Stories tagged bacteria


Blissfully ignorant of the chaotic zoo that her head has become: A hairspray user smiles for the camera.
Blissfully ignorant of the chaotic zoo that her head has become: A hairspray user smiles for the camera.Courtesy StarMama
Thanks to the hard work of diligent microbiologists, human beings now have something new to think about.

This would be frustrating for me, because I already spend so much time thinking about America’s Funniest Home Videos, the Hantavirus, water shoes, and body odor, except that this new discovery, for the most part, only applies to people who use hairspray. I don’t even use a comb, so I think I’m in the clear.

Anyway, the new thing you should be thinking, nay, worrying about, is this: Microbacterium hatanonis. It’s a brand new bacteria that lives in your hairspray. Surprise!

Contamination of cosmetic products is rare, but, obviously, not unheard of. And while you may not have realized that you have been spraying your head with Microbacterium hatanonis, you’ve probably had intimate contact with some of its Microbacterium relatives, which are known to live out their greasy little lives “in milk, cheese, beef, eggs…on catheters, and in bone marrow…and even in the blood of patients with leukemia.” And in your hair, of course.

While similar Microbacterium have been found to infect humans, whether or not M. hatanonis is likely to cause any trouble for people remains to be seen. If you have any hope of getting a serious worry on, though, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that it will be found to infect humans. And its effects? I’m sure they’ll include a whole variety of weeping sores, burning sensations, and sour odors. If you don’t like that, I’m sorry—I don’t make the symptoms, I just imagine them. In the mean time, I strongly recommend careful microscopic inspection of all hairspray before applying it to your head, or wherever else you might use it.

Your body has ten times more bacterial cells than human cells. Betcha you’ll never feel lonely again!

Medical researchers are developing nanorobots to deliver drugs directly where they are needed in the body.

Meanwhile, researchers in California are using bacteria to grow electronic circuits out of nanotubes.

Researchers at Penn State University have developed a fuel cell in which common bacteria produce copious amounts of hydrogen. Some experts believe hydrogen will replace oil as the fuel of the future, if we can find a way to produce it cheaply. The new apparatus uses waste water, plant material and bugs to produce hydrogen.

A fashion student at Cornell University has designed a line of clothing which actually kills germs on contact. The cotton clothing is coated with silver nanoparticles that deactivate bacteria and viruses. The hoods are lined with other nanoparticles that break down air pollutants.

And they look sharp, too!


It only looks cute. The smell here is very serious: A specially trained German shoe-smelling cat nearly perishes in the line of duty.     (Photo by tomroyal on
It only looks cute. The smell here is very serious: A specially trained German shoe-smelling cat nearly perishes in the line of duty. (Photo by tomroyal on
German police broke into a Kaiserslautern apartment this week after neighbors reported an extremely foul smell seeping into the stairwell. The shutters had been closed up for nearly a week, and mail was collecting in the unit’s box, so the police were prepared to find a very dead body in the apartment. They found no such thing.

What the officers did discover was a pile of very dirty laundry next to a pair of very stinky feet, which were attached to a man who was simply asleep.

How did this happen to the man? Well, foot odor, technically referred to as “stank,” is caused by sweaty feet and bacteria. A warm, moist foot is an ideal place for bacteria to live, and while the mere presence of bacteria on a foot won’t cause a bad smell, the waste they produce from consuming dead skin and sweat will. As your feet get sweatier, more and more bacteria grow down there, and they produce more and more waste, creating an increasingly potent stank.

One of the main culprits of foot odor is brevibacteria. Bervibacteria loves the spots between your toes, and the dead skin on the soles of your feet, and it produces methanethiol, which smells like stinky cheese. This is no coincidence, as stinky cheese gets its aroma from brevibacteria too.

