Art Project: Colorful Cycle’s

For my project I wanted to re-create the carbon cycle in a colorful and abstract way. I layered fabric of different colors and shapes to create an outdoor scene with plants, water, sun, microbes and nutrients that are circling in the air, water, and soil. I used colorful fabric’s with different shapes to represent microbial and nutrient diversity amongst plants, soil, and water. I wanted to show that carbon cycling is a natural process that is constantly happening around all of us.  

A2: Microbes in the News

Is Yellow Fever Knocking At Our Door?

Over the past three decades scientists have noticed three major diseases following the same pattern of spreading: they spread slowly through less populated areas until one day one person in an urban city gets the disease and then it spreads like wildfire. Zika, dengue, and chikungunya are all viruses that emerged and spread rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean, and they have all had several small outbreaks in the US. Scientists are now worried that a fourth virus is following that pattern: yellow fever. Moving quickly from clusters to full on outbreaks in Brazil, yellow fever has killed more than 200 people since the outbreaks started in December, and due to the lag between labs receiving samples and then confirming the cause of death, there have most likely been many more. Scientists are worried that the disease will soon spread from the rural, forested area its currently overtaking. The disease is transmitted through a species of mosquitoes that only lives in the forest, however, there is a danger that mosquitoes that thrive in cities could pick the disease up from infected people. This relates again to what we’ve recently been discussing in class (I actually chose two of my articles based on the fact that I’m really intrigued by modeling the spread of disease). Learning as much as possible about the “behavior” of this virus is so important to the development of preventative measures. Scientists are aware of a general pattern that yellow fever may end up following, and are preparing for what may come of if that happens. I think that this article was written in such a way that the information is very accessible  to the general public. Not only was the current issue put into context by citing other similar outbreaks such as Zika, but the writing was not geared towards only the scientific community. Reading articles like this one brings up the question of why are mosquitoes such prime vectors of disease instead of other insects that also bite?

A2: Microbes in the News

Antibody helps detect protein implicated in Alzheimer’s, other diseases

Summary: The article discusses research looking to find less invasive ways to identify and then track the progress of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. They have accomplished the first step by crafting an antibody which binds to the protein tau, which is present in tangles when damage to the brain is occurring. The antibody allows tau to stay present in the blood and accumulate long enough to be observable via blood tests.

Connection: The article discusses the use of an human antibody, but in a way we didn’t really cover in class. The antibody is not used as a flag for the destruction of a microbe or “not-self” entity in the body, but rather keep an entity around long enough to track its concentrations.

Critical Analysis:  This article does an excellent job of explaining the issues related to diagnosing neurodegenerative diseases, as well as the way in which the protein tau is associated and was identified as a potential measurable product for blood tests. Though the study has only done limited preliminary human trials, they were able to magnify the presence of tau in the blood of individuals with known neurodegenerative diseases. I believe the article did a great job of translating the innovative way in which scientists approach problems like that of diagnostics, and the interdisciplinary cooperation and literacy that is at the command of these researchers to accomplish what was discussed.

Question:  Would this antibody have the ability to track damage as it accumulates in individuals like football players, perhaps as a longitudinal study to gain more data and a predictive model for brain damage?

A2: Microbes in the News

Ben-Gurion U. researchers develop membranes that remove viruses from drinking water


Summary:  In a cooperative research effort between the Israeli and US universities, a hydrogel was developed to coat exisiting  commercial ultrafiltration membranes in order to increase their ability to repel and filter viruses, specifically Adenovirus and norovirus. The impetus for its development, and the advantage over normal methods of filtering viruses, is because it can function without amounts of energy and without additional chemical disinfecting products.

Connections:  This article relates to our discussions in class regarding both water purification in the form of filtration of pathogens, as well as food/water safety methods on a large scale.

Critical Analysis:  This article is interesting because it addresses the issue of public waste water as a critical entry point for microbes into municipal drinking water. In our lecture discussion during class we did not delve much into the that particular issue. The article highlights the cost of current methods of waste filtration and treatment, but does not give much in the way of details for the size of the issue, nor the extent of contamination that these cities are facing. To that same point, they fail to explain how effective the hydrogel is at ‘repelling’ viruses. Though the article seems to be a brief overview for the layman, I don’t believe the readers would have been bored by statistics to reinforce the information they provided. However, if this is an effective method that can be applied to control measures already in place, the results could be outstanding for reuse of potable water.

