Fountain of poop?


Summary: Turquoise Killfish (Nothobranchius furzeri)  have one of the shortest lifespans on vertebrates on earth, reaching sexual maturity at just 3 weeks old and dying within a matter of months. It was found that old Killfish that consumed feces from a younger Killfish would live up to 45% longer than expected because of the microbes in the younger fish’s feces.

Connections:  In class, we talked about fecal transplantation in humans  as a way to treat diseases and disorders. This is a very similar concept. The older fish are receiving microbes from the younger fish’s feces to extend their lifespan.

Critical analysis:  I found this article very interesting because of the application of human fecal transplantation. It is a very similar process, but is occurring naturally in these fish populations. I would like to know more about the specific processes and microbes involved and how that would, in fact, increase the lifespan of the fish. The article does not go into much detail in that respect.

Question:  Could something similar to this occur in humans? Would you consider a fecal transplant to extend your life? What are the specific microbes involved in this process and how do that actually extend lifespan


The Influence of the Microbiome on Allergic Sensitization to Food

Article: The Influence of the Microbiome on Allergic Sensitization to Food
Source: The Journal of Immunology

Within the last 50 years, there has been a major increase in the frequency of allergic diseases in developed countries such as the US. Genetics, combined with diet changes/improved sanitation/increased antibiotic and vaccination use, can be attributed with this change. These changes lead to a change in the makeup of the human microbiota, altering not only diversity but frequency as well. Specific species of bacteria can have a multitude of different effects on the body. The presence of certain gut microbes, such as E. coli, can help to stimulate a state known as “endotoxin tolerance,” which is thought to provide a protective effect against inflammatory responses. On a similar note, individuals with a lower risk of food allergies were found to have a higher prevalence of Bifidobacterium while those with a higher risk of food allergies was found to have a higher prevalence of Bacterioids. The makeup of your microbiota can have major impacts not only on your overall health but also on the way your body reacts to certain chemicals.

The article discusses the human microbiome and the effects of its’ diversity and makeup on health and inflammatory response.

Critical Analyses:
I enjoyed the connections made between the human microbiota and human health/wellness. There is such a large connection between these, yet the field is so understudied it’s difficult to see its’ potential. One of the coolest thing I learned from this article is that when colonized with low-immunostimulatory microbiota in early life, aspects of immune education can be impaired resulting in predispostions to inflammatory diseases. This article is not a good read for those not strongly versed in scientific terminology, and is somewhat difficult for even bio students to fully comprehend due to terminology used.

How much of the field of preventative medicine is focused on the connection between the microbiota and human health? I’m curious about this because I feel like the field has so much potential, yet there doesn’t seem to be much emphasis on the microbiota and overall health.

Microbes in Phones in the News

Side note: (They’re on the phones not in them, I just wanted consistency in my titles).

Article:  Scientists Discover 3 New Species of Microbes Growing on Mobile Phones

Source:  Press Trust of India March 6th,  2017

Summary: Microbes live pretty easily on phones, and some scientists in India found 2 new bacteria and 1 new fungus species on the phones they sampled. Tips to clean phones without antimicrobials are included in the article, as they hint at a need to avoid creating super-resistant microbes.

Connections: Mobile phones are used by a lot of people and some people from class got their isolate from their phones, so I believed this article would be something cool to write about.

Critical Analysis: The article explains their findings well, and has enough background/follow up material to get it across to all audiences. The information is displayed in a way that makes you feel as though you are reading a government produced guide on washing your hands, but otherwise the article is fine.

Question: Since the scientists did not sample from phones where super-resistant microbes might be I wonder how the phones that might have super-resistant microbes would differ in their microbial community.

