Eek!
The current, on-going Ebola crisis is just the latest reminder that we live in a world dominated by microbes, many of them harmful to our health and lives.
The Ebola virus is indisputably frightening, with outbreaks that have a case fatality rate of up to 90 percent. Fortunately, its mode of transmission appears limited: Close contact with the blood, secretions, organs and other bodily fluids of infected animals. So far, its spread has been limited to defined regions of Africa where healthcare services and disease prevention efforts have proved minimal to non-existent.
For the time being, at least, Ebola seems a bit exotic. But there are plenty of menacing microbes closer at hand. They may not possess the same nasty ability to kill but they are often easier to transmit and more prone to infect.
Among them is Escherichia coli, more commonly called E. coli. It is an abundant bacterium. Most strains, which reside in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms (including humans) are harmless, but some strains are not. When the latter taint foods, perhaps through unseen and unknown fecal contamination, the result can be severe food poisoning or worse. 
E. coli outbreaks are not uncommon. They can – and do – kill too.
That’s worth remembering, along with these rules.
Pictured: Electron micrograph of E. coli bacteria courtesy of Thomas Deerinck, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at UC San Diego.

Eek!

The current, on-going Ebola crisis is just the latest reminder that we live in a world dominated by microbes, many of them harmful to our health and lives.

The Ebola virus is indisputably frightening, with outbreaks that have a case fatality rate of up to 90 percent. Fortunately, its mode of transmission appears limited: Close contact with the blood, secretions, organs and other bodily fluids of infected animals. So far, its spread has been limited to defined regions of Africa where healthcare services and disease prevention efforts have proved minimal to non-existent.

For the time being, at least, Ebola seems a bit exotic. But there are plenty of menacing microbes closer at hand. They may not possess the same nasty ability to kill but they are often easier to transmit and more prone to infect.

Among them is Escherichia coli, more commonly called E. coli. It is an abundant bacterium. Most strains, which reside in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms (including humans) are harmless, but some strains are not. When the latter taint foods, perhaps through unseen and unknown fecal contamination, the result can be severe food poisoning or worse

E. coli outbreaks are not uncommon. They can – and do – kill too.

That’s worth remembering, along with these rules.

Pictured: Electron micrograph of E. coli bacteria courtesy of Thomas Deerinck, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at UC San Diego.

River of Dreams
The cortex is the brain’s outermost layer, visually characterized by its notable sulci or deep folds, which allow the brain to cram more neurons into limited space. When you look at a human brain, you see only about one-third of its surface, the other two-thirds are hidden in the folds. The more wrinkly the brain surface, the greater the ability to think, generally speaking. 
The cortex is where much of our brain’s higher executive functions occur, from interpreting sensory input and controlling voluntary movement to generating thoughts and forming memories. Naturally, doing all of that work requires a large and steady supply of oxygen and other nutrients.
Above is wide-field confocal micrograph by Tom Deerinck at the National Center for Microscopy Imaging and Research at UC San Diego. The image depicts the in situ superficial vasculature (blood vessels) of a rat cerebral cortex, whose brains are very similar to humans in basic structure and function. It was made using 50 optical sections.

River of Dreams

The cortex is the brain’s outermost layer, visually characterized by its notable sulci or deep folds, which allow the brain to cram more neurons into limited space. When you look at a human brain, you see only about one-third of its surface, the other two-thirds are hidden in the folds. The more wrinkly the brain surface, the greater the ability to think, generally speaking. 

The cortex is where much of our brain’s higher executive functions occur, from interpreting sensory input and controlling voluntary movement to generating thoughts and forming memories. Naturally, doing all of that work requires a large and steady supply of oxygen and other nutrients.

Above is wide-field confocal micrograph by Tom Deerinck at the National Center for Microscopy Imaging and Research at UC San Diego. The image depicts the in situ superficial vasculature (blood vessels) of a rat cerebral cortex, whose brains are very similar to humans in basic structure and function. It was made using 50 optical sections.

Silky Smooth
The image on the left is a scanning electron micrograph of human skin, produced by Thomas Deerinck at the National Center for Microscopic and Imaging Research at UC San Diego. Human epidermis – the outermost layer of skin – contains no blood cells and receives its nutrients solely through diffusion from capillaries in the underlying dermis. Over time, these cells lose their cytoplasm, which is replaced by keratin, a structural protein that forms tough, insoluble fibers (your hair and nails are excellent examples). After roughly a month, the cells die and are sloughed off at a rate of 30,000 to 40,000 per minute!
The comparatively smooth skin surface in the image to the right, courtesy of Carbajo Maria, is that of a spider. It features a few hairs and some random grains of adhering pollen.

