Posts Tagged ‘Bacteria’

Some (bacteria) like it hot

// May 13th, 2010 // Comments Off on Some (bacteria) like it hot // How Things Work, Science in the Movies, The Realm of Bizzare

New video up!

I started this video back in January and 95% finished it before I moved to Canberra and bought a laptop. I haven’t had a chance to complete it and upload it… until now.

The montage part is my favourite.

Art in a plate of agar – designs made with bacteria

// December 27th, 2009 // 1 Comment » // Science Art

Bacteria and fungi are not generally thought of as attractive pieces of art, indeed I know the times I have lapsed in used-by-date judgment I have beheld them with disgust. Disgust, followed by destruction – straight to the bin or a boiling hot death.

Still, they have a certain something… especially when dressed up like this.

These two piratey concoctions were created by the Gregory Lab at the University of Guelph. They were made with e-coli plated onto green agar. I’m not 100% on the process, but if it was me I would print out a design and place a plate of green agar over it – then with an inoculator (sterilised wire loop on a stick) trace the outline onto with e-coli culture, then let it grow for a while. It might not smell great (blegh, e-coli always smells like ass), but at least it LOOKS cool.

Niall Hamilton counters with a range of plates made using fungi and bacteria. I particularly like the way the texture of the grass vs the mushroom head, either the different varieties grow at a different rate or he plated the grass a few hours after the mushroom. Using fungi gives you a range of colours to choose from (I think the pink is Aureobasidium pullulans), for e-coli to grow in different colours you need to genetically engineer them.

Speaking of genetically engineering bacteria, here is Salmonella typhimurium made to express fluorescent and carotenoid pigments. This was created by iGEM Team Osaka, who work on a range of projects, including art of an almost-alcoholic bacterial cocktail. Yum!

These images were found at Microbial Art, and they have plenty more on show. As the role of microbiology becomes larger in society, I think we’ll be seeing more and more microbial artwork. I hope we do, anyway.

Animal to Human Transplantation

// December 13th, 2009 // 3 Comments » // How Things Work, Recent Research

As I gazed out over the undulating ocean I could feel a twinge of phantom pain in my lost leg, it always twinges so when the beast is near. Perhaps some part of it’s spirit was not cleaved so sharply from my body, and it can sense its physical counterpart is close and yearns to be reunited again. Perhaps it hungers for revenge against the monster. Perhaps it is a prosthetic it desires, carved out perhaps from the fleshy appendages of the monster itself, a leg for a leg if you will. The beast today is nowhere to be seen, but still I stand and ruminate on such matters of animal to human transplantation.

Australia, my home port, decided on Thursday to lift their ban on animal to human transplantation clinical trials and join countries such as New Zealand and the USA. The ban was started five years ago due to concerns diseases could spread from animals to humans during transplant, but the evidence now shows that this is an unlikely outcome and the possible benefits (curing diabetes, an alternative to stem cells) outweigh the possible dangers.

Pig with Mask

Animal diseases can rarely enter humans, because we have different cells and physiology. A microbe which can happily infect a cat is stumped when it comes to infecting a human (where’s the tail? Where the hell am I?) and the further the animal gets from a human the less likely they are to cross-infect (worm microbes are unlikely to jump to humans.)

However there are some exceptions. The flu is a big one, owing to the fact that it has eight pieces of RNA that are packaged into a single virus particle, and if an animal (usually a pig or a bird) catches both human flu and pig/bird flu at the same time, and both kinds infect the same cell, there can be mistakes in packaging that creates a new strain of virus UNLIKE ANYTHING WE’VE SEEN BEFORE. It’s called an antigenic shift, and if the packaging creates something that is very good at infecting humans then we’re in trouble. Our immune system doesn’t like being confronted with weird things. Other exceptions include HIV which swapped from monkeys to humans, and Yersinia pestis which can infect rats and humans and caused the Black Plague.

Pandemic flu, HIV, the black plague… microbes may not jump animal to human often, but when they do the results can be severe. Perhaps this is why Jacqueline Dalziell had this to say: “The public, who had no say in this discussion whatsoever, will be the first to be directly affected if a new pandemic like AIDS … is introduced into Australia through the ban being lifted,” she said. “The whole of Australia is currently taking part in an experiment without their consent.”

On the other hand, perhaps it is because she is project co-ordinator for Animal Liberation and has other reasons against the decision. I disagree with the statement anyway, asking the general public what they think of the subject is a bit ridiculous, most people only know what they hear from the media and we all know what sensationalist bs that can be (if you don’t, check out Bad Science), an effort to educate people before the vote would probably be limited to a pissy brochure about the risks and benefits which most people wouldn’t bother reading anyway.

Not that I have a negative view on the public and science, I know you my fair readers are interested and educated on the science world, and I’m a science communicator at heart. But people, there’s a reason to do ENQUIRIES to make an INFORMED decision rather than tossing a question like this to the masses and saying “well this way if it goes bad, at least we can say they voted for it.” Whatever.

