For the microbiomes of our future

Picture of a baby with bacteria visualized on it.
University of Utah (Learn Genetics)

The vaginal microbiome: We live in a world of microbes, and yet we are still learning new things about these millions of ‘germs’ every day and how they influence us, but what about our children? New research suggests a mother’s stress during pregnancy could be another puzzle piece in the development of baby’s microbiome and brain. According to the CDC nearly 4 million children were born in the United States in 2016, which resulted in mothers giving their offspring microbes, whether the baby was born through c-section or vaginally. Recent research (Rutayisire et al., 2016) is starting to show that there may be an advantage to birthing vaginally, as young are exposed to their mother’s microbiome. Continue reading “For the microbiomes of our future”

How Does Your Microbe Community Change During Pregnancy?

Background

The vaginal microbiota undergoes major compositional changes throughout a women’s lifespan from birth, to puberty, to menopause. However, very little is known about the composition of the vaginal microbiota throughout these transitional stages (Romero 2014). So if the microbial community of the vagina changes throughout a women’s life, how does pregnancy change it, if it does at all? Continue reading “How Does Your Microbe Community Change During Pregnancy?”

How the gut microbiome is impacted: Patients with stage 4 hepatitis C virus

Background:

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a liver infection that is a worldwide major health problem. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), they estimated approximately 71 million people in the world with chronic HCV. In this blog I will be focusing more on chronic HCV and how it affects our gut microbiome. There are many different genotypes of the virus, and sadly there is still no pre-exposure prophylaxis available to this day but there is currently much research being done on HCV (CDC, 2018). Following the chronic infection, most people will develop cirrhosis or liver cancer. A large portion of the people who die from HCV die because they have already entered the terminal stages of cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma. Cirrhosis is a serious disease that occurs once liver cells are damaged with scar tissue, when the organ starts to fail the patient will die unless they receive a liver transplant (CDC, 2018). Hepatocellular carcinoma is a type of cancer that is correlated with hepatitis C virus, hepatitis B virus, heavy drinking, iron storage diseases or aflatoxin (CDC, 2018). The most common sources of HCV infection are by injection drugs, using contaminated needles, and transfusions of blood that has not been tested for blood pathogens. Throughout the years there has been a significant amount of research on the role of gut microbiota in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and liver cirrhosis, but there is not much research on chronic hepatitis C and the human microbiome. This is because most of the other research focuses on how alcohol affects the liver. Continue reading “How the gut microbiome is impacted: Patients with stage 4 hepatitis C virus”

The Connection Between Our Personalities and Our Gut Microbes

Image provided by vrx/Shuttestock via Shape.

Background

Personality, according to the American Psychological Association, refers to “individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving”. In short, it’s what makes us us, what makes me different from you. It shapes how we process and understand our individual lives and all the nuances they bring, and in turn those experiences also shape our personality.

Though it may have seemed obvious, there have been recent findings that personality could play a larger role than we may have thought in determining an individual’s health. For example, Youyou et al found computer-based personality judgements could predict an individual’s physical health or even if they’re more prone to substance use (Youyou et al 2015). Continue reading “The Connection Between Our Personalities and Our Gut Microbes”

Attention Deficit in Teenage Boys: Who Would’ve Guessed?

A Brief Background

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADHD, is one of the most prevalent psychiatric diseases in childhood adolescence across the globe (Polanczyk et al, 2005). Children with ADHD find difficulties with their inattention, hyperactivity, and/or inability to control their impulses. These lifelong symptoms are caused by numerous neurotransmitter systems and various brain functions. Prenatal conditions such as low birth weight, prematurity, and prenatal exposure to alcohol and/or other toxins are external risk factors. The socioemotional environment during postnatal development and food constituents/micronutrients can also contribute to ADHD symptom severity (Capusan et al, 2005). There are many risk factors in early development associated with ADHD, such as delivery method, gestational age, type of feeding, maternal health, and early-life stressors, all of which have an effect on the gut microbiota of patients with ADHD. Continue reading “Attention Deficit in Teenage Boys: Who Would’ve Guessed?”

When Environments Change

Can Algae save the world?

