Siouxsie Wiles

Dr Siouxsie Wiles is a research scientist with a background in medical and environmental microbiology. She has made a career out of combining her twin passions of bioluminescence (the production of light by living organisms — think glow worms and fireflies) and nasty microbes. In a nutshell, Siouxsie and her team make nasty bacteria glow in the dark to better understand infectious diseases. Originally from the UK, Siouxsie now leads the Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab at the University of Auckland. She was the 2013 winner of the Prime Minister's Science Media Communicator's Prize. Siouxsie is on Twitter @SiouxsieW

Monday Micro: Ebola update and NZ preparedness - Infectious Thoughts

Nov 24, 2014

With Ebola now moving into Mali, I thought it was time for a quick update and some links. According to the CDC and WHO, as of the 16th November 2014 there have been an estimated 15145 cases, including 5420 deaths. Since the end of October there have been 6 cases in neighbouring Mali; all cases have died. American Dr Craig Spencer who had recently returned from working with Doctors Without Borders in Guinea came down with Ebola but survived and has been discharged from hospital. What is NZ doing to prepare for an Ebola case? Good question! The Goodfellow Unit at the University of Auckland recently ran an event for GPs and TV3’s Third Degree programme filmed an exercise with St John’s Ambulance transferring a suspected Ebola ‘patient’ to hospital. You can watch their … Read More

Is Starbucks the USA’s “ground zero” for Ebola? Um, no. - Infectious Thoughts

Nov 24, 2014

With the abundance of very serious news stories about the ongoing Ebola outbreak in west Africa, time for a little light relief in the form of “Dr”* James David Manning. “Dr” Manning is pastor of the ATLAH Worldwide Missionary Church in New York. He also presents ‘The Manning Report’ on YouTube which bills itself as “the news behind the headlines”. When it was revealed that New Yorker Dr Craig Spencer, recently returned from treating Ebola patients in Guinea, had visited coffee shops and a bowling alley (all while asymptomatic and hence posing no threat to the public) it seems to have prompted Manning to fall for a hoax about Starbucks using semen to give it’s lattes more flavour. He’s recorded several rants, including one declaring that Starbucks was New York’s “Ground Zero” … Read More

Monday Micro – glowing bugs return to the park! - Infectious Thoughts

Nov 10, 2014

This Thursday, bioluminescent bacteria will once again be making an appearance at Auckland’s Art in the Dark festival. ‘Biolumination‘ is the result of my second collaboration with artist Rebecca Klee. This year sees our glowing bacteria being displayed in custom-built glass vessels which remind me a lot of the fishing lines our native glow worm Arachnocampa luminosa uses to snare its food. The lovely people at Gather and Hunt made a neat little video about Rebecca and I which will give you a little teaser of Biolumination in action. And for those of you in Auckland, come along to Western Park, 8pm-midnight, Thursday 13th – Sunday 16th November and look for the shipping container down at the bottom of the park. If you are curious about … Read More

Naturopathy vs Science - Infectious Thoughts

Nov 03, 2014

Today Wellington’s Dominion Post newspaper ran a piece of (in my opinion..) misleading propaganda they passed of as a cartoon which can be summed up as naturopathy vs science. I assume it is in response to the bad press that homeopathy received last week after Green Party MP Steffan Browning signed a petition calling for the World Health Organisation to start using homeopathy to treat people in west Africa with Ebola. I had the pleasure of explaining what homeopathy is on breakfast TV. Inspired by the fantastic @WieldARedPen on twitter, I fixed the cartoon. Enjoy! … Read More

Monday Micro – frozen poop pills! - Infectious Thoughts

Oct 13, 2014

It’s still Monday so time for a very quick post about a paper just out in the Journal of the American Medical Association. I’ve blogged before about faecal transplants – giving a patient a dose of faeces from a healthy donor to resolve infection with the diarrhoea-causing bacteria Clostridium difficile. One of the problems with faecal transplants is the way they are delivered – either by a tube through the nose and into the colon, or the more direct route of up the bum. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have tried something a little more palatable. They took faecal material, blended it to make a suspension, removed all the particulate matter, added glycerol as a cryoprotectant and then froze it in small amounts inside of capsules that could withstand transit through the acidic … Read More

