Art Project: Comics



Starring cats Toni and Buttercup

For my art project I created a comic with photography. My cats participated as the actors in the story. The story was inspired by my isolate project in this class, in which swabbed my cats mouths.

The microbiological concepts that I have focused on are pathogen/host interactions and antibiotic resistance.

Hosts have evolved incredible mechanisms to evade pathogens including the complement system, which leads to the opsonization of bacteria. Although this concept is intuitive (host evades pathogen), there are many complex and detailed mechanisms involved that constitute our immune system.

When the orange cat hears the word “pathogen’ she immediately assumes that a disease outbreak is going on. However, mechanisms in the feline immune system keep these pathogens from causing disease. Antibiotic resistance is also a natural process, but it can be accelerated by overuse of antibiotics by humans.

A2: Microbes in the News – The ‘Dark Matter’ of the Microbial World

The ‘Dark Matter’ of the Microbial World

Sarah Zhang, March 7, 2017, The Atlantic

Summary: Archaea have been historically understudied but they actually are an important part of the human microbiome. Since the genomes of archaea are widely unknown the use of common primers based on 16S rRNA gene sequencing has failed to identify the diversity of archaea that are present in the microbiome of primates, including humans. When sequencing was done on feces samples using archaea primers instead of universal primers, many more archaea species were identified –  in humans the difference was 37 species with arcane primers versus 1 species with universal primers. The most common archaea species found were methanogens. This difference is most likely due to the fact that universal primers are made with common bacterial species in mind. With metagenomics this scenario is likely to change in the near future –  we are now able to sequence the entire genomes of the species found in our samples so it is likely that the extent to which archaea are present in primates’ microbiomes will start to be more understood.

Connections: In class we briefly covered Archaea. This article cites an interesting cycle – the microbes that we cannot culture  are not studied as often. We base future studies on what we know (culture methods, genomes) so scientists tend to expand more on previous knowledge rather than studying completely new and unknown species. I believe that this will change soon, but when primers were the main tool in sequencing genomes I could see how this would happen. Scientists simply did not have enough information and tools to fully characterize Archaea.

This article did a good job of communicating the extent to which Archaea are not fully understood. They probably should have explained more about the fact that Archaea are not a type of Bacteria even though they are prokaryotes.

Question: What is the proportion of Archaea in the human microbiome? Are they essential in nutrient absorption and even production?

A2 Microbes in the news: Fungal infection ‘threat’ to human health

Fungal infection ‘threat’ to human health

James Gallagher, BBC News, July 5th, 2016

Summary: This article aims to describe the extent to which fungal infections can be pathogenic to humans. Often when people think of fungal infections, they may not necessarily consider that these type of infections kill one million people per year. Also, there are no vaccines available for fungal infections. Three major groups of fungi are responsible for the infections. People that are immunosuppressed are most vulnerable to these infections.

Connections: Fungi are eukaryotes, which means that they share many cellular mechanisms with the eukaryotic hosts that they infect, such as humans. This explains in part why it is so difficult to make vaccines against and treat fungal infections. Since antibiotics rely on differences between the pathogens and host for their targets, if the pathogen and host are similar, there are fewer cellular mechanisms available for the antibiotic to target.

Critical analysis: I though that the numbers in this story were interesting. I was not aware that approximately 1 million people are killed every year by fungal infections, and that there are three main categories of fungi that are responsible for these infections.

Question: Do any vaccines against fungal infections exist? What is their mechanism?

Microbes in the news: Deadly, Drug-Resistant ‘Superbugs’ Pose Huge Threat, W.H.O. Says

Deadly, Drug-Resistant ‘Superbugs’ Pose Huge Threat, W.H.O. Says

Feb 27, 2017, The New York Times

Summary: Superbugs, or antibiotic resistant microbes, have been declared a threat to human health by the World Health Organization. They kill approximately 25,000 Europeans and 23,000 Americans each year. The victims are usually patients who are either older or have some form of immunosuppression. As antibiotic use has emerged in medicine over the past 100 years, so has antibiotic resistance. Different antibiotic resistant strains of microbes can be restricted to certain geographic locations or even to particular hospitals. However, with air travel becoming more frequent and widespread there is a tendency that these strains will spread throughout the world.

Connections: Antibiotic resistance develops as microbes are exposed to antibiotics and spreads rapidly among microbial populations via plasmids. As we expose pathogenic microbes to antibiotics, those with resistance are selected for, which means that we must continually monitor antibiotic use so that resistance does not become too widespread.

Critical Analysis: I thought that it was very interesting that the World Health Organization has highlighted antibiotic resistance as a threat to global human health. There is a certain degree of social responsibility that comes with prescribing antibiotics to patients. Every time a pathogen is exposed to an antibiotic, it is possible that resistance will emerge. In addition, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find new antibiotics since they rely heavily on exploring mechanisms in the microbes that are different from the host. Eventually it will become more difficult to indemnify these mechanisms and antibiotic treatments may be less beneficial  to hosts.

Question: How prevalent are MRSA infections in the US? Is there anything that we can do to prevent their proliferation?

Extra Credit: Microbial Worlds

  1. 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)

Impermafrost, Gail Priday: I found this piece very appealing. I really liked the collage technique that this artist used. I felt that this piece illustrated very well the impact that melting permafrost can have on global warming. Most of the colors are neutral, illustrating desertification. There are also warm colors that illustrate microbes breaking down organic matter, and generating greenhouse gases that further contribute to this process.

  1. 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)

The Prokaryotes, Mariah Henderson and Eric Henderson: This piece is a phylogeny that is using  encaustic and oil pastel on glass. It is a circular phylogenetic tree with many branches that representsthe diversity of prokaryotes (bacteria and archaea). The intention is to illustrate that although we cannot see prokaryotes, they are abundant and present everywhere. They also outnumber every life form that we can see without a microscope. I liked how the artists explained that although we normally associate life with larger, multicellular eukaryotes, when in fact the majority of living organisms are prokaryotes. The phylogeny that they painted clearly puts this into proportion by using different colors. A small area of the piece is dedicated to a group that I am assuming represents eukaryotes. The remaining branches are all of the diverse life that we cannot see.  I feel that their concept was represented very well – I can’t think of anything that I would have done differently.

  1. 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)

Water if Life, Jennifer Moss: Crude oil from oil spills can be naturally degraded by microbes in the environment that use the oil as a carbon source. When a spill happens. like the Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, populations of these bacteria become more abundant. This piece is a visual representation of an oil spill in the ocean, with many different colored specs that represent these oil-degrading microbes. Many different populations of microbes are shown, indicating that diverse microbial communities help to clean up oil spills.

  1. 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)

I would have made a visual representation of peptidoglycan. The cross-linked arrangements of NAG and NAM could inspire a beautiful geometric drawing.

Painting with Microbes

My artistic intent with the EMB plate was to draw dog paws walking on the plate. The pink colonies took over the plate, making it more of an abstract piece. This indicates that I selected several gram-negative bacteria that either produce less acid or that don’t ferment lactose to draw the paws with.

My artistic intent with the  MAC plate was to draw a snowflake. Due to the selective nature of this media, not all strains that I inoculated the plate with grew so it turned out looking more like a pizza. The colonies that grew were most likely non-lactose fermenting  because the media turned colorless.

A1: Intro posts

Hi! I’m Vanessa Santana and am a senior in Biology and will be going to vet school in the fall. Over the past year here at UAF I have been researching the effect of caffeine on behavior in mice through BLaST.  This course is an important prerequisite for vet school so I am looking forward to it!