Antibiotic resistant salad

Antibiotic-resistant strains of the food-poisoning microbe Listeria monocytogenes in unprocessed salad products are not quite as widespread as scientists originally suspected according to a new study from Malaysia published in the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health reveals that strains of the microbe falling into six distinct groups can all be found on such products, but 82 percent of those strains succumb to at least one of sixteen common antibiotics used in veterinary and human listeriosis treatment.

The idea of antibiotic resistance has been with us since the first antibiotic was prescribed and bacteria have evolved to combat the toxic effects of the drugs on them. However, the spread of resistance in strains of disease-causing bacteria has been of growing concern in recent years as so-called “superbugs” that are resistant to even the most potent of prescriptions are becoming more prevalent. There is therefore a pressing need for novel antibiotics with unusual modes of action to be discovered and developed by the pharmaceutical industry.

Now, Jeyaletchumi Ponniah of Malaysia’s Ministry of Health in Putrajaya, and colleagues at University College Sedaya International University, the Universiti Putra Malaysia, Kyoto University, Japan and Pradeep Malakar of the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, UK, have isolated 71 different strains of Listeria from minimally processed salad products from Malaysia. These were characterised using the tools of molecular biology: serotyping, random amplified polymorphic DNA-polymerase chain reaction analysis (RAPD-PCR) and antimicrobial susceptibility testing. All but one of the strains belonged to serotype 4, just one lay in serotype 1, the latter also existed as a solitary isolate, while the others could be categorised in one of six composite profile groups.

The team tested 14 antibiotics against these strains; excluding nalidixic acid and oxacillin for which Listeria has natural resistance. They found resistance to be high only against cephalexin. None of the strains could withstand chemical attack from imipenem and kanamycin. Those strains that displayed higher resistance to some of the other antibiotics had been sourced from farms known to have livestock fed or medicated on antibiotics.

“The antimicrobial susceptibility testing indicates that the overall incidence of resistance in L. monocytogenes isolated from vegetables is still relatively low,” the team says. “However it concurs with earlier findings that there are strains of the microbe, albeit in low numbers, that are resistant to a number of antibiotics.” The team concludes that fingerprinting and serotyping are useful tools for classifying Listeria and that they should be used for ongoing monitoring and screening for emergent or increased resistance to antibiotic drugs.

Ponniah, J., Robin, T., Radu, S., Cheah, Y.K., Ghazali, F.M., Nishibuchi, M., Nakaguchi, Y. and Malakar, P. (2015) ‘Characterisation of L. monocytogenes strains isolated from salad vegetables’, Int. J. Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp.137–150.

For all the Li in China

Coal from China could become a major source of the metal lithium, according to a review of the geochemistry by scientists published in the International Journal of Oil, Gas and Coal Technology.

Lithium is an essential component of rechargeable batteries used almost ubiquitously in mobile gadgets such as phones, laptops, tablet computers and in many electric vehicles. Worldwide annual consumption of this metal grew from 15100 tonnes in 2003 to 37000 tonnes by 2012, a 145 percent increase and demand is expected to rise even further as we move more towards sustainable power and electrical storage capacity increases.

Shenjun Qin of Hebei University of Engineering, in Handan, China, and colleagues point out that coal is a highly polluting energy source that is still widely used for electricity generation and other applications. They suggest that the recovery of valuable rare metals from coals or coal-processing byproducts could be a promising way to make the inevitable long-term use of this fossil fuel resource more economic, efficient and cleaner. Indeed, the extraction of lithium from coal would offer an ironic twist to its continued use.

The team explains that lithium has been found dispersed and even anomalously enriched in coal deposits, and is potentially extractable. They explain that two analytical techniques inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and inductively coupled plasma as an excitation source (ICP-AES) are widely used for assaying the chemical elements in coal and coal ash and either of these techniques could be used widely to optimize sources for lithium, or any given metal, for subsequent extraction.

The team has also reviewed two techniques for lithium extraction. The first, a patented technology for extracting both lithium and aluminum metals from coal ash involves sulfur sintering the ash and acid leaching the metal from the solution to obtain lithium carbonate in a yield of 95.6 percent, actually recovery of the metal is 60 percent. The second approach, alkali sintering avoids the need for the sulfur step but has a lower yield at 85.3 percent and a recovery of 55 percent.

“Although the investigation into lithium recovery from coal ash is still at a laboratory scale,” the team reports. “This progress will promote the green and efficient application of coals and would benefit to the lithium-demanding industry.”

Qin, S., Zhao, C., Li, Y. and Zhang, Y. (2015) ‘Review of coal as a promising source of lithium‘, Int. J. Oil, Gas and Coal Technology, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp.215-229.