Now, if any of you are in doubt as to whether this foot-based bacterial chemical factory can be so powerful that it could convince your neighbors that you are decomposing in your living room, let me relate to you the true story of my best friend’s freshman roommate. This roommate, who we will call “Jeff,” had feet of such potent stank that the whole hallway of the dormitory smelled like a gym shoe by October. It was so bad that the floor RA threatened to evict my friend and Jeff from the room on health grounds unless the smell was cleared up, “whatever it was.” It is extremely unlikely that Jeff was dead and decomposing, too, because he was often seen walking around, or drinking. I was able to experience the smell firsthand – walking into the room was like having a sweatsock taped over your nose, and this was when “it was starting to get better.” Jeff, however, never noticed the smell, and was convinced that a joke was being played on him.

The moral here, obviously, is to wash your feet often and buy well-ventilated footwear, or else the police will break into your house looking for your dead body. And nobody wants that.

My feet smell like baby roses, but you may be interested in this.

Thanks, neighbors.


Do you eat food that has fallen on the floor? Do you follow the five second rule? Scientists at Clemson University have extended the studies of Jillian Clarke, a high-school intern at the University of Illinois in 2003, on this topic. Their results are reported in the Journal of Applied Microbiology and summarized in a recent NY times article.

They conducted three experiments to determine the survival and transfer of Salmonella bacteria from wood, tile or carpet to bologna (sausage) and bread.

They found:
• Salmonella bacteria can survive for up to 4 weeks on dry surfaces in high-enough populations to be transferred to foods
• Salmonella bacteria can be transferred to the foods tested almost immediately on contact.

This study demonstrated the ability of bacteria to survive and cross-contaminate other foods even after long periods of time on dry surfaces, thus reinforcing the importance of sanitation on food contact to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.

So what do you do?


Transmission electron micrograph of Escherichia coli O157:H7: Courtesy CDC
Transmission electron micrograph of Escherichia coli O157:H7: Courtesy CDC
A recent NY times article looks into various approaches underdevelopment to prevent or treat food poisoning by the bacteria E. coli O157:H7. These approaches include:
Prevention – as we saw last fall, this does not always work. This is especially true with fresh produce.
Cattle vaccines – it reduces but does not eliminate the E. coli found in manure. Would this give us a false sense of security? What would the incentive be for farmers to vaccinate their herds? Cows don’t get sick from the bacteria so it would have to be a mandate or altruism.
Cattle antibiotics – feeding antibiotics to cows raises concerns of creating more antibiotic resistant pathogens.
Industrial chemicals – feed cows sodium chlorate which the O157 bacteria converts to it to sodium chlorite which poisons the pathogen
Bacterial-killing viruses – these are viruses that infect and kill only bacteria.
Friendly bacteria – is also known as probiotics. This approach feeds cattle friendly bacteria to displace the O157 bacteria. It is already sold to aid cattle digestion and some believe it reduces the amount of O157 bacteria in the manure
Human vaccines – are still years from the market. Early testing looks promising. Testing the effectiveness will be difficult. Should we be vaccinating every child in order to protect a small number? And would this make us lax with our food handling techniques. That will lead to other food and water borne infections.
Human drugs for treatment – outbreaks are rare and sporadic so these would be hard to test in clinical trials. The clues that signal an infection don’t start until 3-4 days after ingestion of the bacteria so it might also be hard to diagnose and treat the infection in a timely manner.
Monoclonal antibodies – these are a synthetic version of your body’s own infection fighters. They seem to be working in animals and with early human safety trials. But the cost is prohibitive to test them in order to prevent hemolytic uremic syndrome. This would start working once the toxin is already in the bloodstream so there are questions about its effectiveness.

We will probably see a few of these techniques used in parallel. What do you think is the best approach and why?


Watch this funny video to learn about where you should be coughing. Just say no to using your hands.

I have to say that I've started coughing and sneezing into my sleeve in the recent years and discovered that the only side effect is that every once and a while I get a little glob of snot on my sleeve. GROSS! But hey, who really washes their hands every time they cough, sneeze, or touch their face? So sacrifice a little snotty fabric and cough and sneeze into your sleeve.

It's out there...

by Liza on Dec. 20th, 2006

In other ominous food safety news, a study just published in Pediatrics shows that just being near meat or poultry in the grocery store is a risk factor for Salmonella infections in infants. (And by now you probably know about the E. coli infections related to spinach and lettuce...)