May 2017

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Meet a Microbiologist: Raphael Laurenceau
Chemical engineer turned microbiologist. Co-founder and co-organizer of a DIY biolab. Cultivator of photosynthetic bacteria. Raphael Laurenceau began his path in the sciences by studying chemical engineering. After watching several nature documentaries (thanks David Attenborough), he soon realized he was in the wrong field. There were too many fascinating things happening in the world’s ecosystems and Raphael wanted to study them. Though life is all chemistry, he wanted to study biology and used his chemistry background to leverage a career in biology. “I realized that chemistry is a great stepping stone to enter the world of biology. There is nothing more than chemical reactions happening inside cells,” Raphael says.

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Repairing Concrete with Bacterial Builders

Can bacteria be the solution to collapsing bridges and cracking roads? Researches from Delft Technical University are developing a bacteria-infused concrete that can repair itself.

Concrete is created from a combination of water, aggregate (such as sand, gravel, stone) and cement. It dates back to the Roman Empire and structures made from concrete such as the Pantheon and the Colosseum still stand today. However, concrete tends to form cracks, which reduces its lifetime. Once cracks form, water and chemicals can seep in further reducing its structural integrity. Traditional methods to repair concrete can be costly and require hands-on work. What if there was a way for concrete to heal itself? (more…)

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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…)