Question:  How long are the researchers expecting the hydrogel coating to maintain efficacy? Will the gel last as long as the existing filter it is applied to, and what will the added costs for cities planning to implement this extra barrier in their water supply?

A2: Microbes in the News

Article and link: “Young poo” makes aged fish live longer. Nature. April 04, 2017. Link:

Summary: Researchers found that giving old killfish the gut microbiome of younger killfish lengthened their lives.  This is the first time that it has been shown that older fish are able to live longer after consuming microbes of younger fish.  In order to do this, the researchers  cleared out the gut flora of old fish with antibiotics then introduced them in an environment with younger fish, where they picked up microbes when sampling other individuals poo to see if it was food.

Critical analysis:  I found this article to be rather intriguing.  It notes that it is thought that the microbiome of other vertebrates becomes less diversified through age, leading to new studies which may reveal other animals may benefit from a younger animal of the species’ microflora since it is far more varied.  I think the article was scientifically accurate since it didn’t go into the specifics of the mechanism.  In fact, that’s kind of what I liked about it.  It acknowledged the shortcomings of not knowing exactly how it worked, while giving a broad sense of why it might worked.  I think the article was geared more toward being like a scientific article, which is to say that I think it fell short of being great at communicating science to the public at large.  It seems structured like a formal paper,  so people may be turned off by this assuming it would be too clinical, but the actual information provided was very interesting if the person stayed to read!

Connection: We have went over the idea of a necessary microbiome in order to be healthy.  When your microbiome is in a poor state, you can be infiltrated by more harmful flora which is the cause of some diseases.

Question: Why do you think the antibiotics increased the lifespan of the old fish without the introduction of young fish microbiome when the article is based around microbiome greatly influencing longevity?

Getting antibiotics as a baby may have lasting effects on brain, behavior

Getting antibiotics as a baby may have lasting effects on brain, behavior

Published: April 5, 2017 at ArsTechnica

This article looks at a few different articles having to do with gut microbiome and their effects on the human brain in terms of behavior.   The main focus is a later paper in a series which looks as the exposure of baby mice to antibiotics given before and after birth.   The mice were split into two groups were one had penicillin introduced through the mother while in the womb and to themselves when they were born, with a later group added in which mice had the penicillin as well as were given a probiotic.   The group that had the penicillin had 42 percent of the population that were aggressive as opposed to the 9 percent in the control group.   Additionally, the antibiotic group appeared to be less social and a little less anxious.   The probiotic mice also had a thinner blood-brain barrier.   The group with the probiotics introduced had some of the effects of the antibiotic blocked.

Being that we talk a lot in class about how helpful a good gut microbiome is and how bad it is to overuse antibiotics —especially those that are more broad-spectrum, the contents of this article are no real surprise to me.   Even talk of cytokines being increased in the brains of exposed mice is a concept that I can understand thanks to learning about then with the immunology portion of class.

Overall, the article does a pretty good job at telling the story of the paper to the general public.   It goes as far as to include a section to discuss some of the limitation of the discussed study, such as the fact that the period of exposure to penicillin was quite long as well as the fact that the exposure before and after death was not differentiated in the study.   My only issue with the paper was that in one of their background statements, they say that, “gut microbes have been caught making most of the neurotransmitters our brains use to regulate themselves,’ but yet the link they provide leads to a paper that seems to more-so talk about the way that our neurotransmitters will influence the gut microbe, not vice versa (though the full paper was a paid paper and not free to view).

Question:   If there is a chance for the probiotics to help block the effects of the antibiotic use in infancy, would it be possible for probiotics to be used in a longer trial such that they eventually reverse the behavior issues that arise from the use of antibiotics?

Human Microbiota

Because I have an utter fascination with the great diversity and complexity of the human microbiome, I decided to construct a project on that field of research. My goal  for this final project was to create a piece that was aesthetically pleasing, yet symbolic to the true nature of the human microflora. The various small dots are symbolic of the numerous microorganisms that reside on the human body that contribute to our overall genome.