Silky Smooth

The image on the left is a scanning electron micrograph of human skin, produced by Thomas Deerinck at the National Center for Microscopic and Imaging Research at UC San Diego. Human epidermis – the outermost layer of skin – contains no blood cells and receives its nutrients solely through diffusion from capillaries in the underlying dermis. Over time, these cells lose their cytoplasm, which is replaced by keratin, a structural protein that forms tough, insoluble fibers (your hair and nails are excellent examples). After roughly a month, the cells die and are sloughed off at a rate of 30,000 to 40,000 per minute!

The comparatively smooth skin surface in the image to the right, courtesy of Carbajo Maria, is that of a spider. It features a few hairs and some random grains of adhering pollen.

Close Nit
With Labor Day looming and the beginning of school, many of the academically minded among us turn their thoughts and eyes to topics like classroom supplies, textbooks and the likelihood little Johnny is going to come home with head lice.
It’s hard to know how many people get head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis) each year. The Centers for Disease Control estimates 6 to 12 million infestations annually in the United States among children three to 11 years of age – the most common targets.
Getting head lice is not a matter of cleanliness. The wingless parasitic insect is spread primarily by direct contact with the hair of an infested person. The most common way is head-to-head contact. Some studies suggest girls get head lice more often than boys.
Less common modes of transmission are wearing infested clothing, such as hats or scarves, using infested combs, brushes or towels or lying on a bed, couch, pillow or carpet recently in contact with an infested person.
Head lice are not known to transmit disease, but secondary bacterial skin infections may occur from scratching the infestation site. Some folks argue that beyond their basic harmlessness, head lice might actually promote health by boosting a natural immune response to body lice (Pediculus humanus humanus), which pose a more serious health threat.
Head lice spend their entire lives on human scalps, clamped onto a strand of hair, feeding exclusively on human blood. There are other species of lice that infest other mammals and birds.
Treatment involves the use of pediculicides – medicines that kill lice and their eggs. Supplemental measures include thorough cleaning of all clothes and exposed materials and grooming with a special, fine-toothed comb to extract adults and eggs, called nits.
Above: A colorized scanning electron micrograph of a nit (green) affixed to a strand of human hair, courtesy of Kevin Mackenzie, one of the winners of this year’s Wellcome Image Awards.

Close Nit

With Labor Day looming and the beginning of school, many of the academically minded among us turn their thoughts and eyes to topics like classroom supplies, textbooks and the likelihood little Johnny is going to come home with head lice.

It’s hard to know how many people get head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis) each year. The Centers for Disease Control estimates 6 to 12 million infestations annually in the United States among children three to 11 years of age – the most common targets.

Getting head lice is not a matter of cleanliness. The wingless parasitic insect is spread primarily by direct contact with the hair of an infested person. The most common way is head-to-head contact. Some studies suggest girls get head lice more often than boys.

Less common modes of transmission are wearing infested clothing, such as hats or scarves, using infested combs, brushes or towels or lying on a bed, couch, pillow or carpet recently in contact with an infested person.

Head lice are not known to transmit disease, but secondary bacterial skin infections may occur from scratching the infestation site. Some folks argue that beyond their basic harmlessness, head lice might actually promote health by boosting a natural immune response to body lice (Pediculus humanus humanus), which pose a more serious health threat.

Head lice spend their entire lives on human scalps, clamped onto a strand of hair, feeding exclusively on human blood. There are other species of lice that infest other mammals and birds.

Treatment involves the use of pediculicides – medicines that kill lice and their eggs. Supplemental measures include thorough cleaning of all clothes and exposed materials and grooming with a special, fine-toothed comb to extract adults and eggs, called nits.

Above: A colorized scanning electron micrograph of a nit (green) affixed to a strand of human hair, courtesy of Kevin Mackenzie, one of the winners of this year’s Wellcome Image Awards.

