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Two New Ways To Prevent Cholera: Microbes Fighting Microbes

The research has so far only been done in animals

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A woman draws water from an unprotected well in Chigwirizano, a peri-urban area hit by a Cholera outbreak in Malawi.
A woman draws water from an unprotected well in Chigwirizano, a peri-urban area hit by a Cholera outbreak in Malawi. VOA
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Two promising new ways to prevent cholera are on the horizon. One is an entirely new kind of vaccine. The other is as simple as a cup of yogurt.

Both may offer fast, cheap protection from explosive outbreaks of a disease that claims tens of thousands of lives each year.

The research has so far only been done in animals. Human studies are yet to come.

Cholera declawed

Cholera causes such serious diarrhea that it can kill within hours. Current vaccines take at least 10 days to work, don’t provide complete protection and don’t work well for young children.

One group of scientists working to create a better vaccine engineered cholera bacteria that are missing the genes that make the microbe toxic.

The researchers fed the modified bacteria to rabbits. The microbes colonized the animals’ guts but did not make them sick.

When the scientists then fed rabbits normal, disease-causing cholera 24 hours later, most of the animals survived.

Those that did get sick took longer to do so than rabbits given unmodified bacteria, or modified bacteria that had been killed. Those animals died within hours.

Doctors Giving vaccines
Doctors Giving vaccines, Pixabay

The engineered cholera bacteria provided protection much faster than a conventional vaccine. They acted as a probiotic: colonized the animals’ intestines in less than a day and prevented the disease-causing microbes from getting a foothold.

The researchers expect that the modified bacteria will also act like a typical vaccine, stimulating the body’s immune system to fight a future cholera infection.

“This is a new type of therapy,” Harvard University Medical School microbiologist Matthew Waldor said. “It’s both a probiotic and a vaccine. We don’t know the right name for it yet.”

The research is published in the Science Translational Medicine journal.

Yogurt solution

In another study in the same journal, a group of researchers discovered that a microbe commonly found in yogurt, cheese and other fermented dairy products can prevent cholera infection.

Bioengineer Jim Collins at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and colleagues had been working on genetically modifying the bacteria, known as Lactococcus lactis, to treat cholera.

It hadn’t been working.

But they accidentally discovered that unmodified L. lactis keeps cholera germs in check by producing acid that the disease-causing microbes can’t tolerate.

Feeding mice doses of L. lactis bacteria every 10 hours nearly doubled their survival rate from cholera infection.

“It was remarkably surprising and satisfying,” Colllins said. “We were really getting frustrated.”

They also designed a strain of L. lactis that turns a cholera-infected mouse’s stool red. It could be a useful diagnostic, for example, to identify those carrying the bacteria but not showing symptoms.

Collins said pills of L. lactis bacteria — or simply ample supplies of fermented milk products — could be “a very inexpensive, safe and easy-to-administer way to keep some of these outbreaks in check.”

Waldor said his group’s modified-cholera vaccine also could be grown and packaged in pills quickly and easily in case of an outbreak.

Both caution that these animal studies are a long way from new treatments for human patients. They need to be proven in clinical trials.

Microscopic Image Of a Virus
Microscopic Image Of a Virus, Pixabay

Beyond cholera

The two studies could not only have an impact on cholera, but could also influence how doctors treat other intestinal diseases and manage gut health, according to Robert Hall, who oversees research funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

While fermented foods promising better health are widely available, “the studies with probiotics in the field have really seldom shown great effectiveness when they’re done scientifically,” Hall said.

The work Collins’s group did not only shows effectiveness, but explains how it works: by “making the intestine inhospitable” to cholera, he added.

Hall wrote a commentary accompanying the two studies.

Other gut diseases work the same way as cholera, he noted, so it’s possible that other microbes could be developed that block harmful germs from gaining a foothold while acting as vaccines at the same time.

Also read: Lack of Toilets, Clean Drinking Water Pose Cholera Threat in Rohingya Refugee Camps

“It’s a very exciting principle,” Hall said. (VOA)

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Finally The Cause Of Mysterious Martian Rock Formation Discovered

The new finding add to scientists' understanding of Mars's interior and its past potential for habitability

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Finally The Cause Of Mysterious Martian Rock Formation Discovered
Finally The Cause Of Mysterious Martian Rock Formation Discovered, flickr

Explosive volcanic eruptions that shot jets of hot ash, rock and gas skyward are the probable source of a mysterious Martian rock formation near the planet’s equator, says a new study.

The Medusae Fossae Formation is a massive, unusual deposit of soft rock with undulating hills and abrupt mesas.

Scientists first observed the Medusae Fossae with NASA’s Mariner spacecraft in the 1960s but were perplexed as to how it formed.

The current study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, suggests the formation was deposited during explosive volcanic eruptions on the Red Planet more than three billion years ago.

The formation is about one-fifth as large as the continental US and 100 times more massive than the largest explosive volcanic deposit on Earth, making it the largest known explosive volcanic deposit in the solar system, according to the study authors.

“This is a massive deposit, not only on a Martian scale, but also in terms of the solar system, because we do not know of any other deposit that is like this,” said study lead author Lujendra Ojha, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, US.

Volcanic eruption
Volcanic eruption, pixabay

The researchers believe that the new finding could add to scientists’ understanding of Mars’s interior and its past potential for habitability.

The eruptions that created the deposit could have spewed massive amounts of climate-altering gases into Mars’ atmosphere and ejected enough water to cover Mars in a global ocean more than nine centimeters thick, Ojha said.

Previous radar measurements of Mars’s surface suggested the Medusae Fossae had an unusual composition, but scientists were unable to determine whether it was made of highly porous rock or a mixture of rock and ice.

In the new study, the researchers used gravity data from various Mars orbiter spacecraft to measure the Medusae Fossae’s density for the first time.

They found the rock is unusually porous — it is about two-thirds as dense as the rest of the Martian crust.

They also used radar and gravity data in combination to show the Medusae Fossae’s density cannot be explained by the presence of ice, which is much less dense than rock.

Because the rock is so porous, it had to have been deposited by explosive volcanic eruptions, according to the researchers.

volcano
Active volcano, Pixabay

Greenhouse gases exhaled during the eruptions that spawned the Medusae Fossae could have warmed Mars’s surface enough for water to remain liquid at its surface, but toxic volcanic gases like hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide would have altered the chemistry of Mars’ surface and atmosphere.

Also read: Earthquake Then Volcano, There is No Relief For the Hawaii Residents

Both processes would have affected Mars’ potential for habitability, Ojha said. (IANS)