Humans have been breeding crops until they're bigger and more nutritious since the early days of agriculture, but genetic manipulation isn't the only way to give plants a boost. In a review paper, two integrative biologists present how it is possible to engineer the plant soil microbiome to improve plant growth, even if the plants are genetically identical and cannot evolve. 

These artificially selected microbiomes, which can also be selected in animals, can then be passed on from parents to offspring.

A new analysis leads the authors to advance the belief that viruses are living entities that share a long evolutionary history with cells, based on a method for tracing viral evolution back to a time when neither viruses nor cells existed in the forms recognized today.

Until now, viruses have been difficult to classify, said University of Illinois crop sciences and Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology professor Gustavo Caetano-Anollés, who led the new analysis with graduate student Arshan Nasir. In its latest report, the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses recognized seven orders of viruses, based on their shapes and sizes, genetic structure and means of reproducing.

Scientists successfully defeated a dangerous intestinal pathogen, Clostridium difficile, with a drug targeting its toxins rather than its life.

C. difficile is responsible for more than 250,000 hospitalizations and 15,000 deaths per year in the United States, costing the country more than $4 billion in health-care expenses, said the study's senior author, Matthew Bogyo, PhD, professor of pathology and of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine. Lead authorship of the study is shared by Kristina Bender, PhD, a former postdoctoral scholar in Bogyo's lab, and Megan Garland, a student in the Medical Scientist Training Program.

About 20 million years ago a single flea became entombed in amber with tiny bacteria attached to it, providing what researchers believe may be the oldest evidence on Earth of a dreaded and historic killer - an ancient strain of the bubonic plague.

If indeed the fossil bacteria are related to plague bacteria, Yersinia pestis, the discovery would show that this scourge, which killed more than half the population of Europe in the 14th century, actually had been around for millions of years before that, traveled around much of the world, and predates the human race.

People fed β-glucan-enriched pasta for two months showed increased populations of beneficial bacteria in their intestinal tracts, and reduced populations of non-beneficial bacteria. They also showed reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol. This work is part of a broad effort to identify potential prebiotics--foods that could encourage the growth of health-promoting bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.

We each give off millions of bacteria from our human microbiome to the air around us every day, and that cloud of bacteria can be traced back to an individual. New research focused on the personal microbial cloud -- the airborne microbes we emit into the air -- examined the microbial connection we have with the air around us.

The findings demonstrate the extent to which humans possess a unique 'microbial cloud signature.'

Genetic mutations called "escape variants" in the deadly Ebola virus appear to block the ability of antibody-based treatments to ward off infection, according to a team of U.S. Army scientists and collaborators.

New research has uncovered why a particular strain of Staphylococcus aureus -- known as HA-MRSA -- becomes more deadly than other variations. These new findings open up possible new pathways to vaccine development against this bacterium, which the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions says accounts for over 10,000 deaths annually, mostly among hospital patients.

In a series of experiments in mice and in human immune cells in the lab, a team found that the presence or absence of dueling toxins, or bacterial poisons, appears to explain the major difference between HA-MRSA, and its less virulent and more common, community based-based cousin, CA-MRSA, the two main types of MRSA infection.

Every now and then you get a 3-1, 86 mph fastball down the middle of the plate. You just have to swing.

This exact pitch was thrown in Washington this week. Not the Nationals. By the PostThey ran a superbly silly story this week entitled  "The dirtiest places on an airplane, ranked." I swung.

Diets rich in fish oil versus diets rich in lard produce very different bacteria in the guts of mice, reports a study from Sahlgrenska Academy published in Cell Metabolism.

The researchers transferred these microbes into other mice to see how they affected health. The results suggest that gut bacteria share some of the responsibility for the beneficial effects of fish oil and the harmful effects of lard.