Mutant Bacteria Are Likely to Threaten Future Space Travelers

When humans eventually travel to Mars and beyond, they'll have plenty to worry about along with the discomforts of eating freeze-dried food and drinking their own urine. A new report says they will probably be really sick, to boot -- from flare-ups of E. coli, chicken pox or staph infections.

A host of microscopic stowaways could make interplanetary voyagers sick, especially because human immune systems are compromised in space, and because bacteria seem to thrive in micro- or zero-gravity environments.

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The Martian Torture Chamber

Earthly organisms undergo tests in Mars-like conditions

In a Berlin basement sits a small torture chamber. The air inside the hermetically sealed steel chest consists of a choking 95 per cent carbon dioxide, some nitrogen, and traces of oxygen and argon. The pressure within is 1/170 that on Earth, and the thermostat is set to –45˚C—in other words, a nice afternoon on Mars. Experiments at the facility regularly subject some of Earth’s hardiest creatures to this hell, and they do just fine.

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A Material Based on Sharkskin Stops Bacterial Breakouts

A whale’s skin is easily glommed up with barnacles, algae, bacteria and other sea creatures, but sharks stay squeaky-clean. Although these parasites can pile onto a shark’s rippled skin too, they can’t take hold and thus simply wash away. Now scientists have printed that pattern on an adhesive film that will repel bacteria pathogens from hospitals and public restrooms.

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This Week in the Future, October 5-9, 2009

This Week in the Future, October 5-9, 2009:  Illustration by Baarbarian
The littlest gold miners, the tidiest bees, and the least fun Wii game ever. Welcome to this week's Future.

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Genetically Engineered Bacteria To Mine For Gold

While the term "gold prospector" still evokes the image of a weathered frontiersman biting into a rock, advances in biology have now created a prospector that more closely resembles E. coli than a grizzled Forty-Niner. By modifying a bacterium that finds gold toxic, Frank Reith, a geologist at the University of Adelaide, Australia, has created a microbe with an eye for gold that would put Deadwood's George Hearst to shame.

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Chemical Additive to Antibiotics Could Make Them Newly Effective Against Resistant Bacteria

Antibiotic resistance is a huge problem, not to mention an economic drain, for doctors and pharmaceutical makers trying to fight bacterial infections. Many antibiotics in our arsenal are becoming practically useless, as bacteria breed resistance to them. But researchers at Texas Tech University and Baylor University have developed a chemical additive that could make old drugs useful again.

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Using Cleanup Bacteria to Render Radioactive Metals Chemically Inert

Scrubbing sites of radiation is no easy task, not to mention costly. Aside from all the technical hurdles, the potential health hazards drive up the cost further, making it feasible in only the most necessary of cases. But researchers at the University of Missouri have found a work force that may be willing to clean up our radioactive messes on the cheap.

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Researchers Wage Communication Warfare on Bacteria

When a strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria begins an assault on the human body, doctors usually have few tools to fall back on, save more antibiotics and crossed fingers. But a group of researchers is developing a new weapon in the fight against potentially threatening bacteria, taking a page from DARPA's playbook. Rather than attacking the bacteria directly, researchers are disrupting their communications, causing coordinated attacks to fall apart before they've begun.

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Specially Engineered Bacteria Could Replace Diabetics' Insulin Shots With Insulin Yogurt Snacks

Developments in genetics are now making it possible to invite custom-engineered symbiotic creatures into our bodies to help perform the functions we can't. In two separate developments, scientists have created a strain of bacteria that stimulates insulin production in the stomach of diabetic mice, and a different strain that produces a protein that treats the stomach disease colitis. This is the first time genetically engineered bacteria have been used directly as therapeutic agents.

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E. Coli Learns to Solve Complex Equations

E. coli can do a lot more than wreak havoc within your digestive system. Scientists have made strides over the years turning the little microbe species into computational workhorses. Now a team of scientists at Missouri State Western University and Davidson University has devised a bacterial computer that can solve complex equations, using the bacteria as the brains.

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Containing the Sahara with Bacteria-Built Walls

Bacteria that construct walls out of sand could save a third of the world's population from desertification

The Sahara, as well as other deserts around the world, is growing, in a process called desertification that ends up displacing people and crops. The situation has become drastic in a number of sub-Saharan countries. One suggestion from architect Magnus Larsson at the recent TED Global conference suggests constructing a massive wall, 3,700 miles long -- built from the sand itself. The trick would be to use bacterial labor to build it.

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The Rosetta Stone Of Bacterial Communication Discovered

Think you have a good sense of spatial awareness? In that case, new research suggests you have something in common with bacteria

Although they have no sensory organs, bacteria can get a good idea about what’s going on in their neighbourhood and communicate with each other, mainly by secreting and taking in chemicals from their surrounding environment. Even though there are millions of different kinds of bacteria with their own ways of sensing the world around them, Duke University bioengineers believe they have found a principle common to all of them.

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Internet Cafes: Less Hygienic Than Public Toilets

Scientists find huge levels of bacteria and micro-organisms in the keyboards of multi-user computers.

As the popularity of internet cafes and multi-user computer facilities increases, a new study has found that shared keyboards can be breeding grounds for bacteria.

Conducted by researchers from Swinburne’s Environment and Biotechnology Centre, the study investigated the number and type of microorganisms on the keyboards of computers located in three large, multiple-user facilities on the university campus.

These were compared with staff computers that were generally handled by only one person.

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Industry on the nose

Local industry causing bad odours? Neutralise it with bacteria!

Cost-effective and environmentally-friendly odour removal for industrial use will soon be available, thanks to novel biotechnology from Murdoch University researchers.

Water and waste management expert Professor Goen Ho is collaborating with researchers from Macquarie University, as part of the Environmental Biotechnology CRC (EBCRC).

The new technology is based on the integrated and combined application of technologies underlying biofilter operation for odour removal.

EBCRC researchers have developed a way to harness bacteria to biodegrade odour causing substances.

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Are We Unintentionally Breeding Hordes of Killer Super-Animals?

Unstoppable mutant vermin and farm critters stir up health scares

This Little Piggie Had Ebola

In January, the Ebola virus leapt from pigs to farmers in the Philippines. Butdon't panic. Despite being a cousin of the deadly African strains, this one, Ebola-Reston, merely causes flu-like symptoms in humans, says Pierre Rollin, a biologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To be safe, the Philippine government ordered farmers to euthanize 6,500 pigs from infected farms. Ebola-Reston was first seen in Philippine monkeys in 1989 and has since passed to other species. Scientists think contagious bats urinated in pigs' water supply, and the swine then coughed the virus onto humans.

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