Giant viruses may simply be “Frankenstein” of smaller viruses

Date: April 6, 2017

Source: DOE/Joint Genome Institute


Summary: Viruses have ubiquitous presence in the world. Scientists are interested to study viruses behavior, and to study giant viruses. Recent research discovered that giant viruses and recent viruses are more cell-like now than ever before. Scientists made two evolutionary hypotheses regarding giant virus’ origin. The first hypothesis is that giant viruses came from an evolved ancient cell, and the second one states that giant viruses arose from the smaller viruses.

Connection: This article’s main study was viruses and we were studying viruses and how they infiltrate their host cells.

Critical Analysis: This article is pretty straightforward, even though it mentioned complex processes. What I learned from this article is that the main virus that they were studying was klosneuvirus, which have a huge impact on protists. Scientists’ discovery provided new ways of studying viruses, as well as giant viruses. Scientists’ found out that viruses are becoming more and more cell-like, and because of new found discoveries from their research, they are able to vastly expand their understanding on how viruses capture their host genes during their evolution. I think its really interesting that scientists created two evolutionary hypothesis regarding giant viruses’ origin. Either if giant viruses came from an ancient cell and evolved or if giant viruses arose from the smaller ones. With this in mind, scientists conducted metagenomic tests and found out that   klosneuvirus groups came from from viral lineages affiliated with mimivirus, which are viruses that were found around 2003 and is also a giant virus. I think that these facts that scientists found out were interesting and vital to future research about giant viruses.

Question: Which theory do you think is more accurate and why?

Microbes in the news: The gift of Dragons

Link: (

Synopsis: Komodo Dragons’ saliva has a rich and varied microbiota which has been studied for different aspects in the past. Now the question being asked is: Why don’t they get infections more often? Short answer, antimicrobial compounds in their blood that encourage tissue healing as well. Researchers at George Washington University have isolated a compound by the name of DRGN-1 which appears to have antimicrobial activity, break up biofilms, and recruit dermal cells to heal wounds in mice. It was tested on Methicillin resistant S. aureus (MRSA) and P. areuginosa and showed benefits in both infections.

Critical thinking: While this is exciting for the same reason I listed in number 2 (non-antibiotic ways to deal with infections), I don’t know how soon we’ll be seeing this sort of technology in humans. The compound was modified from dragons to work in mice and would need to be further modified to work properly in humans.

Connections: Besides antibiotics and antimicrobials as discussed previously, there is the issue of innate resistance, which this compound seems to be part of which we discussed on Monday. I think this is part of the host resistance as it helps regenerate wounds and keep microbes at bay.

Question: Does this seem plausible to use, say in hospitals, and if so, how long before it becomes plausible to use?

A2 Microbes in the news (2/3): Frog slime kills flu virus

Frog slime kills flu virus:  Mining host defense peptides found in skin mucus



Summary: Frogs are known to protect themselves from bacteria using peptide secretions.  Researchers at  Emory Vaccine Center and the Rajiv Gandhi Center have found that a  component of the skin mucus secreted by South Indian frogs  have the ability to kill the H1 strain of influenza viruses by disrupting the integrity of the H1 virus and binding to the  stalk of hemagglutinin.

Connection: Discovering a new way of controlling a flu virus relates to controlling pathogenic bacteria. New methods of controlling the H1 influenza strain allows for alternatives treatments of H1 just in case other methods become unusable in the case of resistance.

Analysis: I found the idea of utilizing methods found in nature for controlling viruses very exciting. Assuming that the specific peptides can be isolated, we can use this in medicine by either harvesting the secretions or recreating the peptide in lab. The research seems promising. Mice studies show that treatment with this peptide, named “urumin” by the scientists, can successfully treat influenza but further studies and tests are need to stabilize the antiviral peptide as well as insuring it is safe and functional for humans. The study presented by the article is very interesting and easily read by non-scientific readers.

Questions:  This article mentions that other antimicrobial peptides have been difficult to utilize in medicine. What peptides have been used before and how were they obtained?