Microbiology Art Project

For my microbial art project, I wanted something that was just as aesthetically pleasing as it was related to a microbial concept. I was fascinated by the appearance of diatoms, and how perfectly symmetrical they seemed to be. Many diatoms I saw when looking up reference images almost resembled gears; a fitting concept, as even though gears are a small part of a bigger machine, they are important to the structure and function of the machine as a whole. Microbes are almost like gears in a machine this way. Though small, they have made a big impact in the development of life as we know it.

A2-Microbes in the News

Title: “Microbes, A Love Story” by Moises Velasquez-Manoff

Article Link:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/10/opinion/sunday/microbes-a-love-story.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FMicrobiology&action=click&contentCollection=science&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=7&pgtype=collection

Source: NY Times

Date: February 10th, 2017

Summary: Apparently our unique microbiome can make us more attractive to certain individuals. Susan Erdman, a researcher at M.I.T., had given a probiotic to female mice that is naturally found in human breast milk. This resulted in female mice with abnormally lustrous fur and male mice with abnormally high testosterone levels. The levels of a protein called interleukin 10 also went up in these female mice when given the probiotic; this protein helps ensure successful pregnancy. By helping hosts, it is possible that microbes are ensuring their own legacy by interacting with the microbiome of the host’s partner.

Connections: Strongly related to the human microbiome lecture. Unique flora can result in unique characteristics between individuals.

Critical Analysis: I thought that this article was incredibly interesting; I never would have thought of our microbiome playing a role in attracting a partner.

Question: Could safe studies like that done on the mice be pursued in relation to the human microbiome and attraction between partners?

A2-Microbes in the News

Title: “Gut Hack” by Kate McLean and Mario Furloni

Article Link:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/11/opinion/gut-hack.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FMicrobiology&action=click&contentCollection=science&re

Source: NY Times

Date: April 11th, 2017

Summary: Josiah Zayner, an independent scientist with a lab in his apartment, was researching the feasibility of what he called “an extreme version of a fecal transplant”. Suffering from digestive problems his whole life, Josiah looked to recolonize his gut microbiota using samples from a donor in the comfort of a hotel room.

Connection: This article pertains heavily to the concepts learned in the Human microbiome lecture. This article explores how an imbalance in Josiah’s gut microbiome was affecting his life, and how beneficial he believed that changing his gut microbiota (even though risky) would be for the better.

Critical Analysis: I found it interesting that Josiah was willing to change his micrbiome, even though his existing microbiome is the result of many different environmental and genetic factors. To change/disturb the balance of his gut microbiome seems fairly risky and ill-advised to me, especially since so little is understood on the microbiome in general.

Question: Are there any feasible methods to test the donor’s samples for pathogenic organisms without disturbing them so much that they can’t be used for their intended purpose? Especially considering how many antibiotics he plans to take beforehand.

A2-Microbes in the News

Title: “Gut microbes Contribute to Age-Associated Inflammation in Mice” by Abby Olena

Article:  https://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/49189/title/Gut-Microbes-Contribute-to-Age-Associated-Inflammation-in-Mice/

Source: The Scientist, Call-Host and Microbe

Date: April 12th, 2017

Summary: Cell and tissue inflammation naturally increases as animals age, but researchers recently discovered a connection between changes in the gut microbiome of mice and their overall inflammation levels. Researchers found that the intestines of aging mice were more permeable, contributing to an overall increase of bacterial products in their bloodstream. They colonized the gut microbiota of young and old mice, some germ-free and some wild-type from each age class. They saw higher levels of inflammation in the wild-type mice, especially the older group.

Connections: This article relates to the micro biome lecture, as well as emphasizes the fact that microbiomes vary between individuals and between age groups.

Critical Analysis: I found it interesting that they used germ-free mice as a control group; the concept of germ-free mice is just interesting to me in general. It would have been nice if the author of this article would have explored in further detail the mechanisms and characteristics of the gut flora at play.

Question: How could the information derived from this study be applied to the medical field/human health?

