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The Menagerie on Partial Hiatus

Hi everyone. Thank you for following along on tales of the fascinating lives of microbes. For the next six weeks, I will be broadening my writing and tackling other fields of biology as the summer science writer at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL). Today, I was working on a story about sex change in snails and tomorrow I will be interviewing a cephalopod expert! In the meantime, please follow along on MBL's blog The Well for some of the stories I am working on. I will not be posting about strictly microbiology stories here for a while, but don't fret, I will still share "Meet a Microbiologist" stories every other week as scheduled.

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Meet a Microbiologist: Kimberly Walker

Like many young scientists, Kimberly Walker took to her natural surroundings for study. As a child, she would do experiments on ants near her house. After a B.S. in medical technology, she pursued a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology. She studied the molecular pathogenesis of Gram-negative bacteria, specifically Bordetella pertussis, Proteus mirabilis, and diarrheagenic Escherichia coli.

She is fascinated by the secretion systems of Gram-negative bacteria. Gram-negative bacteria use different forms of secretion to transfer proteins from within the cell to the exterior. Secretion systems have many functions, whether to emit toxins or to build extracellular structures. “They are brilliant. Type II is my favorite,” she says. (more…)

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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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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…)