Memorable pictures
The hippocampus is a major component of the brains of humans and other vertebrates, playing critical roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory and in spatial navigation. Damage to the hippocampus, whether from oxygen starvation, diseases such as encephalitis or epilepsy or physical trauma can result in memory loss and disorientation, including anterograde amnesia – the inability to form or retain new memories.
The hippocampus is also among the first regions of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
The hippocampus is a many-layered splendor, as these false-color confocal micrographs of a rat hippocampus by Thomas Deerinck of the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at UC San Diego brilliantly show, layer upon lovely layer of pyramidal neurons, support cells and neuronal fibers.

Memorable pictures

The hippocampus is a major component of the brains of humans and other vertebrates, playing critical roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory and in spatial navigation. Damage to the hippocampus, whether from oxygen starvation, diseases such as encephalitis or epilepsy or physical trauma can result in memory loss and disorientation, including anterograde amnesia – the inability to form or retain new memories.

The hippocampus is also among the first regions of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

The hippocampus is a many-layered splendor, as these false-color confocal micrographs of a rat hippocampus by Thomas Deerinck of the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at UC San Diego brilliantly show, layer upon lovely layer of pyramidal neurons, support cells and neuronal fibers.

Adipose for a picture
Adiposity on a grand scale is a familiar sight. It describes more than one-third of American adults, categorized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as obese.
Turns out that fat on the microscopic scale isn’t any more attractive, at least not these adipocytes (fat cells) captured in an electron micrograph by Steve Gschmeissner.

Adipose for a picture

Adiposity on a grand scale is a familiar sight. It describes more than one-third of American adults, categorized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as obese.

Turns out that fat on the microscopic scale isn’t any more attractive, at least not these adipocytes (fat cells) captured in an electron micrograph by Steve Gschmeissner.

News That’s Spit To Print
The North American moose (Alces alces), which can reach more than 1,500 pounds, is a voracious eater, mostly grasses, forbs and fresh shoots from trees like willow and birch. Many plants, of course, have developed defense mechanisms to dissuade consumption by predatory ungulates. Think thorns or a bitter taste.
Which brings us to red fescue grass (Festuca rubra), which harbors a toxic fungus called Epichloe festucae that can make grazing animals sick, sometimes to the point of actual death. But moose eat lots of red fescue grass without apparent harm, which piqued the curiosity of researchers at York University in Canada.
In this month’s Biology Letters, they provide a possible answer: The saliva of moose (and reindeer) contains an anti-fungal agent that counteracts the grass fungus.
Specifically, the moose saliva anti-fungal agent inhibited fungal growth in red fescue grass, making it safer to eat more of it. “We know that animals can remember if certain plants have made them feel ill, and they may avoid these plants in future,” said study author Dawn Bazely. “This study is the first evidence, to our knowledge, of herbivore saliva being shown to ‘fight back’ and slow down the growth of the fungus.”
While the York researchers’ work offers no immediately obvious clinical applications for humans, it does prove at least that a moose is nobody’s drool.

News That’s Spit To Print

The North American moose (Alces alces), which can reach more than 1,500 pounds, is a voracious eater, mostly grasses, forbs and fresh shoots from trees like willow and birch. Many plants, of course, have developed defense mechanisms to dissuade consumption by predatory ungulates. Think thorns or a bitter taste.

Which brings us to red fescue grass (Festuca rubra), which harbors a toxic fungus called Epichloe festucae that can make grazing animals sick, sometimes to the point of actual death. But moose eat lots of red fescue grass without apparent harm, which piqued the curiosity of researchers at York University in Canada.

In this month’s Biology Letters, they provide a possible answer: The saliva of moose (and reindeer) contains an anti-fungal agent that counteracts the grass fungus.

Specifically, the moose saliva anti-fungal agent inhibited fungal growth in red fescue grass, making it safer to eat more of it. “We know that animals can remember if certain plants have made them feel ill, and they may avoid these plants in future,” said study author Dawn Bazely. “This study is the first evidence, to our knowledge, of herbivore saliva being shown to ‘fight back’ and slow down the growth of the fungus.”

While the York researchers’ work offers no immediately obvious clinical applications for humans, it does prove at least that a moose is nobody’s drool.

