Sunday, December 4, 2011

Martian microbe message

Having heard of the successful launch of the Earthling mission, Mars Science Lab*, Marty the Martian** waits patiently on the red planet for Curiosity*** to discover him.

** Marty the Martian is a relative of the Giant Plush Microbes (TM) predicted microbe found on the ALH 84001 meteorite.
*** Curiosity- the rover on MSL that will gently land on Mars, includes 10 instruments and is much larger than Spirit or Opportunity, the twin rovers currently on Mars.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dance with Death

Fact: there are 10 viral (bacteriophage*) particles for every bacterial particle in the ocean. And it's more than that in certain micro-environments. Not all 10 are necessarily the same kind of virus either, as hosts and parasites are often specific to each other and many different types of bacteria exist in the oceans.

*Bacteriophage literally means "to devour bacteria" (think of the word "phagocytosis"- same root). They are a class of viruses that attack bacteria and break open the cells for their own [amusement and] replication. Thus, all bacterial cells are in a dance with death!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sick Microbe I: The Phage

When Joey fell ill with The Phage*, the other bacteria were worried, with good reason! One sudden movement, one stressful moment, and his body could explode releasing millions of infectious phage particles... a danger to them all.

*Phages - aka: bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria.
Yes, bacteria need sick days, too, you self-centered anthropomorph.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The rare shall rule the oceans*

Hans and his band of ragged rare bacteria waited patiently for the currents of change. Once the conditions were right, they would ... eat and multiply!

There are abundant and rare groups of bacteria in seawater. A recent paper from our lab found that some rare groups in a community act as "seeds"; when the conditions are favorable to them, they become more abundant. Here is the link to the not-super-sciencey version **, ***

* Until conditions change again, heh.
** No, mystery is not solved. There are few absolute truths in biology, sorry.
*** There are not thousands of bacteria in a teaspoon of seawater, it's more like 3 million.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"The Ice"

Every winter, James and Joslyn had to endure six months of separation* as Joslyn, being a cryomicrobe, was entombed in sea ice**.

*Human crew of Antarctic stations are often on "the ice" for months at a time, away from loved ones and family. I bet microbes feel the same since a lot of the same species of microbes found in marine waters are also found in sea ice.

**This isn't a scientifically accurate depiction of sea ice. Now shoo, go home.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Displaced Microbes II: Aeolian Dust

Powerful sandstorms in the Sahara desert, Africa, can carry minerals, bacteria, and other "stuff" across the Atlantic. Not only do these massive storms seed the Atlantic Ocean with debris and minerals (and possibly bacteria), but dust particles from these storms have been found in America and Antarctica! Wind, the next best thing to flying bacteria.

Here is a better image of the power in these storms. Now imagine bacteria on those dust particles! Oooh...

Friday, April 15, 2011


Most people view microbes like this:

Microbiologists view microbes from a different perspective.

Prokaryotes are diverse and lovely. They can do all kinds of crazy things like live in acid, survive vacuums, live in ice, break down toxic compounds, and clean up our messes. Sure, they can wipe out entire species, too. But they also have the power to make cheese and digest cheese. I say they deserve R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Microbial Doom! Part II...

In the shortest story ever told, Cassandra and Svetsky are saved!
A recent conjugation (sex) with some neighbors had given them a plasmid* on which a gene existed to breakdown this antibiotic.
Within 4 minutes, the enzyme was all over their system and they could now live happily in the new antibiotic which had taken the humans 20 years to discover!
Long live the microbes!

Plasmid* - a round piece of DNA that can easily be copied and transfered from one bacterial cell to another. Usually these plasmids contain useful genes that microbes like to share. For example, a gene which allows the cell to make an enzyme which can breakdown a toxin or antibiotic.

Can you imagine if humans could adapt and evolve that fast?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Microbial Doom! Part I...

Cassandra and Svetsky found themselves in a terrifying position when the humans discovered a new antibiotic...

Can they survive? Will they survive???

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The best kind of sex*

*Sex - an exchange of genetic material... by means of a pilus**.

** Sex Pilus - a thin, hairlike protrusion extending from one bacteria to another for conjugation (that means sex).

Microbial Gluttony

Microautoradiography - a technique whereby radioactively labeled microbe food (like glucose) is added to a sample to determine which microbes take it up and emit radioactive decay particles.

How much of the compound a microbial cell eats is visible by how much radioactivity it emits. Under the microscope, I can see that the microbe on the right is gluttonous. The others either didn't like the compound I added, or they couldn't use it.
Tell everyone you know.