Microbes in Vaccines that made it to the “News”

Article:  Measles Vaccine Suspected Of ‘Horrific Rashes, Illnesses’

Source: Helenesco of Vaxxter April 18th, 2017

Summary: Some “parents” on social media have posted complaining that their children had horrid skin rashes, muscle pains, and fever after vaccinating them with a MR vaccine. Since the only information out there was posted on social media with no doctor’s note or anything the ministry that vaccinated  the children is stating that there is not enough evidence to support their claims (Interesting side note, president Trump is apparently attempting to establish a Vaccine Safety Committee).

Connections: We just got done with the topic of vaccination and how some people see it as a harmful process, so I thought this article would fit perfectly.

Critical Analysis: The website this came from boasts to be “The Ultimate Guide to Vaccine News and Anti-Pharma News, and More,” so naturally the information does portray the information in a sort of biased way, but not as much as I suspected it would. The information is portrayed in a much more factual manner than I thought it would be, and for the most part the bias is minor, plus it does a decent job of getting the information across to many types of people. That being said, the information is only semi-credible most of the time and the potential problem is displayed in such a way that it is highly suggested to be the fault of vaccines, so the most you can do is take it with a grain of salt and acknowledge that it could be a problem due to the vaccines, or not.

Question: If the vaccines did give the children all the symptoms they listed, did it come about as a result of an slip-up in vaccine creation, or some other reason?

A2: Microbes in the News- Biologists Discover That Communities of Bacteria Timeshare Their Food

Article Title: Biologists Discover That Communities of Bacteria Timeshare Their Food


Date: 4-14-17


Summary: Despite being simple at first sight, biologists at UC San Diego found that bacterial communities in biofilms are capable of using time intervals to share food when it is in low supply. Even between species in a community, they take turns consuming the limited amount of food at timed intervals, using electrical signals out of sync with other populations to set up a timing system where they alternate which group feeds. Despite not having a complex brain, bacteria have figured out how to use time just like humans have.

Connections: This relates to what we were talking about with populations versus communities, and also applies to topics like food spoilage and food poisoning. Having multiple different species growing in a food source from them sharing the food certainly has a different effect on food safety than if 1 species had outcompeted the others, especially in how to prevent and fix this bacterial contamination.

Critical Analysis: It is very interesting to see that despite the fact that they are competing with each other, entirely different species of bacteria will cooperate with each other to ensure that they all get access to the food to some degree. I would think that they would compete even more aggressively under those conditions, but instead they share using electrical signals to create a timer for each species to eat. The article explains itself well, explaining the reasons in an easily digestible way. It relates the timesharing concept well to humans, and conveys just how interesting it is that simple bacteria can use the idea of time, which is a concept that humans use all the time.

Question: I wonder if there are conditions where the bacteria would not use this timesharing system? It would be a harmful adaptation to have if a certain bacterium ignored the rules of this sharing system, in a manner of the Tragedy of the Commons. Why would the bacteria do this, when they could simply compete with each other for the food and have it all to themselves or even use the method and betray the other species by ignoring the signal that says their time to eat is up?

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?

Painting with Microbes

I chose relatively basic microbe combinations for my paintings, but wanted to see what the different mediums would do to the microbial growths. I was extremely upset by the lack of E. coli for the presence of the deep metallic green I had seen in images of this project.

I cannot upload the images of my microbial plates, but I created a fish, a flower, and a stylized ‘S’.

My intent was to create three different pieces using the same microbes, and see how differently they could all look. I didn’t look up how the microbes would interact with each other, or how they would grow on the different agars, because I thought it would be a more interesting artistic process to set the microbes down on medium and see how they went from there. Something of a Deistic process, where once things have been set in motion, they are not interfered with, regardless of if the result is what I had initially pictured or not.


Rei Shibue: Microbial art

I’m an exchange student from Japan, so I drew something relate to Japan. First one is Mt. Fuji, which is the highest mountain in Japan. Second one is a national flag of Japan and underneath the flag, I wrote “日本(Ni-hon)” , it’s a chinese character and means “Japan”. Third one is Pikachu and I chose it because Pikachu is the most famous character from Japan.

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.