Notes on the virus, pirate of the cell

// December 13th, 2009 // Comments Off on Notes on the virus, pirate of the cell // How Things Work


Viruses are on the cusp of life and non-life. On one hand they have genetic material and use it to make more of themselves and evolve, on the other hand they don’t do anything outside of a host cell, they don’t breathe, grow, or move. If we count them as living, they are the most primitive form of life on Earth, but they certainly evolved after other forms of life because their existence depends on other cells. Viruses are custom designed to invade archaea, bacteria, animals and everything in between. In humans they are responsible for the common cold, chicken pox, influenza, polio and a host of sexually transmitted diseases like genital warts, HIV, herpes, and plenty others.

They are made of genetic material (single stranded or double stranded DNA or RNA) wrapped up in proteins. On their own, a virus can’t replicate themselves, they don’t have the machinery, the energy, or the building blocks. They get around this by sneaking into a cell and holding it at ransom, forcing it to make more and more viruses until they break the cell apart or sneak out one by one to infect other cells. Instead of a lust for gold, viruses have a lust for machinery and energy. They will board, hijack, rape, ravage and destroy to get what they want.

Cells aren’t fond of viruses, after all they screw up the well-organised operations that a good cell is proud of, so if a virus was to knock on the membrane and say “Hey, I’m a virus, can I come in please” the cell would likely sound an alarm for the immune system to come and kick some viral ass. Good thing for viruses (and not us) they are crafty indeed, and will decorate themselves with proteins that say “Hi, I’m full of food, come and eat me” or “Hi, I bear an important message from the brain. Let me in and I’ll tell you all about it” or they say nothing, just dock onto the outside of the cell and inject their genetic material. After all, it’s the genes that are important, the external proteins are just the boat.

Bacteriophages are viruses that infects bacteria, and there are buttloads of them, around 900 million bacteriophage in a milliliter at the surface of the sea, where bacteria are busy exhaling oxygen as they sun themselves. T4 (which infects e-coli) does it through the last method, and does it very effectively. They also look like a spider from Mars.

I’m gonna eat you. Yee!

Those legs attach to the outside of the bacteria, then it screws down and breaks through the membrane where it pumps out the genetic matter located in the head. Once inside the virus may either go lytic – launch a full attack, take over cellular process and devote all energy to making more viruses until SPLOOF! the cell ruptures and releases all the babies to start the process again, or go lysogenic – the viral DNA will slip into the bacterial chromosome and act like it belongs, hiding in plain sight and being carried through the generations until it launches a mutiny and starts the lytic cycle again. Some viruses just go for the lytic cycle all the way, and they be the truest pirates of the cell (the others being ninja pirates.)

So next time ye are coughing and sickly with a viral infection, be glad ye are not e-coli with a big spider thing attached to you, and spare a thought for the pirates of the cell. Though they may not be strictly alive, they are just making a living and don’t mean to make you ill, after all a dead host is no use to them. We wage war against the pirates near every day, getting sick is nothing more than collateral damage.

Gift Ideas for a Microbiologist or Pathologist

// November 20th, 2009 // 5 Comments » // Just for Fun, Science Art

Christmas is coming up (freak out!) so here are some funky gift ideas for someone obsessed with bacteria, a microbiologist, pathologist, or anyone interested in science and medicine.

Giant Microbes make a crazy selection of bacteria, viruses and human cells in soft plushy goodness. I’m a sucker for teh cute and fluffies! They’ve just released six new products, including yoghurt, bird flu and this platelet cell.

Platelet Toy

Swine flu is also available which might be a good (or annoying) get well soon present. Nothing says “I care” like a big cuddly version of the virus making you feel like crap. They also have little ones packaged in a petri dish for some of the fancier viruses, like Hepatitis C and Tuberculosis.

Or how about a cheesy shirt, cap or cup from Cafe Press? Check out this bacteria-inspired wall clock.

Bacteria clock

Or a book about microbiology like this one I blogged about here. Small Wonders was written by a microbiologist, and is full of the amazing things bacterias do told with utmost humour. You can by it on Amazon.


Or a new lab coat with added sexy. Check out this one by buffalonerdproject OMG OMG OMG it has the SKULL AND CROSSBONES!

Lab Coat

It’s only $50 US and you can buy it here. It’s pretty awesome. She also make a bacteria style tie called Mr. Euglena. SO cool! She combines science with sewing and has plenty of other unique creations.

Bacteria Tie

I should totally jazz up my old lab coat pirate-style.

This Paramecium Felt Keychain is pretty amazing. The same etsy store makes magnets, brooches and all sorts. Check out this microscope and beaker magnet set while you’re there.

If you have any other ideas for Christmas gifts, post them in the comments.

You might also like:
Gift Ideas for a Chemist or Chemistry Grad
Gift Ideas for a Biochemist, Medical Scientist, or Neuroscientist

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