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Microbes & Metaphors Report

The Microbes and Metaphors report is based on presentations made by artists, microbiologists, clinicians and health activists at a workshop held at Wee Jasper, NSW, Australia in December 2008. Titled ‘Re-imaging bacteria, infection and the body: A dialogue between scientists and artists’ the workshop was a pioneering effort to reconceptualise the popular and even professional perception of microbes and their relation to the human body as also the theme of antibiotic resistance using the insights of a multidisciplinary team of experts.

This report is now being made available to the general public through this internet version available at: http://www.slideshare.net/SatyaSivaraman/microbes-metaphors-report

All comments are welcome and can be sent to satyasagar64@gmail.com and memhmh@gmail.com

Art inspired by bacteria

 

Note: All images in the Microbes and Metaphors Report are reproduced with permission. 

New Articles

‘Armoured’ Microbes Survived Harsh Post-Snowball Earth

Tiny undersea organisms not only survived some of Earth's harshest weather, when the planet was covered in a sheet of ice some 700 million years ago, new microfossil evidence suggests they developed protective armor and thrived after "Snowball Earth."

Researchers refer the condition in which the entire surface of the earth was almost covered by a sheet of ice as Snowball Earth and scientists hypothesize that Earth underwent two such global glaciations between 710 million and 635 million years ago. 

In Namibia and Mangolia, researchers found first occurrence of microfossils in rocks deposited immediately after the first Snowball Earth eventand there they found that life not only survived this dramatic climate change but flourished in its immediate aftermath. After freeing the trapped fossils from the rocks, they looked at them under a high-powered electron microscope. They saw what appeared to be hollow shells that may have held single-cell creatures. The tiny, amoeba-like organisms probably built their armor from material gleaned from the surrounding environment. The shells looked like tiny black ovals with a single notch. The creatures may have grabbed things from their environment with their foot-like projections through the notch.

Microbial knights in shining armour thus came into existence when the ice first started melting.

Read more at

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43535746

Bizarre Semi-Autonomous, Super-Small Microbes Discovered

Some of them live off other microbes at least some of the time.

Researchers have discovered some of the tiniest and weirdest microbes ever seen which are growing in a copper mine sludge that is as acidic as battery acid. These Archaea (the domain of life that groups together one-celled creatures) are rivaled in size only by a microbe that survives solely as a parasite attached to other cells.

Researchers discovered up to 10 percent of their specimens impaled on needle-like protuberances originating from another microbe, Thermoplasmatales. “It is really remarkable and suggests an interaction that has never been described before in nature," said Brett J. Baker of the University of California at Berkeley. The researchers suspect that the penetrating spines of Thermoplasmatales may mean that the microbes live off other microbes at least part of the time, unlike symbiotic organisms or parasites, which must always associate with other organisms to live.

Read more about this at

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36976220/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/bizarre-super-small-microbes-discovered/

'Microbes From The Moon' Mystery— The Controversy Settled At Last

The bugs on the NASA lunar probe camera didn’t come from the moon but the contamination occurred on the earth.

There has been a long-lived bit of Apollo moon landing folklore—‘microbes on the moon’—that now appears to be a dead-end affair.  

Astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean, who made a precision landing on the lunar surface on 19 November 1969, brought back the Surveyor 3 probe to earth under sterile conditions. When scientists analyzed the parts in a clean room, they found evidence of microorganisms inside the camera. A small colony of common bacteria — Streptococcus Mitis — had stowed away on the device. 

Even for those whose premise was that the microbes latched onto NASA’s lunar probe on the earth itself before the launch, the astrobiological upshot was that 50 to 100 of the microbes appeared to have survived launch, the harsh vacuum of space, three years of exposure to the moon's radiation environment, the lunar deep-freeze at an average temperature of minus 253 degrees Celsius, not to mention no access to nutrients, water or an energy source.

A diligent team of researchers is now digging back into historical documents has now concluded that, “the Surveyor 3 camera team thought they had detected a microbe that had lived on the moon for all those years but they only detected their own contamination.”

John Rummel, chairman of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Panel on Planetary Protection, along with colleagues Judith Allton of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Don Morrison, a former space agency lunar receiving laboratory scientist, recently presented their co-authored paper: "A Microbe on the Moon? Surveyor III and Lessons Learned for Future Sample Return Missions," where they gave their verdict on poor space probe hygiene.

 

Read more at

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42932978/ns/technology_and_science-space/t/microbes-moon-mystery-solved-last/

New Insights Into Microbial Ecology Including Early Microbial Survival

 

Experiments with mutant microbes testing space radiation resistance throw new light on microbial ecology including early microbial survival

Early Earth lacked an ozone layer to act as a shield against high-energy solar radiation, but microbes flourished by adapting to or finding other forms of protection from the higher ultraviolet radiation levels. Now researchers have begun testing modern microbes to see if they could act as pioneers in the harsh conditions of extraterrestrial space and other planetary environments.

The experiments have offered a wealth of insights into microbial ecology: for instance, they have shown that a single organism is actively capable of reacting and adapting to changes in its environment. That adaptation to radiation hints at how some microbes might have survived a journey to Earth aboard ancient asteroids, according to the theory known as Panspermia. Similarly, the adaptive ability indicates how Earth microbes might be able to colonize harsher extraterrestrial environments such as Mars, although even the most radiation-resistant bacteria would face other challenges if they tried to survive beyond Earth.

Read more about these inferences from experiments with mutant microbes in space at

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42401169

Microbes Plan Ahead, Predict Future Events!

Bacteria and yeast learn to use one action to prepare for another.

