Posts from the ‘bacteria’ Category



A Bacterium on a Diatom on an Amphipod

I see a lot of science stuff, and it’s pretty hard to get me to say “wow” … Just kidding, I say it all the time!

Definitely said it when I saw this wonderful representation of the scale differences between the domains of life. In one picture! Just remember, there’s about a trillion of those little bacteria on and in you all the time, just that tiny.

Just picked my jaw off the floor. Amazing.


Plant-Inspired Medicine: It’s Slippery and Sterile

Bacterial defense inspired by meat-eating plants

Many people think of bacteria as little round or rod-shaped swimmies, free-floating like plankton in the sea. But that’s not true of most bacteria in nature. Much of the time, they exist in dense, carbohydrate-rich colonies called biofilms. From the gunk inside your pipes to the plaque on your teeth, these bacterial goop fortresses are very common, and very tough.

Antibiotics, heck, even bleach, have a hard time breaking through biofilms. And some of the dangerous bacteria that people fall victim to in hospitals use these biofilms to persist on tables, equipment and other surfaces.

A Harvard group has developed a way to line those surfaces with a durable, safe material that is so slippery that even ice can’t grow on it. It’s called SLIPS, appropriately, because scientists will do anything to nail down a cool acronym. It’s inspired by the surface of the carnivorous pitcher plant, a frictionless micro-structure that makes its insect prey fall in and never come out. Same for the bacteria. It’s so slippery that even the toughest microbes can’t grow on it.

Check out more of this nature-inspiring-technology story at Not Exactly Rocket Science.

(pitcher plant illustration by SpaceHunterZorg)

While it’s incredible that we (much less nature!) can produce a surface on which even microbes can’t hang on, it’s also something I think should be used relatively sparingly. The spread of Staph and other bacteria in our hospitals is obviously a great application. 

However, bacteria are pretty important to us, especially in the development of our immune system. I’m not sure widespread use of SLIPS would be good in the long run. 

How does everybody else feel about it?

All of Earth’s human explorers have been part of a largely unconscious effort to wire up an already previously verdant Earth into one global technological intelligence—making our world smaller, not larger. Today’s intelligent bipeds colonize only a small fraction of the space inhabited by our bacterial ancestors, who dwell at least six miles deep in our crust and two miles up in the clouds, as well as having left Earth entirely, and been transported to neighboring planets, as spores on impacting meteorites billennia ago.

John Smart (via inthenoosphere)


… those bacteria that were using arsenic in their DNA? Not so much.

In 2010, NASA shocked the science community with the announcement that a bacterium from Mono Lake, CA had been found to substitute arsenic (found in the toxic lake water) for phosphorous in its DNA. This finding, were it true, would have rewritten the rules regarding the requirements for life, expanding the possibilities for where terrestrial, and especially extraterrestrial, organisms might be found.

In two papers released this week, though, that original claim has been refuted. The bacteria recovered from Mono Lake almost certainly do not use arsenic as originally reported. The original team is standing by their work, and NASA has remained quiet as far as I know. They probably have their arms crossed and are shrugging a lot with that look on their face. You know. Harumph.

There’s a lot of room to criticize NASA, and the original research team here. They pitched a three-ring circus to announce the original paper, and reviewers and editors alike should have provided far more scrutiny. But despite these bad decisions and flawed actions, this is not a defeat for science or the process. It is a victory for science, an example of where we self-corrected our errors, and in the process enriching both our knowledge and integrity. 

Here’s a report from USA Today with more on this long saga, and what we’ve learned.

Nobody says that science is perfect, but the process of experimentation and proper recording of results allows us to check ourselves and come closer to factual results. Hurray science!



Caleb Charland is a master at crossing analog photography with scientific curiosity. He’s done quite a bit of breathtaking science-infused work, but this particular series is a nifty little accident.

For his Biographs, Caleb coats film with a layer of agar, and allows bacteria to ea through it. They soon eat down into the gelatin layer that holds the film’s silver emulsion in place, allowing distortions and nebulous patterns to form where the microbes grow. 

See more at his website below.

(via Caleb Charland)

This is beautiful in an odd, but really creative way!

A salt evaporation pond outside of Dakar, Senegal. Bacteria in high-salinity ponds cause them to appear in various shades of red!


Rival bacterial colonies create a toxic “no-man’s-land” between them when they come too close to each other.

Image Source: PopSci, originally by Eshel Ben-Jacob.

I’d really be interested in seeing what the effect of adding another rival colony to one of the ends would be. Would a peace sign of buffer zone appear? After a few generations, would they start encroaching on the zone as they established resistance? Bacterial evolution is fun!