February Research Picks Extra

Teaching in the cloud

An international team from Iran and Malaysia have investigated how cloud computing might best be incorporated into teaching practice. In order to reveal the pros and cons of cloud computing in this environment, the team used the Danielson Teaching Framework. This framework focuses on key aspects of teaching by breaking the practice into specific components, such as communicating with students, students engagement and others. This Framework has previously been shown to lead to high-quality teaching and so the adoption of cloud computing in this setting was expected to give good results too. The team’s initial investigations show this to be the case improving teacher and student organisation, scheduling and collaboration. Fundamentally, cloud computing, by definition avoids the problems associated with the limitations of any given personal computer by displacing the computational and storage aspects to networked, but remote and distributed servers.

Saadatdoost, R., Sim, A.T.H., Jafarkarimi, H. and Saadatdoost, L. (2015) ‘A cloud-based teaching framework: an introduction’, Int. J. Management in Education, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp.235–253.


The hybrid hospital pharmacist

Canadian researchers have demonstrated that a hybrid technology that combines the benefits of RFID tags (radio frequency identification tags) and conventional barcodes can improve logistics in a hospital pharmacy. The approach has the potential to improve efficiency and expediency in delivering prescription drugs to patients as well as reducing the risk of drug administering errors. The external pharmaceutical supply chain and the medication process between healthcare worker and patient- the start and end point of the overall healthcare system from the prescription perspective – are well researched and well covered in terms of technology and understanding of the processes involved. It is the logistics in between this supply and demand that are not so clear. Tests in four North American hospitals and five external organisations by the Canadian team have shown that a track-and-trace approach – based on combining RFID tagging and barcodes improves efficiency and accuracy, strengthens inventory visibility, reduces inventory costs, improves the readiness of purchase orders, decreases supply cycle times, reduces manual labour, strengthens patient security, and supports waste management and reverse logistics activities.

Romero, A. and Lefebvre, E. (2015) ‘Combining barcodes and RFID in a hybrid solution to improve hospital pharmacy logistics processes’, Int. J. Information Technology and Management, Vol. 14, Nos. 2/3, pp.97–123.


Oxbridge clusters

Rupert Waters of the Centre for International Marketing and Entrepreneurship Research at Halmstad University, in Sweden, has looked at a decade of progress and development in two of Europe’s major technology clusters – Oxford and Cambridge. Both cities and their environs have ancient universities associated closely with them as well as numerous hi-tech companies and organisations. Indeed, both regions are well known for their scientific and technologically driven products and services, their science and business parks and the close ties between academia and industry.

Waters has drawn information from national datasets relating to economic issues such as new firm formation, sectoral composition and gross value added in order to review the ongoing development of these two regions centres. He has shown that both Oxford and Cambridge clusters have been highly successful in regional economic development. But, that this development alone is insufficient to guarantee the overall economic growth of the associated county, Oxfordshire or Cambridgeshire, and to lead to it outperforming the UK’s national economy. Waters points out that Oxfordshire’s growth has slowed in the last three years to be closer the national average, Cambridge has slightly outperformed Oxfordshire but from a lower base. “What is not clear,” he says, “is whether there is evidence that either cluster-based economy have run out of steam and that there is evidence of a fourth stage in either or both.” Additional research is now needed to help us understand the future of such technology clusters in these two regions and more widely.

Waters, R. (2015) ‘Clusters and resilience: economic growth in Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire’, Int. J. Global Environmental Issues, Vol. 14, Nos. 1/2, pp.132–150.


Conceptual indexing

Most of the web’s search engines rely on opaque, but nevertheless alarmingly fast, algorithms to help you find information in their databases spidered from billions of websites. However, the search engine results pages, the so-called SERPs, are notoriously fickle as many users will attest, commonly offering spurious results, perhaps unrelated to the keywords on which one is searching. As users we often find an organic, manual approach to finally tracking down the information we need. For more formal archiving and searching a structured, conceptual indexing, approach is perhaps needed. Now, researchers in France, at INSA Rouen, have turned to a category network approach to help them structure a database in a more usable and useful format. The category approach is modelled on the Wikipedia approach to information, allowing them to create a conceptual taxonomy that uses a directed acyclic graph to map terms (one or more words, keyphrases rather than keywords, if you will) to a specific concept in the Wikipedia category network. Their preliminary evaluation of French has provided encouraging results and the team is now planning to extend the approach to English and other languages based on the fact that Wikipedia has skeletal frameworks for about 280 languages.

Abi Chahine, C., Chaignaud, N., Kotowicz, J-Ph. and Pecuchet, J-P. (2014) ‘A Wikipedia-based approach to conceptual indexing and retrieval of documents’, Int. J. Knowledge and Learning, Vol. 9, Nos. 1/2, pp.87–103.