Waiting for the Money Bug

Title: Waiting for the Money Bug

Media: Watercolor

Scientific Concepts: Bacteria contain plasmids as well as chromosomes, but it is the plasmid which is circular. Flagella are long and often curly projections on bacteria that can aid in transportation. A quadrant streak plate is made by an original streak, and then a clean tool is used to make a new streak that crosses the original 3 times, repeat but with 2 crossings, then repeat with 1 crossing. This will create isolated colonies. The final concept is that of viruses such as bacteriophages inserting the genetic material from inside the phage into a bacterium.

Artistic Concepts: In all sectors of science there is always the determining factor of money. Through science anything is possible with the proper funding. This painting represents the struggle astrobiologists face when looking for other forms of life in the universe. The bacteria is a form of life we already know, so this knowledge carries our planet earth, (within the plasmid) with a flagella propelling the vessel, towards our goal of a planet we think might have once carried life or still does, Mars. In my painting, Mars is a quadrant streak plate, which represents the research that can be done once we reach the planet. Since we can accidently infect other planets with our own life forms once we get there, the bacteria also symbolizes this concept. The bacteriophage is the feature that is the inspiration of the title. Once the bacteriophage of money reaches the bacteria, Earth can finally reach its destination with the input of genetic material (or in the representation: money). Of course the sun is present to symbolize the bright future that biology can look forward to when money is put into the system.

Common virus may be celiac disease culprit

—  Article and link:

“Common virus may be celiac disease culprit’

Science News Magazine

6 April 2017


—  Summary:   A study in mice suggests a reovirus (a common virus responsible for upper respiratory infections and fever in children) could cause celiac disease by blocking the immune systems regulatory response. If the first time gluten is consumed by a child while infected by a reovirus, the immune system will mount an attack against the food particle. This would cause the damage to the intestines when gluten is consumed by someone with celiac disease.

—  Connections:   We have learned about the immune system and what triggers it. There is normally a regulatory response to prevent food particles from being attacked and in this case the immune system thinks that gluten is an invader when it was originally present with a reovirus.

—  Critical analysis:   It is great that we are finally beginning to understand the underlying cause of celiac disease. We had always thought it was an immune response but why the immune system attacked gluten specifically was always a mystery. This article seems factual since it does not make any definite claims; it is only reporting what the peer reviewed paper said. It does a great job breaking down the science so that anyone can understand it and it gives you enough information to make conclusions for yourself.

—  Question:

I would like to know: how can viruses stimulate the activity of an enzyme? This is discussed in the article but not really explained. We have learned that viruses inject genetic material, so does the virus code for a protein that interacts with the enzyme or does the genetic material alone bind to the enzyme?

Neanderthal Tooth Plaque Hints at Meals and Kisses

Neanderthal Tooth Plaque Hints at Meals-and Kisses

Nature 08 March 2017



Summary: The plaque of teeth from Neanderthal remains discovered in  El Sidrón cave in northern Spain, which are estimated to have been from 50,000 years ago, were used to reconstruct the first microbiomes from extinct species. The researchers were able to determine their diet consisted of mushrooms and plants while Neanderthals from Spy cave ate wooly rhinoceros and mushrooms all from sequencing of the DNA from the plaque. The data also suggests that Penicillium mold was consumed along with aspirin from poplar trees to treat infections. The genetic analysis also suggests that Neanderthals and humans were kissing or sharing food as well since they both shared the same species of microbe in their mouths as modern humans. This is supported by the fact the strains did not split off until Neanderthals went extinct.

Connections: In lab we tested for some of the types of bacteria often found in the mouth using a variety of differential and selective agars. Though we were testing specifically for opportunistic pathogens, we discussed the amount of bacteria that is found in the mouth. In class we discussed the necessity and dangers of the bacteria that live in and on us and also the transfer of bacteria between people such as mother and baby. In addition, we learned about using penicillin as an antibiotic.

Critical Analysis: I found it very interesting that they could sequence DNA from such a long time ago. I thought the DNA would have degraded too much to get whole reads. It is amazing that they learned more about the social behavior of Neanderthals and humans just by the transfer of microbes. Since kissing means an intimacy during mating instead of the aggressive way they thought Neanderthals mated, the relationship between the two species is now considered different than what archaeologists previously thought.