You Might Hear A Cricket Chirp
Ormia ochracea is a tiny, parasitical fly and the bane of crickets. The fly listens for cricket chirps, homes in and deposits larvae on the back of the cricket’s back. The larvae then proceed to burrow into the cricket and eat it alive.
While this scenario is nothing for crickets to sing about, it’s absolute inspiration for researchers trying to develop the next generation of directional hearing aids, who describe a new, fly-inspired prototype in the journal Applied Physics Letters.
What’s particularly notable about the fly’s hearing abilities is that they derive from ears that are, well, extremely small. Human ability to detect the source and direction of sounds derives significantly from our large heads and widely separated ears. The latter receive the same sound at slightly different times. Our brains analyze that time difference and use it to locate the sound source.
The heads of flies, though, are just a millimeter or so wide, about the thickness of an average fingernail. (Incidentally, the fly above is resting on a fingernail so you can get a good sense of scale.) Flies overcome their size limitations by creatively tweaking the internal hearing structure. Between the two ears of a fly is a sort of see-saw that moves up and down, amplifying the incredibly small time differences of incoming sounds. It allows the fly to find chirping crickets quite well.
Researchers at the University of Texas have used the fly’s ear structure as a model to create minute pressure-sensitive devices out of silicon that they hope can eventually be used in new directional hearing aids that are smaller, more comfortable and longer-lasting.

You Might Hear A Cricket Chirp

Ormia ochracea is a tiny, parasitical fly and the bane of crickets. The fly listens for cricket chirps, homes in and deposits larvae on the back of the cricket’s back. The larvae then proceed to burrow into the cricket and eat it alive.

While this scenario is nothing for crickets to sing about, it’s absolute inspiration for researchers trying to develop the next generation of directional hearing aids, who describe a new, fly-inspired prototype in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

What’s particularly notable about the fly’s hearing abilities is that they derive from ears that are, well, extremely small. Human ability to detect the source and direction of sounds derives significantly from our large heads and widely separated ears. The latter receive the same sound at slightly different times. Our brains analyze that time difference and use it to locate the sound source.

The heads of flies, though, are just a millimeter or so wide, about the thickness of an average fingernail. (Incidentally, the fly above is resting on a fingernail so you can get a good sense of scale.) Flies overcome their size limitations by creatively tweaking the internal hearing structure. Between the two ears of a fly is a sort of see-saw that moves up and down, amplifying the incredibly small time differences of incoming sounds. It allows the fly to find chirping crickets quite well.

Researchers at the University of Texas have used the fly’s ear structure as a model to create minute pressure-sensitive devices out of silicon that they hope can eventually be used in new directional hearing aids that are smaller, more comfortable and longer-lasting.

Food for thought
Admittedly there’s no known scientific or therapeutic value to the brain image above. It’s not likely to satisfy our hunger for knowledge in, say, the way a tractograph or fMRI might. Instead, it’s just likely to make you hungry – for more.
Feast your eyes on Sara Asnaghi’s similar cerebral takes of the edible brain here.

Food for thought

Admittedly there’s no known scientific or therapeutic value to the brain image above. It’s not likely to satisfy our hunger for knowledge in, say, the way a tractograph or fMRI might. Instead, it’s just likely to make you hungry – for more.

Feast your eyes on Sara Asnaghi’s similar cerebral takes of the edible brain here.

Uh oh!
A diagnosis of prostate cancer can be an “uh oh” moment. After skin cancer, it’s the most common cancer in American men, with more than 238,000 new cases diagnosed each year and almost 30,000 deaths.
However, the confocal micrograph above, produced by Xiaochen Lu and C. Chase Bolt at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is not an uh-oh moment. Rather, it may be an “ah-hah!”
It depicts the actual prostate and ureter of an embryonic mouse – a winning image from the 2013 Olympus BioScapes competition.
Mouse models of prostate cancer are widely used, in part because the disease is often very slow progressing in humans and typically not detected in men until their 60s or older.

Uh oh!

A diagnosis of prostate cancer can be an “uh oh” moment. After skin cancer, it’s the most common cancer in American men, with more than 238,000 new cases diagnosed each year and almost 30,000 deaths.

However, the confocal micrograph above, produced by Xiaochen Lu and C. Chase Bolt at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is not an uh-oh moment. Rather, it may be an “ah-hah!”

It depicts the actual prostate and ureter of an embryonic mouse – a winning image from the 2013 Olympus BioScapes competition.

Mouse models of prostate cancer are widely used, in part because the disease is often very slow progressing in humans and typically not detected in men until their 60s or older.

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