Friday, November 7, 2008

Beetles Know Better Medicine; Beatles Play Lousy Music

Pine beetles have got better antibiotics than we do, and until a recent study they were using antibiotics we'd never heard of. It's an interesting development both because of what the study discovered and how it has been presented as news.

Baby beetles eat fungus. The mother beetle carries this fungus around with her, but she can also end up with a parasitic mite that carries its own fungus. The parasite's fungus would normally destroy the beetle's fungus, which would be disastrous for its children, but that's where the antibiotic comes in. The beetle has a special bacterium with antibiotic properties that destroys the intruding fungus and keeps its children well fed.

Bored yet? I know, beetle-on-fungus action isn't very exciting in its own right. That's why Harvard Medical School jazzed up their press release to read like a movie script, capturing the capture the drama of life-and-death struggles on a microbial level with action-packed thrills and chills. Not one to put style over substance, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has issued a more staid press release that's not above a little fear mongering as it quietly reminds us that discoveries of new antibiotics have slowed while bacteria resistant to existing antibiotics are spreading at an increasing rate. Which press release do you think is sexier?

And the Beatles? Yeah, I hate them and their music. Deal with it.

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The header image is adapted from a photo taken by Bill McChesney and used under a creative commons license.
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