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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…)

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Snapshots from the March for Science - Boston

For today, I’m taking a break from writing about microbiology. Thousands of people gathered in cities worldwide for the March for Science to support science, research, and evidence-based policy. Recent cuts in science research funding, climate change denial, and general disregard for the future of our planet and our health all fueled our need to do something. But the science march only reflects a greater issue: the public perception and understanding of science and its role in our lives. It shows a need for more science outreach, science education and the infrastructure to achieve these goals. Hopefully, the March for Science will spark conversations about the importance of science in our lives. It is only when the country as a whole support science that tangible outcomes in policy can occur. (more…)

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Meet a Microbiologist: Erica Hartmann

Erica’s foray into science didn’t specifically begin with microbiology. Her father worked at NASA and while accompanying him to work on “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” every year, she’s tried all sorts of things, even astronaut ice cream. She’s read a lot about science and her interest grew. “The Hot Zone especially scared the bejeezus out of me but was also fascinating,” she recalls. She grew up near Reston, Virginia, where Reston Virus (causes Ebola symptoms in non-human primates) was discovered. While she was in high school, she closely followed the race to sequence the human genome. “It felt hugely important and revolutionary, and I wanted to be a part of it,” Erica says. (more…)