Just as humans have learned to connect dark clouds with rain, so too have bacteria and yeast learned to use one event to predict the arrival of another. To cite two examples:

In the human digestive tract, sugar lactose is present before sugar maltose. Introducing E. coli to lactose not only triggers genes that let the bacteria metabolize lactose, but also initiates the expression of genes that produce enzymes that can metabolize maltose. No maltose is yet present, but the bacteria are now equipped to metabolize maltose when they are exposed to it.

In wine bottles, yeast must withstand the heat produced during fermentation and then the chemical pressure of oxidation. As the bottles heat up, the yeast activate genes that allow them to survive the heat. This also triggers the activation of genes that enable the yeast to survive oxidation, the next stage of the fermentation process.

Call it microbial clairvoyance even if you are weary of calling it premonition or foresight, but it is undeniable that some multi-cellular organisms understand and anticipate the temporal order of things well in advance. To put it simply, it is like you taking out an umbrella anticipating rains when you see clouds!

Read more about this microbial instinct at

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31569102/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/microbes-plan-ahead-predict-future-events/

Ancient Rocky Structures Built By Microbes

Study provides evidence of biological origin for the oldest stromatolites.

Ancient microbes left quite an impression on Earth. Scientists have found evidence that microbial communities built 3.45-billion-year-old stromatolites, which are layered, rock-like structures of sediment that grow in shallow water.

Dark bands of organic layers — fossilized microbes — were found in stromatolites from the Strelley Pool formation in Western Australia.

Combined with other data, the finding suggests that microbes began building the stromatolites just over a billion years after the Earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago, according to researchers from the Caltech and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

This new study provides the first evidence of a biological origin for the oldest stromatolites — a subject that scientists have been arguing about for years.

Read more about this exciting finding at

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32220917/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/ancient-rocky-structures-built-microbes/

Cellborg’ Merges Microbe And Machine

Gold-plated bacteria serve as sensitive humidity sensors.

Fully merging microbe and machine for the first time, scientists have created gold-plated bacteria that can sense humidity.

The breakthrough is the first "cellborg," heralding what might become an array of devices that could sense dangerous gases or other hazardous substances.

The bioelectronic device swells and contracts in response to how much water vapor is in the air. It’s called a cellborg humidity sensor, and it is at least four times more sensitive than those that are solely electronic.

Read more about this hybrid device at

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9841437/ns/technology_and_science-science/


 

The Air You Breathe Is Loaded With Microbes

 

Study to help measure changes in airborne bacteria populations.

The air you breathe is teeming with more than 1,800 kinds of bacteria, including harmless relatives of microbes associated with bioterrorist attacks, according to a new study.

The finding, detailed online in December 2006 in the journal for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, would allow scientists to create a baseline against which future researchers can measure changes in bacterial populations due to factors such as climate change. Plus, by knowing what’s typically aloft in the air, scientists could distinguish between normal and suspicious fluctuations — a sign of a bioterrorist attack.

Read more about this study

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16328625/ns/technology_and_science-science

 

The Air You Breathe Is Loaded With Microbes

 

Study to help measure changes in airborne bacteria populations.

The air you breathe is teeming with more than 1,800 kinds of bacteria, including harmless relatives of microbes associated with bioterrorist attacks, according to a new study.

The finding, detailed online in December 2006 in the journal for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, would allow scientists to create a baseline against which future researchers can measure changes in bacterial populations due to factors such as climate change. Plus, by knowing what’s typically aloft in the air, scientists could distinguish between normal and suspicious fluctuations — a sign of a bioterrorist attack.

Read more about this study

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16328625/ns/technology_and_science-science

 

Electricity From Microbes A Step Closer?

Microbes may be harnessed more easily to generate energy after a finding about how they naturally let off tiny electrical charges, scientists reported in May 2011.

The bacteria, found to have microscopic "wires" sticking through their cell walls, might also be used to clean up oil spills or uranium pollution, according to the report in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We should be able to use this finding to harvest more electricity from the bacteria," lead author Tom Clarke of the University of East Anglia in England told Reuters.

Read more at

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43140508/ns/business-stocks_and_economy/

Microbes Take Their Place In The Courtroom

Scientists hope biological evidence can join DNA as investigative tool.

Scientists and law enforcement authorities are now working together to make "microbial forensics" as potent an investigative tool as DNA evidence

Last year, the FBI created an elite committee of scientists and law enforcement officials to develop ways to bring virus hunting skills to crime investigations. One goal is to train more doctors and other first responders to be able to identify when a bioterrorism attack has occurred and sound the alarm.

The goal is to develop consistent and valid scientific processes that can be used as evidence in court, just as DNA evidence can identify culprits or exonerate the innocent.

Read more about such efforts at

 

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9545518/ns/technology_and_science-innovation/

 

School Grammar Could Help Fight Bacteria!

Biologists using rules from primary school to decode genetics and medicine

Biologists reached back to elementary school to discover a promising new way to fight nasty bacteria: Apply the rules of grammar.

Studying potent bacteria-fighters found in nature called antimicrobial peptides, biologists found that they seemed to follow rules of order and placement that are similar to simple grammar laws.

Using the new grammar-like rules for how these peptides work, scientists created 40 new artificial bacteria-fighters. They found that nearly half of them vanquished a variety of bacteria and two of them beat anthrax, according to a paper being published in October 2006 in the journal Nature.

Wondering what school grammar has to do with fighting bio-terrorism? Well, bacteria-fighting grammar rules are equivalent to the extremely basic spelling rule, "i before e except after c." The only difference is the microbial rules are not as complex and convoluted as the rules of the human language!

Read more at

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15321754/