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Microbes at work in your kimchi

Kimchi is the national dish of South Korea and has become a global trend in the last several years. With its distinct and pungent odor, people seem to either love this stuff or despise it with all their passion. Kimchi is a mixture of vegetables and seasonings that is fermented before it is eaten. It is spicy, salty, and tangy all at the same time. (more…)

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The Olympics: Microbes vs. Humans

As the world watches the Olympics, the journal Nature Microbiology hosted the Microbial Olympics.

Here are some highlights from this year's Microbial Olympics events:

(1) Synchronized swarming: Swarming is a coordinated movement of bacterial populations to spread out over solid or semi-solid surfaces. Swarming speeds are comparable to swimming speeds in the same organism. In the synchronized swarming competition, bacterial populations are judged on how quickly they swarm on a semi-solid agar surface. Bacterial populations start in the middle of the surface and move outwards to the finish line. The medalists for this event are the well known swarmers, Vibrio parahaemolyticus (gold), Proteus mirabilis (silver) and Bacillus subtilis (bronze). (more…)

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Lost in translation: From scientists to the press and to the public

"You don't really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother." - quote attributed to Albert Einstein

As a scientist, we often find that people have a hard time understanding what we do. Family and friends may expect that we make giant strides in our work everyday, making important breakthroughs or discoveries left and right. They may not understanding how slow science is or why our research is important or even what our research is about. (more…)

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Microbe of the month: Nanopusillus acidilobi, an archaeon found in Yellowstone National Park

"Life has evolved to thrive in environments that are extreme only by our limited human standards: in the boiling battery acid of Yellowstone hot springs, in the cracks of permanent ice sheets, in the cooling waters of nuclear reactors, miles beneath the Earth's crust, in pure salt crystals, and inside the rocks of the dry valleys of Antarctica." -Jill Tarter, astronomer

Yellowstone National Park (YNP) is well known for its geothermal features and diverse ecosystems. With features such as hot spring, geysers, canyons and forests, it's no wonder that the biodiversity (microbial and not) at YNP is enormous. (more…)

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Scared of subway germs? Fear not, for they are harmless

"You can either embrace the dirt and the germs as part of the risky joy of living in an exciting, overpopulated metropolis, or you can spend lots of mental real estate obsessing over whether you touched a few extra microbes when you got on the subway.” - Zack Love

I have to admit that I am somewhat of a germaphobe. When I first moved to Boston and spent over two hours a day on the subway (called the T) to get to and from lab, I feared I would get sick all the time from touching things or sitting next to someone coughing up a lung. But was my fear of the T warranted? (more…)

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Our early life microbiome may be more resilient than once believed

"We are inhabited by as many as ten thousand bacterial species... Together, they are referred to as our microbiome -- and they play such a crucial role in our lives that scientists like Blaser have begun to reconsider what it means to be human.” ― Michael Specter

A couple weeks ago, I attended the Boston Bacterial Meeting where Martin Blaser gave the keynote address. Dr. Blaser, a physician and a microbiologist, studies the complex and often puzzling interactions between our bodies and our microbiome (the collection of microbes living on or in our bodies). (more…)

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Yeast on the Rise

Hooray, it's finally (Foodie) Friday!

Since the last Foodie Friday post on sourdough microbes a couple weeks ago, I have been thinking about making my own bread again.

Because I am not taking care of a sourdough starter currently, I made a loaf of bread using Baker's yeast, or Saccharomyces cerevisiae. S. cerevisiae is commonly used as a fermentation agent in bread making and the production of carbon dioxide gas during metabolism by yeast contribute to the leavening and flavor and texture of bread. (more…)

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Plasmid mediated colistin resistance found in the U.S.

"When antibiotics first came out, nobody could have imagined we’d have the resistance problem we face today. We didn’t give bacteria credit for being able to change and adapt so fast." -Bonnie Bassler

Antibiotic resistant superbugs have dominated health-related news recently, warning of an impending post-antibiotic apocalypse where current antibiotics are no longer effective. Though it is true that antimicrobial resistance is increasing quickly and the effectiveness of many antibiotics is dwindling, much of what has been reported recently about a colistin resistant bacteria isolated in the U.S. may not be completely true. (more…)

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Sourdough, an incubator for microbial symbiosis

"Blues is to jazz what yeast is to bread. Without it, it's flat." - Carmen McRae, jazz musician

History of sourdough

Sourdough bread and other fermented foods have been around for centuries. The oldest leavened bread was excavated in Switzerland, dating from 3500 BCE. However, the oldest evidence of leavening was recorded by the Egyptians possibly when flatbread dough was left out and colonized by wild yeasts and bacteria. Throughout most of human history, sourdough was the source of leavening and the use of baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) did not occur until the 19th century. For more detail about this history of sourdough, visit The Sourdough School. (more…)

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Metropolitan Microbes: Microbiomes of Indoor Environments

In recent years, the human microbiome has gotten a lot of press. We have read about how our gut microbes affect our eating habits, immune system and mind. But what about the microbes that surround us indoors? We spend most of our time indoors, at home, in our cars, in offices and other buildings. We interact with these "built environments" extensively, leaving microbes from our skin on the surfaces we touch and also acquiring microbes that are already present on these surfaces. Airborne microbes from the outdoors or from humans also accumulate on these surfaces and travel throughout our indoor spaces. In a recent paper from the Caporaso lab, the individual factors that affect the microbiome of BEs were explored. (more…)