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Archive for the ‘Pathogens’ Category

Artist Luke Jerram creates the most dazzling glass-blown representations of microbes, to the awe of scientists and the general public. His glass microbiology series includes viruses like H.I.V. and bacteria like E. coli in remarkable structural detail. Colorblind, the artist focused on the shapes and textures of these pathogens. Some works are currently on display in a Manhattan art gallery.

Luke Jerram’s glass-blown representation of H.I.V. Image provided courtesy of the artist.

Luke Jerram’s series is not without its critics. Some, including medical professionals, question whether he should use the causes of deadly and incurable diseases for artistic purposes. However, such criticisms may underplay the power of these works of art to engage the public and put a face on faceless pathogens. These breathtaking works reveal a world of biology and medicine hidden for millennia by the limitations of the human eye, and dampened even in the 21st century by the limitations of the two-dimensional images we use to view these creatures under a microscope. Luke Jerram’s works bring that much-needed third dimension. Take a look for yourself.

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The western honeybee, Apis mellifera.

Scientists from the United States Department of Agriculture announced at a recent meeting that they have identified the primary pathogens associated with honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). American beekeepers first reported CCD in 2007, and the implications are dire. Honeybees (Apis mellifera) are major crop pollinators. In California alone, their commercial crop value easily exceeds $1.5 billion annually. Though CCD has only been recognized for a few years, the potential loss of honeybees as crop pollinators sent scientists scrambling to determine the cause of this odd and devastating syndrome.
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A new strain of virulent fungus is spreading quickly through the Pacific Northwest. The culprit is actually a type of yeast, Cryptococcus gattii (pronounced “Krypto-cockus gat-ee-eye”). This isn’t your beer or bread yeast. Cryptococcus gattii (C. gattii for short) was already well known in more tropical locales: New Guinea, northern Australia, Brazil, and India. In Australia, C. gattii likes to hang around eucalyptus trees. The spores, when inhaled by an animal (including us) can cause a ferocious and potentially fatal respiratory disease, cryptococcosis. C. gattii can also attack the nervous system, causing meningitis or lesions. However, human cases of C. gattii infection in the tropics remained rare (and the fungus can’t be spread from person to person). All in all, this pathogen remained a medical oddity to be aware of, not a cause for public panic.
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