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Microbiology

Winter 2017

A mother’s microbial gift

Old assumptions about human breast milk are giving way to new thinking about microbes in milk and their role in children’s health and our immune systems.

 

It happened again, most recently at a conference in Prague. After she gave her talk, a scientist came up to Shelley McGuire, a pioneer exploring the microbial communities found in human breast milk, and told her, You don’t know how to take a sample. Your samples must have been contaminated. Human milk is sterile.

McGuire, a professor of human nutrition at Washington State University, knows differently: She’s seen the microbes with her own eyes. But she understands … » More …

Microbes in soil
Winter 2017

The microbe whisperers

Tarah Sullivan is fiercely insistent that we are all interconnected. The Washington State University soil microbiologist and ecologist says that understanding those connections is key to a healthy future.

“I know it sounds a little hokey,” the mother of two daughters apologizes without backing down: “Microorganisms connect everything everyday in every way. We absolutely could not survive on the planet without active and healthy microbiomes, in humans and in the environment.”

Sullivan’s work focuses on how microbial communities in soil impact heavy metal biogeochemistry. Many metals are important micronutrients for both plants and animals—but too much of a good thing can make plants sick. … » More …

Winter 2017

The secrets in a tick’s gut

It may be possible to use good bacteria to control bad bacteria and, in the process, reduce the use of chemicals currently employed for such control. Just look in a tick’s gut.

Kelly Brayton, a WSU veterinary microbiologist, and her colleagues study the pathogens in ticks that cause disease in livestock and humans. The pathogens infest ticks’ guts and salivary glands and, along with other non-pathogenic organisms, comprise the tiny arachnid’s microbiome.

They’ve recently been studying something fascinating: If a tick is infected by a non-disease causing strain of the bacteria Anaplasma marginale, its bite won’t transmit anaplasmosis to its human victim. This “exclusion process,” … » More …

Mel Eklund '55 thumb image
Summer 2016

Deadliest toxin microbiologist

A researcher’s lifelong investigation of the botulinum bacteria

Millions of juvenile salmon died mysteriously in hatcheries across the Northwest from 1979 to 1982. Bankruptcy loomed for seafood companies as fish wobbled around the hatchery tanks and then expired.

Eventually, they brought in Mel Eklund ’55, a microbiologist and pathogen expert with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle. His wife, Helen, had seen a news report about the dying salmon and when she told him, Eklund got to work.

He analyzed the fish samples in his lab and discovered what he suspected: The salmon were poisoned with botulism, one of the most powerful toxins … » More …

Videos: Meet the Scientist – Cynthia Haseltine and microbiology research on Archaea

Our DNA suffers damage all the time-from cosmic rays, exposure to chemicals, simple wear & tear-and is constantly being repaired. But when something goes wrong in the repair process, says WSU microbiologist Cynthia Haseltine, “bad things happen.” Among the worst of those bad things is lymphoma, a cancer of white blood cells.

In a series of four brief video clips produced by Adam Ratliff and Cherie Winner for Washington State Magazine Online, Haseltine describes how she’s working to understand the process of DNA repair and the causes of lymphoma, with the help of a microbe that has an unusual lifestyle and an uncanny resemblance to … » More …

Winter 2007

Creatures from the Dark Lagoons

Cynthia Haseltine wants everyone to know that the microbes she works with are not bacteria.

They look like bacteria; each Sulfolobus is a single cell that has one circular chromosome and lacks a nucleus. But in their genes and the way they read and repair their DNA, these organisms bear a closer resemblance to us than to bacteria—and those similarities make Sulfolobus an excellent model system for learning about how our cells handle DNA, and how the process sometimes goes wrong.

Haseltine’s microbes belong to the group of organisms known as Archaea (ar-KAY-uh). Most Archaea are extremophiles, living in hot, saline, acidic, or other extreme … » More …