Question: How did they track the split of the bacterial strain found in the ancient Neanderthals and humans from the same species of bacteria found in modern humans?

Parkinson’s Disease and Microbiome

“Gut microbe mix may spark Parkinson’s’

Science News Magazine online article

December 1, 2016



This article describes several studies which, together, suggest that Parkinson’s disease is caused by the intestinal microbiome when it has a specific composition. It was found that the gut microbiome of diseased patients caused alpha-synuclein, the substance present in Parkinson’s patients, to clump in the brain compared to the gut microbiome of a healthy person transferred to mice with high levels of alpha-synuclein. In the second case, the mice did not show as many symptoms and the alpha-synuclein did not clump in the brain (this is what is believed to cause Parkinson’s disease).

We have discussed ideas of the human microbiome determining overall health. This has to do with the “ubiquity of microbes’, meaning they are found in all types of environments. We know that the bacteria in our gut produce byproducts while helping us break down and process our food. It is very interesting that they might be able to send signals to our brains. It seems like microbes must gain something beneficial by sending signals to the brain to make the organism act in a way that helps the microbe gain what it wants. We talked a little bit about microorganisms that infect insects to control them. The article was a summary of several peer-reviewed studies so I think they are credible. This is written in a very good way to communicate science to the general public since that is the purpose of this magazine. It pulls only the important parts of the methods and results to make it easy for the reader but also gives you enough information to critically think about it.

This topic makes me question many things like: What kind of chemical signals could microbes send to the brain to cause the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease? Is it a byproduct of their way of living or is it an intentionally released signal?

Microbe Art

I really enjoy Christmas so I find myself drawing Christmas trees quite a bit. My main intent was to see this image done with bacteria. I did it on the TSA plate because I saw on the chart handed out in lab, that p. aeroginosa would turn out green and s. marcescas would be red. The rounded characteristic of the colonies reminded me of bobbles used to decorate trees.

I enjoy drawing flowers so I drew a flower. I wanted to go with something I am comfortable drawing since I have never worked agar as an art media. I used the selective EMB plate which is both selective and differential. I used gram-negative bacteria c. frendii and s. eneritis because they would grow on the media.

ExtraCredit: Eric Collins

Eric Collins presented his work which examines the movement of sea ice and the flow of water through the Arctic Ocean and how this affects the microbiology of the ocean. The general movement of the water includes water moving in from the Atlantic Ocean and exiting the same place it comes in. The water from the Atlantic Ocean tends to be warmer and saltier than the Arctic waters so it comes out again colder and fresher. It takes the water a total of 25-300 years to circulate depending on the depth.  The sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is pure enough to drink after it has been frozen for a few years. The most crucial part of the food chain in the ocean is phytoplankton. The general results he determined is that the Bering Sea microorganisms are much different from the Chukchi samples. He is also working on developing a system to map organisms on computer that doesn’t exclude the unclassified ones like the tree of life does.

In class, we have learned that temperature, salinity and nutrient availability all affect the ability of microorganisms to survive. Fluctuation in these factors will narrow the diversity since only microbes capable of surviving in a wider range of environments will be able to survive. The question that first came to mind is: what species of microorganisms are present? Are there any surprises that you found in the types of bacteria which were able to thrive? Does the microbe content affect any elements of the water mentioned before?

ExtraCredit Simon Lax

The overall idea Simon Lax presents in this seminar is that microbes are transferred from skin  to surfaces constantly. Recently, people mostly live indoors and try to remove all microbes from the indoor environment. The various studies he presents use the 16S method of identifying bacteria which we have learned about in lab. There were several recurring themes throughout his presentation. First, skin microbial signatures differ between people. This makes it possible to track the transfer of bacterial cells from skin to surfaces such as countertops, phones, floors and keyboards. A study in which people took samples from surfaces in their home and from their skin showed a strong correlation between the abundance of bacteria in a household and on the occupants’ skin. In his hospital study, Lax examined the transfer of microbes from patient and nurses skin to surfaces in the hospital, much like the study of occupants in their homes. The main issue he addresses is: How does the microbial community of a hospital change after opening and use of the facilities? He found that the pre-opening microbes came mostly from building materials and were environmentally acquired. Many things were found from this study but the most shocking is that the surfaces in the room and the patient’s skin began to have very similar microbial diversity, the longer the patient stayed there. Also, antibiotic resistant bacteria were most commonly found on frequently sanitized surfaces.

