Tips from the journals of the American Society for Microbiology

January 14, 2005

Llama Antibodies May Help Prevent Dandruff

The addition of llama antibodies to shampoo could be a new strategy for fighting dandruff, say European researchers. Their findings appear in the January 2005 issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Malassezia furfur, a fungus frequently found on the human scalp, is often associated with the formation of dandruff. Current methods of treatment consist of shampoos containing antifungal compounds.

In the study researchers immunized a llama with M. furfur three times over a period of five weeks. They then screened blood samples and found antibodies that targeted a specific protein on the surface of the organism even in the harsh chemical conditions of shampoo.

"Here we describe a novel approach for preventing the formation of dandruff by inhibition of M. furfur with antibodies," say the researchers.

(E. Dolk, M. van der Vaart, D.L. Hulsik, G. Vriend, H. de Haard, S. Spinelli, C. Cambillau, L. Frenken, T. Verrips. 2004. Isolation of llama antibody fragments for prevention of dandruff by phage display in shampoo. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 71. 1: 442-450.)

New Coronavirus Identified in Pneumonia Patients

Researchers from Hong Kong have identified a novel coronavirus in patients suffering from pneumonia. Their findings appear in the January 2005 issue of the Journal of Virology.

Coronaviruses are responsible for 5 to 30 percent of human respiratory tract infections largely due to their unique ability to replicate. Because so many cases of respiratory tract infections are reported each year, researchers are actively trying to identify new causative agents.

The new virus, labeled CoV-HKU1, was first identified in a 71-year old pneumonia patient that had just returned from China. Following the discovery, nasal samples were taken from patients suffering from respiratory illness, but negative for SARS and screened for the presence of CoV-HKU1. Samples taken from a 35-year old woman suffering from pneumonia were positive for the virus, supporting the identification of a new group 2 coronavirus.

"Our data support the existence of a novel group 2 coronavirus associated with pneumonia in humans," say the researchers. "Further clinical, seroepidemiological and phylogenetic studies would be required to determine the relative importance of CoV-HKU1 compared to other respiratory tract viruses in causing upper and lower respiratory tract infections, its seroprevalence, and the origin of the virus."

(P.C.Y. Woo, S.K.P. Lau, C. Chu, K. Chan, H. Tsoi, Y. Huang, B.H.L. Wong, R.W.S. Poon, J.J. Cai, W. Luk, L.L.M. Poon, S.S.Y. Wong, Y. Guan, J.S. Malik Peiris, K. Yuen. 2004. Characterization and complete genome sequence of a novel coronavirus, coronavirus HKU1, from patients with pneumonia. Journal of Virology, 79. 2: 884-895.)

Household Dust May Be Source of Infant Botulism

A fatal case of infant botulism may have been contracted from household dust, say researchers from Finland and California. The case study appears in the January 2005 issue of the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that produces the toxin responsible for botulism, is typically harmless in adults because it cannot grow in the presence of oxygen. But the bacteria have been known to grow in the intestines of infants under the age of 1, often resulting in weakness, paralysis and even death. The sudden onset of infant botulism followed by unexplained death bears a resemblance to circumstances associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

In the case study the intestinal contents of an eleven-week old infant who died suddenly were tested for the presence of C. botulinum. Vacuum cleaner dust from the patient's house was also collected and tested for the bacterium. Researchers found genetically similar isolates of C. botulinum in both. The study noted that the child had been healthy since birth and no environmental factors that could predispose an infant to botulism were identified.

"For the first time the C. botulinum isolates from an intestinally colonized infant and from household dust from the infant's home were demonstrated to be genetically similar," say the researchers. "This genetic similarity suggests that airborne spores of C. botulinum in an infant's surroundings may cause infant botulism and, as in this case, also result in the fulminant form of the illness that resembles SIDS."

(M. Nevas, M. Lindstrom, A. Virtanen, S. Hielm, M. Kuusi, S.S. Arnon, E. Vuori, H. Korkeala. 2005. Infant botulism acquired from household dust presenting as sudden infant death syndrome. Journal of Clinical Microbiology, 43. 1: 511-513.)

American Society for Microbiology

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