These salt ponds in San Francisco Bay really are this color. Why? Microbes of course! Halotolerant and halophilic bacteria tend to have these brilliant colors, and they proliferate in these types of ponds where other bacteria can’t live (because of the salt!) The ponds are where seawater is evaporated to recover the salt, and they each have different concentrations of salt, which selects for different bacteria (and some brine shrimp) that have different colors. Beautiful!
Not long ago, I made a marble pound cake. Marble pound cake requires making a vanilla batter, adding chocolate to half of it, and then swirling the batters together in a pan. This meant that once my loaf pan was in the oven, I had two bowls and two spoons…
Go ahead - lick the spoon! The chances of being exposed to Salmonella bacteria from raw eggs are discussed in this article from Slate. Spoiler - they are really, really low.
Antibiotic resistance is ancient
We often associate antibiotic resistance in bacteria with the relatively recent rise of antibiotic production and use by the human population. And while it is true that human usage hastens the spread of resistance genes in human pathogens, resistance genes themselves appear to have been around for a very, very long time. Lechguilla Cave (part of Carlsbad Caverns) has been isolated form the surface for 4-7 million years. Scientists cultured bacteria from this isolated location and tested them for resistance to many currently available antibiotics (both natural and semi-synthetic versions) and found that many of the isolated strains showed resistance to these drugs! That’s some pretty strong proof that resistance genes have been around along time. Resistance genes have also been found in the dental plaque of 1000 year old skeletons! Honestly, this makes sense since the definition of antibiotic is a molecule that kills or stops the growth microbes and is made by another microbe. If some species make compounds that can harm other microbes, then I would imagine that other species have evolved strategies to resist these compounds. It’s the evolutionary arms race, at a microbial scale. Still, the human use (or overuse) of antibiotics will have lead to the huge expansion and evolution of these genes, and their spread.
Cover: Enhanced SEM of freeze-fractured miso revealed asci as tubes with ascospores inside. Miso is a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans fermented with rice, barley, salt, and Aspergillus oryzae. Miso is among the microbially based foods that modern chefs are using to create new flavors and textures (see p. 13). (Image © Scimat/Science Source.)
Read the full story of how chefs are learning from microbiologists about how fermented food products are made and using the knowledge to make their own new, unique ingredients. If you love food, which of course we all do, this is a great article, and a great development in general. Microbes play an important role in creating foods/tastes we love, but the knowledge of how this is done has more recently been restricted to larger manufacturers. If you are in NYC, you can head to one of the Momofuku restaurants to try some of the fermented products they are making in house in their food lab and see what the possibilities can be!
Scientists have revived a giant virus that was buried in Siberian ice for 30,000 years — and it is still infectious. Its targets are amoebae, but the researchers suggest that as Earth’s ice melts, this could trigger the return of other ancient viruses, with potential risks for human health.
The newly thawed virus is the biggest one ever found. At 1.5 micrometres long, it is comparable in size to a small bacterium. Evolutionary biologists Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel, the husband-and-wife team at Aix-Marseille University in France who led the work, named it Pithovirus sibericum, inspired by the Greek word ‘pithos’ for the large container used by the ancient Greeks to store wine and food. “We’re French, so we had to put wine in the story,” says Claverie. The results are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1
What’s the strongest creature in the world?
According to a study by Ozgur Sahin, it’s bacteria. When they dry out, some bacteria shrivel up into hard, wrinkly spores and wait around for moisture to return. When the water comes back, they expand with incredible force. They’re hundreds of times stronger than human muscle. If you could harness this energy, it would only take a pound of spores to lift a car a meter off the ground.
So Sahin and his colleagues set out to build a spore-based generator. They placed a layer of spores on a strip of rubber. In the video up top, a strip of this material is bending in response to moisture changes from a human breath. Sahin envisions a future when this material could be used to generate enormous amounts of energy from natural moisture fluctuations in the environment. He’s also identified mutations that could make the spores even stronger.
EARTH’S OCEANS ARE BEGINNING TO WARM AND GROW ACIDIC,
Endangering plankton and the entire marine food chain
- The roiling drama of the planktonic world is a theatre of ambush predators, hermaphrodites and mucus-hurling cannibals.
- The turnover time of the ocean is about 1,000 years, but most of the anthropogenic CO2 is accumulating in the upper ocean within 100 years. The ocean can’t mix it fast enough into the deep sea.
- The loss in productivity in the surface waters will reduce the animals on the ocean’s bottom by a mass equivalent to the entire human population.
Read the February 18, 2014 article by Peter Brannen, Plankton: the tiny sentinels of the deep …
Plankton are a diverse group of organismsthat live in the water column and cannot swim against a current. They include drifting animals, protists, archaea, algae, or bacteria that inhabit the pelagic zone of oceans, seas, or bodies of fresh water. Plankton are defined by their ecological niche rather than phylogenetic or taxonomic classification.
- Phytoplankton: autotrophic [primary producers] algae that live near the water surface where light supports photosynthesis.
- Zooplankton: small protozoans or metazoans (e.g. crustaceans and other animals) that feed on other plankton …, including some of the eggs and larvae of larger animals (fish, crustaceans, and annelids).
- Bacterioplankton: bacteria and archaea, which play an important role in remineralising organic material ….
IMAGES Charismatic microfauna; Limacina helicina, a small, swimming, predatory sea snail. Photo by Alexander Semenov (via Aeon)
 Credit: Pravettoni, R. UNEP/GRID-Arendal. Data Source: IPCC 2007. Retrieved from http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/global-ocean-acidification
 Credit: United States Joint Global Ocean Flux Study.
Posted by life-the-universe-everything
Is life possible on Mars? If it is (or was) it’s probably microbial! Scientists look for bacteria living in extreme environments on Earth that look similar to environments on Mars in order to figure out what signals to look for as signs of life on other planets (past or current).
Infectious diseases linked to the colony collapse of honeybees appear to be spreading among wild bumblebees that pollinate crops worldwide, dealing a potential double blow to agriculture, according to a new study.
A disconcerting study - honeybees could be spreading disease to native pollinators that play an important role in the reproductive cycle of many plants. The viruses appear to be spread by a parasitic mite, so eradication of the mite is an important focus in trying to save pollinators.