Though the conclusions about bacterial transfer presented in this seminar could have been easily predicted, it is important that someone has published peer reviewed evidence to support these ideas. We have discussed the transfer of infectious diseases in class in the form of the plague. It used to be impossible to track the transfer of bacteria before we had microscopes. Even with microscopes, there was no way to be certain it was the same type of bacteria until DNA sequencing became a commonly used tool in research. A question that popped into my head when watching this seminar was: Since antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria were most commonly found on frequently sanitized surfaces, should the use of sanitizers in a hospital setting be examined more closely?

ExtraCredit: Microbial Worlds

Name (piece name and artist) and describe an art piece that you found compelling aesthetically (was attractive or interesting to you in terms of its visual, verbal, or other sensory impact). Do you feel that this work of art successfully embodied the concept behind it? Why or why not? (3 pts)

Jennifer Moss’s Interconnected is a piece made of eight single digital photographs on round aluminum, vinyl. She describes the inspiration of the piece as ideas and interconnections between the microbial world and larger systems. There is no way to critique this work of art without examining each individual piece. The disk in the upper left is a trout and zoo/phytoplankton from arctic lake samples which is meant to display food web, water security and climate change.  Honestly, this piece does make me think of these concepts. I interpret the fish connected to microbes in the water since both are clearly defined but I do not think climate change or even water security. The piece, Influences on Human Behavior (toxoplasmosis), with the cat on a grey speckled surface does indeed make me think of toxoplasmosis purely because I just read a book that talked about this parasites effect on the human mind. The piece that really resonates with me is called Collaborative Interactions. With the network of orange bacteria behind the stereotypical community image of people linked by hands makes me think of the bacterial human symbiosis we rely on. I assume this is what the artist would like us to interpret from the name. Overall, Interconnected makes a good point about how microbes control or are an important part of the bigger ecosystem.

Name another piece in the exhibit that is based on an interesting concept, based on the written science statement associated with it. Summarize the concept and describe the piece. Do you feel that the art piece is as aesthetically compelling (attractive visually, verbally, etc.) as it is conceptually interesting (including scientifically)? Why or why not? If not, can you suggest something that the artists could have done differently? (3 pts)

Deceptive Beauty, by Ree Nancarrow in collaboration with Debbie Clarke Moderow (writer), is a quilt with water, woods, and fire and, what appear to be, bubbles. The description says the piece was inspired by research professor, Katey Walter Anthony, and aquatic ecosystem ecologist, who studies methane in frozen lakes in Fairbanks. Specifically, to examine the emission of methane and carbon dioxide triggered by permafrost thaw. When plants thaw out of the permafrost at the bottom of lakes, bacteria feed in an anaerobic environment producing methane which shows as bubbles on the lakes’ surface. This is more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This piece does a wonderful job at being a visual for the concept of bacteria feeding on plants at the bottom of the lake and bubbles rising to the surface. All pieces are present in the order that events happen from bottom up. The fire even defines the existence of methane instead of plain bubbles.

Connections: Identify another piece in the exhibit that involves a microbiological concept you’ve learned during class. Explain the concept and how the art piece relates to it. (3 pts)

A series of four pieces by Sara Tabbert named individually Sample A, Sample B, Sample C, and Sample D. The concept learned in class that I connect to these pieces is the visual classification of microbes. I know that when I look at microbes through a microscope, they look similar but when carefully analyzed look much different from each other in little ways. For example, Sample A looks similar to Sample C but upon closer examination you see the clusters are different. The radically different color schemes each piece makes it clear that the microbes are vastly different as I think was the artist’s intent. Then of course there are ways to classify the appearance of these microbes more precisely. Cocci shaped bacteria may be further classified by their physical arrangement. In the case of this artwork, there are streptobacilli and cocci of various arrangements.

If you were an artist involved in this project show, what microbiological concept would you have worked with? What sort of piece might you have created? (1 pt)

If I was involved with this art show, I would have worked with human infectious diseases. Maybe use the silhouettes of people with specific diseases caused by pathogens, such as tuberculosis and fill in the part of the body that bacteria attacks, in this case the lungs, with the microscopic view of the microorganism. To make it more visually interesting, I would have a black, shiny, reflective surface for the silhouettes and the microbes printed directly on the medium.