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E. coli in our lakes: What does it really mean?

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the personal blog of University of Minnesota associate professor of biosciences Timothy Johnson, Ph.D.
Johnson’s research at the U of M College of Veterinary Medicine includes investigations into antibiotic resistance in bacterial pathogens, microbial communities in the animal gastrointestinal tract, and multidrug resistance of E. coli and Salmonella in both humans and animals.

If you follow the local news, or have children that love swimming, you have probably noticed an increasing number of beaches in Minnesota closed recently due to high E. coli levels. Just in Minneapolis, Lake Hiawatha Beach and Lake Calhoun’s Thomas and 32nd Street beaches were recently closed in response to high E. coli counts in the water. The simple phrase “E. coli” strikes fear into the hearts of anyone who has ever experienced gastrointestinal distress. However, it is important to understand what E. coli actually is and what “high E. coli levels” actually means to our lakes.

What is E. coliE. coli stands for Escherichia coli. This is the formal name for a species of bacteria in honor of the German-Austrian physician Theodor Escherich, who first identified the bacteria associated with digestion in infants. Here are the important take-home messages about E. coli:

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How Naegleria fowleri has become so effective at attacking the human brain, and why it’s so hard to stop

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the presence of Naegleria fowleri – an amoeba capable of wreaking havoc on the human brain – in water at five test locations across DeSoto Parish in northwestern Louisiana.

The news was especially troubling given the presence of Naegleria fowleri in southeastern Louisiana earlier this summer and the death of a four-year-old boy in August as a result of Naegliera infection.

Now, increased visibility around the “brain eating amoeba” has many wondering where Naegleria fowleri came from and how to stop it.

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Two U of M researchers honored with prestigious NIH awards

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently recognized two University of Minnesota doctors for excellence in biomedical research. Demetris Yannopoulos, M.D., a Lillehei Heart Institute researcher and interventional cardiologist with University of Minnesota Physicians Heart at Fairview, received the Transformative Research award and Anna Tischler, Ph.D., a microbiologist within the University of Minnesota Medical School, was honored with the New Innovator award.

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Health Talk Recommends: How a superbug traveled the world

At Health Talk, we’re big fans of infographics.  We thought the one above, from Trevor Lawley and Nature Genetics was great.

The graphic (and it’s accompanying story) appeared this weekend on NPR’s Shots Blog and helps illustrate how a powerful infection, clostridium difficile (or C-diff. for short), traveled the world.

According to author Michaeleen Doucleff, around 10 years ago a particularly nasty and antibiotic-resistant strain of C-diff. appeared in the United States. Researchers started to wonder where it came from and how it had become so effective at combating our arsenal of antibiotics.

Well, after sequencing the DNA of more than 150 C-diff. strains found in patients between 1985 and 2010, scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute might have found an answer.

According to Doucleff:

“From the DNA sequences, they calculated that the highly virulent form of C. difficile first appeared in Pittsburgh around 2001. From there, it spread to Oregon, New Jersey, Arizona and Maryland, where it caused major hospital outbreaks in each state. Since 2007, the drug-resistant bacteria have also made appearances in South Korea and Switzerland. The genomic data also showed that another superbug of C. difficile cropped up independently in the U.S. around the same time.”

As for how these strains became resistant to our antibiotics?  Researchers at Wellcome think they found the answer to that too.  Evidently both aforementioned strains of C-diff. underwent a single mutation – independently – that allowed them to fight off antibiotics commonly prescribed a decade prior.  Scary stuff.

Check out Doucleff’s story at NPR for more.

P.S., if Doucleff’s story leaves you wanting to learn more about treatment options for C-diff. infections, be sure to check out our earlier post on the concept of fecal transplants.

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