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Meet a microbiologist: Meenakshi Prabhune

Meenakshi Prabhune morphed from a microbiologist into a biochemist and biophysicist and finally into a freelance science writer. As someone who has always been curious of the biological world, microbiology was a natural choice for study as she entered college. The first time she isolated bacterial colonies on an agar plate and observed bacteria swimming under the microscope sparked even more curiosity. “It felt like a whole new invisible world had opened its doors to me,” she recalled. Soon after, she began to suspect that her irritated eyes from using contact lenses were caused by microbes and sought to prove this hypothesis. She sampled her contact lenses and when she saw an agar plate full of pink colonies, she was shocked. Did this scare her away from wearing contacts? Nope. She still uses contact lenses but the incident inspired a more thorough cleaning regiment. (more…)

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Think again before you compost that

Spring has arrived, gardens are planted, and now, we eagerly await the harvest of fruits and vegetables. This spring awakening brings not only new plant life, but fungi also come out to feast. Phytophthora root rot is a common fungal disease in plants, infecting over 250 plant genera including peppers, tomatoes, berries, and eggplants. At least a hundred species of fungi are responsible for phytophthora root rot. Chemical efforts to treat phytophthora root rot have been ineffective to control disease and have mostly been banned. So what is a gardener or farmer to do? (more…)

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Meet a Microbiologist: Rachel Simpson

African Sleeping Sickness gets its name from the sleep disturbances it causes. Awake in the night and asleep in the day. A bite from a tsetse fly can transmit Trypanosoma brucei, the parasite that causes African Sleeping Sickness. First come the fevers, headaches, and joint pain. Then weeks to months after the bite, the sleep disturbances set in. African Sleeping Sickness is in a category of diseases known as the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Like many NTDs, African Sleeping Sickness mainly affects underdeveloped populations in tropical regions. Unfortunately, this means that pharmaceutical companies don’t see reason to pursue research in these diseases. Hence the name “neglected tropical diseases.” (more…)

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The Microbial Menagerie turns one!

One year ago today, I started The Microbial Menagerie. I wanted to get practice writing and what better way to do that than to write about my scientific passion, microbiology. The blog started off with some of my favorite topics in microbiology: food and the microbiome. I explored a (mostly) invisible world that covers just about every surface on Earth. Honeybees, clouds, trees, ice, and even the subway are all impacted by microbes. Microbiologists are finding out each day that microbes have a greater influence than we previously thought. (more…)

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The Versatile Little Bean

Soybeans became widely popular in the last few decades. Low in fat, high in protein, a good substitute for meat, and sometimes fermented. This unassuming little bean has plenty of creative uses. Unfermented types of soy products include tofu, soymilk and in its purest, unprocessed form, edamame. Microbes transform soybeans into products as different as soy sauce, tempeh, natto, and miso.

When I first bought tempeh several years ago, I thought there was something wrong with it. A mysterious white substance glued soybeans together into a solid, congealed slab. It felt slimy and was full of grey spots. Little did I know at the time that microbes help make this tasty treat. (more…)