our
stomachs. Dave Kelly (University of Sheffield) describes the innovative
research that led to this amazing
discovery and the treatment now available.
And finally, when the grim reaper gets us, what happens to our bodies?
Not surprisingly, microbes make
sure that no mess is left behind. Human decomposition expert and
forensic pathologist Arpad Vass
describes the process of decay.
Prion diseases like BSE and vCJD are always in the headlines.
Stephen Dealler (Bradford)
highlights the latest developments in the diagnosis and treatment of these
This year applications to microbiology degree courses are down
by 16.5%. This is a worrying trend,
given the number of microbiological problems currently facing society,
such as foot-and-mouth disease,
biological warfare and AIDS. What can we do about it? Janet Hurst (SGM)
considers some of the factors
involved and suggests a few measures that universities could take to
improve their future recruitment.
The SGM has just opened up membership to schools, following the success
of initiatives to promote
microbiology to this sector by way of teaching resources and training
courses. A new feature,
Schoolzone, will address issues of relevance to microbiology
teaching and provide information and
advice. The first edition introduces some of the services and activities
on offer from the Society.
Hot off the Press
[Acrobat PDF] highlights some new developments in
microbiological research published in the Society's journals -
Microbiology, Journal of
General Virology and International Journal of Systematic and
Topics covered include:
- Programmed to die - do yeasts commit suicide?
- Breaking down the wall - Candida research may lead to
new anti-fungal drugs
- Immunobiology of TSEs - how do prion proteins get from the
stomach to the brain?
- Metal-resistant bacteria - new species of Ralstonia
- Detecting pre-clinical BSE in sheep - the search for a reliable
- Prion wasting disease in deer - building up a picture of a wild
- Pearls of cyanobacterial wisdom - identifying Nostoc
- Biofilm formation in the cystic fibrosis lung - microbial
Other items include:
[Acrobat PDF] - Promega prize winners speak; SOAPBOX
letters and a
postgrad meeting in Scotland
- Going Public
[Acrobat PDF] - the Alphabet of Science, a project to
public understanding of science
Last updated 29 May 2003