In today’s world with an increasing human footprint across the natural world, scientists believe we may be entering a sixth mass extinction. Fragmented habitats, introduction of invasive species, and climate change are just some of the factors leading to this mass extinction.  A lot of species still have yet to be recorded, so the number of extinctions of populations and species documented by scientists are likely to be large underestimates (Barnosky et al. 2011).  Climate change is one factor among many that is leading to the loss of biodiversity. Therefore, it is important for scientists to understand how populations respond to rapid environmental change. It is known that evolutionary history may affect risk of extinction within populations due to the accumulation of mutations, or pleiotropy. In one environment certain mutations will be favored, but in others they may have detrimental effects that reduce fitness, or reproductive success of a certain genotype in a population. (genotype being the genetic makeup of an individual) This would lower a population’s ability to withstand environmental change due to the accumulation of mutations which aren’t suited for the new environment. (MacLean et al. 2004) Understanding evolutionary history is crucial for understanding how populations will respond to environmental change caused by climate change. In the October edition of the Journal of Evolutionary Biology there was a study looking at how evolutionary history affects extinction probability.  Its title is “The effect of selection history on extinction risk during severe environmental change”. This study looked at how the extinction risk of populations of the green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii changed with various stressful environments (Lachapelle et al. 2017).

Continue reading “When Environments Change”

Parasitic Limitations on the Size of American Cliff Swallows

Introduction to the Role of the Parasite:

A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism at that organism’s expense. For most people, the thought of a parasite is usually in the form of leeches, tapeworms, or ticks. Within populations, parasites have the power to dictate the health of a population and which individuals survive. From an evolutionary standpoint, this can determine who in a population survives due to a parasites ability to kill off the defenseless, and therefore allow individuals with only specific traits to survive. Under the basic concept of natural selection: those who survive, pass on their traits, while the unfit individuals die and fail to pass their traits to the next generation. Parasites act as a controlling factor for which hosts and genes survive for reproduction. With this in mind, Charles R. Brown and Mary Bomberger Brown began a study to investigate the effect of parasitic cimicid bugs on the brood size of cliff swallows (Brown and Brown 2017).

Continue reading “Parasitic Limitations on the Size of American Cliff Swallows”

Do girls rule the world? They just might in finch hybridization!

Background: what’s happening, and where?

Map of the Galapagos Islands, Floreana is present at lower center
Figure 1. Galápagos Islands, image from Google Maps

In 1998, one of Charles Darwin’s famous finches, the medium tree finch, was classified as threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (ICUN) red list (BirdLife, 2018). The medium tree finch, otherwise known as Camahynchus pauper, was named for the size of its short, curved beak. It can be found living only on Floreana island, an island that is part of the Galapágos Islands archipelago (bottom center of fig. 1). Over the last couple hundred years, this finch has faced numerous threats to its survival in the form of habitat fragmentation and destruction, predation, and now specifically parasitism (Kleindorfer et al., 2014). In 2009, the species was bumped all the way up to being labelled as critically endangered, after its population numbers dipped, largely due to threats caused by humans (BirdLife, 2018).

Continue reading “Do girls rule the world? They just might in finch hybridization!”

The Mystery of the Coral Triangle

The Enigma

Coral reefs are prime examples of thriving diversity, none more than the Coral Triangle, which is located in the ocean surrounding the archipelagos of the Philippines and other islands above Australia, pictured in the orange area of Figure 1. For hundreds of years, the Coral Triangle has fascinated scientists. This area contains more species of corals than any other area in the world, but scientists do not know how so many corals came to occupy the Coral Triangle. Recently, a group of scientists led by Danwei Huang came together to investigate four hypotheses on diversity in hopes to find which one is most accurate with regard to the corals of the region.

A map of the area north of Australia where the Coral Triangle is located, along with ecologically relevant and similar areas.
Figure 1. A map depicting the Coral Triangle in orange  and ecologically similar regions surrounding it in blue (Figure 1 of Huang et al. 2018).

Continue reading “The Mystery of the Coral Triangle”

Here Is What Scientists Are Doing to Combat the Dangers of the Healthcare Environment

Understanding the role of microbes in our environment and how antimicrobial resistance and hospital acquired infections are spread in the healthcare environment are some of the highlights of modern science.

Our new environment

People living in the United States spend 90% of their time indoors (Klepeis et al 2016). We live in our homes, work in our office buildings, and spend recreational time in the gym. One such common indoor environment- where we  are born, and get treated for illnesses- is the hospital. How has this shift into the indoors impacted human health? Studies have linked this new environment to diseases like asthma and allergies (Fujimura et al 2014). In 2011, there were an estimated 722,000 hospital acquired infections in the U.S. (Magill et al 2014). And these infections- termed nosocomial infections- are reported as a  leading cause of patient deaths (Anderson 2002). Continue reading “Here Is What Scientists Are Doing to Combat the Dangers of the Healthcare Environment”