Ebola in USA no reason for panic - Infectious Thoughts

Oct 01, 2014

In a press conference earlier today, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that the US has diagnosed its first case of Ebola, in a man who travelled from Liberia to Dallas, Texas, on the 20th of September. The man was asymptomatic while in transit and only developed symptoms around the 24th of September. He sought medical help on the 26th of September and was hospitalised on the 28th. He remains in a critical condition. Tom Skinner from the CDC spoke to Kathryn Ryan on Radio NZ National’s Nine to Noon programme this morning which you can listen to here. This latest case is not cause for panic. The US have all the systems in place to isolate the patient and trace everyone he may have come into contact with while infectious. The only thing … Read More

Monday Micro: glowing dog bones in Taranaki! - Infectious Thoughts

Sep 29, 2014

From the Taranaki Daily News comes a story that is right up my street. Fiona Wallis gave her dog a bone and found it to be giving off an eerie blue light. What could it be? It’s most likely to be coming from bacteria so the questions people are likely to be asking are: what is it, is it dangerous, and how did it get on the dog bone? What is it? First off, its not radioactive! I think the light is most likely to be bioluminescence coming from a colony of glowing bacteria and there are many different species it could be. Almost all glowing bacteria live in water; there is only one well-documented species that lives on land. Of the species that live in water, the vast majority either live in or … Read More

The threats of antibiotic resistant superbugs to New Zealand - Infectious Thoughts

Sep 26, 2014

In this week’s New Zealand Medical Journal is a paper by Deborah Williamson and Helen Heffernan on antimicrobial resistance in New Zealand (1). This comes hot on the heels of the WHO report which gave a global picture of antibiotic resistance (2), and highlights what the big challenges are for New Zealand. So what are the antibiotic resistant superbugs that pose a risk to the health of New Zealanders? According to the authors, there are four main superbugs we need to be watching: 1. Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus also known as MRSA 2. Extended-spectrum B lactamase (ESBL) producing Enterobacteriaceae, especially E. coli and Klebsiella pneumonia 3. Mycobacterium tuberculosis which causes the lung diseases tuberculosis (TB) 4. Neisseria gonorrhoeae which causes gonorrhoea What are the key factors driving antibiotic resistance in New Zealand? The authors … Read More

Fighting antibiotic resistance: from Obama to TV3! - Infectious Thoughts

Sep 25, 2014

“Ascomycetes“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons. Last week President Obama signed an Executive Order aimed at combating antibiotic resistant superbugs. The order establishes a task force and a Presidential Advisory Committee which will look at how the US can implement a national strategy to deal with antibiotic resistance. The order covers areas such as surveillance, antibiotic use (now being called antibiotic stewardship) as well as promoting new and next generation antibiotics and diagnostics. Speaking of which, Massey University’s Dr Heather Hendrickson and myself featured in a recent TV3 3rd Degree episode on antibiotic resistance in New Zealand, showcasing the work that we are doing in our labs. You can watch our clip from the episode here. In my lab we … Read More

Monday Micro II – lockdowns, manslaughter and murder - Infectious Thoughts

Sep 22, 2014

The Ebola outbreak in west Africa continues. According to the CDC’s website, as of the 14th September the number of reported cases was up to 5,347 including 2,630 deaths. The virus is now in five countries. Here’s the latest: Guinea (942 cases/601 deaths) A team of health care workers, journalists and local officials have been reported to have been killed by villagers while on a drive to raise awareness of the symptoms of Ebola and how to seek help. Clearly suspicion that health care workers are spreading the disease is still widespread. Sierra Leone (1673 cases/562 deaths) Sierra Leone has been in lockdown since Friday with a three day curfew in place so that officials could try to get to grips with the numbers of people infected. There are reports of burial teams being … Read More