Extra Credit: Dan Stinchcomb Seminar

Dan Stinchcomb, a researcher at the Infectious Disease Research Institute in Seattle, gave his seminar on the “Development of Vaccines for Mosquito-borne Tropical Diseases”. Although the thought of tropical disease seems irrelevant to those living in Fairbanks, global warming makes the idea  of Alaskan and tropical-type mosquitoes interacting a very real possibility.

The tropical diseases Dan Stinchcomb discussed are terrible. The first, Dengue fever, threatens about half of the world’s population. It causes severe bone and muscular pain. Fortunately, extensive efforts are being made to find a safe and effective vaccine readily available to suffering areas. One vaccine, already available for production and sale, is somewhat still ineffective at completely eliminating the disease. This is because a vaccine produced for the Dengue virus must protect from all four strains. If someone is exposed to one strain of the Dengue virus, they have a high likelihood of getting another type of the virus  along with its debilitating effects. Dan Stinchcomb worked with Takeda on a TDV vaccine for this disease. This live-attenuated vaccine is still in the process of being approved, as making it through all of the phases and onto the market is an extensive project. A company interested in producing a vaccine must show safety of vaccine in each phase in order to make it to the next, however long that takes. Their goal is to show that the test subjects’ titers show tetravalent immune responses. So far the Takeda vaccine is seeing faster and broader immune responses than the Sanofi vaccine did.

He then went on to talk about a variety of other diseases and how the development of their diagnostic and therapeutic vaccines were progressing. The diseases he talked about was the West Nile, which is carried from bird to mosquito to bird and occasionally to a human (dead-end host), Chikungunya disease (very similar to the Dengue virus but it has higher morbidity and lower mortality), and the Zika virus. The Zika virus is somewhat recent but serious outbreak and disease that can cause Microcephaly and other Congenital Zika symptoms (CZS). They are working very hard to develop a vaccine before more cases of neurological birth defects are reported.

This talk pertained extensively to the Virus lecture we had; it was really interesting to see the power that such a small organism can have. It was also very cool to see and hear about the efforts being done to combat the effects of viruses.

One question I had was how could someone get involved in this career field? It sounds like a really interesting job!

Painting With Microbes

Turns out that the only plate that had any growth  for my Painting with Microbes project was this one. I used P. aseoginosa as my bacteria and this was done on a TSA plate. By the time I got to this plate, I had used up all my painting energy on a somewhat detailed depiction of a globe; of course that one didn’t turn out, so please enjoy this artistic depiction of my name! 🙂

Extra Credit: Eric Collins Seminar

Eric Collins’ lecture titled “Mapping the Uncharted Diversity of Arctic Marine Microbes” discussed the melting ice of the Arctic Ocean, and how that contributes to the diversity of microorganisms in that region. Collins suggested in his seminar that the flow of water through the Arctic is key for understanding its distinctive microbial life.

One-third of the total “freshness” going to the Arctic Ocean comes from the Bering Straight; this freshwater is really rich in nutrients. “Deepwater”, unique to the Arctic, is created because salt increases the density of seawater. A goal of Collins’ research was to measure microbial diversity in these different ocean layers, as well as infer as to the origin of differences in the organisms of each layer. 16S ribosomal diversity showed variations between different water temperatures and densities. It is very interesting to see an example of microbial diversity in a somewhat extreme environment.

This seminar was interesting, especially when approached with the information we learned in Eric Collins’ guest lecture about astrobiology. The fact that habitat location leads to differences in the microbes that thrive there supports the idea that certain microbes function best in extreme environments, and have adapted as needed to live there. Whose to say this isn’t the same for space? I think it would be interesting if Collins’ seminar had addressed how his research applied to Astrobiology, as this is such a cool subject. A question I had during this presentation was how this research team was planning on using this data; how will this knowledge of Arctic Microbiology be used?


Hi there! My name is Sandra Kolberg, but you can call me Sandy. As of right now, I am a junior working on my Bachelor’s in Biochemistry. My hobbies include painting, drawing, backpacking, and napping; generally not at the same time. I’m excited for this semester and all there is to learn about Microbiology!