Glass bugs

Ah. Microbiology. Dontcha just love it?

Yeah – me too. And so does artist Luke Jerram – he’s made some amazing glass sculptures of protozoa, bacteria and viruses:

Made to contemplate the global impact of each disease, the artworks were created as alternative representations of viruses to the artificially coloured imagery we receive through the media. In fact, viruses have no colour as they are smaller than the wavelength of light. By extracting the colour from the imagery and creating jewel like beautiful sculptures in glass, a complex tension has arisen between the artworks’ beauty and what they represent.

Personally, I couldn’t see the “complex tension” – that sounds a bit unnecessarily arty-farty to me. But they are pretty special to look at:


Ecoli_sculptureThat’s a T4 Bacteriophage at the top, and my old friend E.coli on the bottom – check out those flagellae – hello big boy! But of course, they’re (thankfully) not actual size. The real things are far smaller then this, hence “micro”biology. I know you knew that.

There are a whole lot more images to look at on Luke’s website too: SARS, HIV, Smallpox, Malaria etc etc.

The beautifully detailed collection has now been bought for permanent exhibition at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Hand Sanitiser

I like this:

Turns out that a very small percentage of a very, very large number is still significant. Your hand sanitizer is only as good as the number of decimal points the nines stretch to.

by Jamie Condliffe in Gizmodo, on this:


via xkcd.

(It’s 20,000 for those of you struggling with your decimals.)

Baltic Belly

Yay! Microbiology makes the headlines again. For all the right reasons. Sort of.

Numerous reports across the media this morning on this paper which appears to indicate that Vibrio spp. gastrointestinal infections are on the rise in the Baltic states due to climate change and the rising temperature of that sea.
Vibrio is the genus that causes cholera and other nasty bowel disturbances. It’s nothing new, even in temperate climes, but it’s generally more associated with warmer areas, especially – as I recall from my days in the Oxford lab – the entirety of South East Asia. Holidaymakers generally brought more than just memories and a ceramic elephant back from Thailand.

Some Vibrio yesterday (they’re not actually this big though)

It seems that for every degree that the Baltic sea temperature increases, the number of Vibrio cases rises by almost 200%. Not much of an issue there to be honest, because we’re starting from a very low baseline, but since the Baltic “represents, to our knowledge, the fastest warming marine ecosystem examined so far anywhere on Earth” and appears to be getting about 6-7 degrees warmer each century, it may serve as a decent model for other infections and geographical locations.

Changing patterns of infection due to the local environment is nothing new. Malaria was once present across Europe and North America, yet we only see imported cases these days. (That said, I once contracted malaria in London, but that was in a lab at Imperial College.) (Don’t try this at home.)

Anyway, even if you are travelling to Poland, Lithuania, Estonia or Latvia, don’t panic too much. The likelihood of you getting cholera is very, very small. Although, if the photo above is anything to go by, you may want to avoid the local sausages just to make sure.

Microbiology Monday on twitter

Yes. I know it’s Friday. Thank you.

Microbiology, The Best Science Out Of All The Sciences™ (and coincidentally also the one that I do) has been featuring plenty on the twitter this morning. Why is this? It’s because even non-Microbiologists find Microbiology fascinating. It is, after all, The Best Science Out Of All The Sciences™.

Here are the best of those links to exciting stories, in reverse order of excitement.

At number 4, from @Jane_Anne62:
E. coli’s sticky secret revealed in medical journal

In which we discover that the recent European E.coli 0104:H4 outbreak strain was first detected back in 2001 [supporting my answer to this theory] and was particularly nasty due to a combination of evil toxins and an ability to hang around on the inside of your intestinal walls.

At number 3, via  @kelltrill:
Yeast can evolve into multicellular organisms in a few short months

No big news here for bacteriologists, to be fair: we’ve known about Quorum Sensing for a long time now, wherein many single-celled organisms act together as a “multicellular” unit. The apoptosis (“programmed cell death”) angle is more interesting, bacteria generally use that to knock out immune system cells rather than each other.

Runner up, via @PaulScott56:
Homemade “Mars in a Bottle” Torture Bacteria

Documenting  the heinous methods of heinous microbiologists in Italy as they put several species of bacteria through extreme conditions to see if they could survive on Mars. The reasoning behind this is two-fold: could bacterial life survive on Mars, and moreover, could the early Viking missions to that planet have contaminated the environment with hardy bacteria from Earth?
We didn’t know about the existence of extremophiles back in 1975 when the Viking probes were launched, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t tough little microbes hanging onto the side of the vehicles, hitching a lift to the red planet.
Could they survive the Martian conditions? Well, the Italian results seem to suggest that yes they could.
Another planet ruined. We might as well frack it now.

And today’s winner, again thanks to @Jane_Anne62:
No-fun fungus: Nasty yeast grows in dishwashers

Talking of yeast and extremophiles – how much more yeasty and extreme can things get than finding Exophiala dermatitidis and Exophiala phaeomuriformis in 56% of dishwashers tested across 6 continents?
These things are everywhere (apart from in the 44% of dishwashers that they weren’t).

Having abandoned previous missions to colonise fridges (too cold) and ovens (too hot), [you’re making this up, aren’t you? – Ed.] the black yeasts – determined to find a suitable household appliance – have taken to living in the rubber seals of dishwashers worldwide.
And while they are nowhere near as “nasty” as the E.coli mentioned above, they’re still not great to have around if you are immunosuppressed or have respiratory illness. Let this be a warning to you: go rinse your seals.

I love the way that people are taken by microbiology in the mainstream media. Either because it sounds like something from Star Trek, it’s been in the news or – in this last case – that it could (and 54% of the time, does) affect them.

So Much More Exciting Than Biochemistry™.