Monday, April 30, 2012

Phages: the armageddon of infections?

There is no doubt of the urgent need for developing new antibacterials. The list of bacteria resistant to virtually all drugs is increasing nearly every month and in the XXI century patients are dying in our hospitals due to the lack of treatments for infections. No surprisingly, WHO announced in 2009 that “Antibiotic resistance is one of the three greatest threats to human health”.  Since the drug discovery pipeline is nearly dry, alternative antimicrobial approaches have been proposed, including the use of  antimicrobial peptides, the manipulation of the host-pathogen interphase (followed in my lab with very promising results), and the use of bacteriophages
The discovery of bacteriophages, obligate predators of bacteria, is attributed to Twort and d’Herelle in the early 20th century. The therapeutic potential of phages was recognized soon thereafter and applied for several decades before the discovery and widespread adoption of antibiotic. However, there has been a renewed interest into bacteriophage therapy due to the increasing incidence of antibiotic resistance.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Basic science rocks!

The economical crisis is affecting everything. We are all familiar with "budget cuts", "restrinctions", "debt", "risk premium",... In most high income countries the new mantra are "make things profitable", "tax-payers money should be used only to support areas with added value", "let´s avoid unnecessary things", ... Not surprisingly this politicians view is also affecting science. Five to seven years ago many grant funding agencies, including the European Comission, started to deem basic science as a low priority area. Instead, major funding efforts are increasingly been devoted to those projects/areas showing great promises of transfer the knowledge to the market in a short time. In many places, at least in my own country Spain, basic science is mostly considered a waste of money. Now in every project you write you really need to make a clear business case of the importance of your research, and expected results, for health, society, market,...In the context of biomedical research, my own area of research, projects should be truly oriented to impact significantly the National Health System (NHS).

Is it really true that we, basic scientists, are wasting tax-payers money? Is there not anymore space in our society for curiosity driven research funded by the goverments?

Monday, January 30, 2012


Ready-to-wear or prêt-à-porter is the term for factory-made clothing, in standardized sizes, as distinct from haute-couture (high-fashion) design clothing. The former is based upon a pattern that is then duplicated and advertised to raise the visibility of the designer. The latter is endowed with great doses of novelty and creativity. In fact, it is believed that fashion design anticipates costumer tastes and, actually, marks the next tendencies. Fashion is everywhere and references to anything that is the current trend in interior design, furniture, food, music,...and science?

Can we consider science under the light of fashion? Are there prêt-à-porter and  haute-couture science? Are there trending topics? At least in the Microbiology field this is the case.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Illuminating virulence

The advent of molecular methods made necesary to revise the Koch´s postulates, formulated in 1890, as general guidelines that should be followed to identify pathogens causing diseases. As a result, Stanley Falkow established the molecular version of Koch's postulates to guide the identification of microbial genes encoding virulence factors. Falkow established five experimental criteria that a gene must fulfill to be considered a virulence factor. A criterium almost never addressed by scientists is "The gene, which causes virulence, must be expressed during infection." It has been always considered enough to test whether specific inactivation of the gene is associated to a measurable loss of virulence. Actually, the golden standard is to demonstrate in vivo (using suitable animal/plant models) that allelic replacement of the mutated gene leads to restoration of virulence.

However, wouldn´t it be interesting to know exactly when and where the virulence gene is expressed? Certainly this may help to understand the in vivo role of the virulence factor: is it required only for the initial colonization of the tissues? Is it necesary to fight phagocytic cells?, is the expression of this factor coordinated with those of other factors?,...Moreover, are there virulenece factors expressed only in vivo and therefore absolutely dispensable in vitro? These questions led scientists to develop experimental approaches to enlighten virulence gene expression. Conceptually, the methods were originally conceived upon the premise (now considered fact) that most virulence genes are transcriptionally induced at one or more times during infection