Microbes in the News (#3)

Emily Werner

Title: Microbes in the human body swap genes, even across tissue boundaries: study

Summary: A team of researchers from the University of Illinois developed a method that helped to identify when HGT is taking place in the human biome. They concluded that microbes with similar DNA will readily carry out HGT with each other regardless of their location in the body. Microbes with similar DNA will swap genes with each other even if one is in the large intestine and the other is on the skin. They perform HGT more than with microbes in their same location with less similar DNA (i.e. mouth, GI tract, skin.)


The shortcomings of this method don’t help to determine the ancient HGT that occurred between species millions of years ago but they do help to determine the more recent gene transfers.


Connection: We’ve learned a lot about HGT in class and that this is a method that microbes use to transfer antibiotic resistance genes from one another. This article tells about how microbes in the human gut will do the same.


Critical Analysis: This article is general and ideal for anyone wanting to learn more about what is going on in research who don’t have a deep background in natural science. They discuss that this method they created for determining HGT is best for looking at the genes that were recently inherited, but they don’t specify that timeline. I think that since they specify ancient inheritance of genes, they should also do the same to give reference.  


Question: If antibiotic resistance is such a “scary’ thing today, how were we able to survive for millions of years before modern-day soaps and antibiotics?

In the simplified version, if antibiotics were critical to our survival, we should’ve gone extinct long ago why didn’t we?


Link: https://phys.org/news/2019-04-microbes-human-body-swap-genes.html

Art Project-Immune System

The immune system has continuously interested me with its “soap-opera” feel to it. Each function within the immune system can be thought of as a dramatic interaction between individuals. By associating a story with a function of the immune system, I help myself to memorize it.

Autoimmune response- While autoimmune responses are still not fully understood, we can think of this concept in the immune system as “attacking SELF.” These immune cells are trying to destroy another cell that is apart of the body, but they think it’s a pathogen.

T-Cell Altercation- Some bacteria have developed a way to disguise themselves and “hide” their antigens so that T-cells cannot detect them as pathogens. This is how I imagine a T-cell would question a pathogen to find out if it’s apart of the body or not.

Immune defense in the oral cavity- After learning more about common bacteria in the human microbiome, I thought a drawing of Staphylococcus aureus would be appropriate to help depict the innate response. This is S. aureus holding onto the uvula and trying to evade the attack of macrophages. The only other option for the opportunistic pathogen is falling to the depths of stomach acid.

The AI-team – This one helps to depict the immune system’s “Defensive” namesake. Each cell is apart of a much bigger goal to help protect the body from pathogens and disease. Both the adaptive and the innate response are equally as important as the other (hence AI team). This reminds me of a rugby team. The NK cell must have forgotten his jersey though. Whoops.

A2: Microbes in the News (#2)

How electricity-eating microbes use electrons to fix carbon dioxide (Science Daily)

Find the article  here.

Summary:   The bacterium, Rhodopseudomonas palustris, has been identified to have the ability to metabolize electricity. It transfers electrons to fix CO2 to fuel its growth. Essentially, it enjoys feasting on rust and uses the electrons in a process called extracellular electron uptake. The research team at Washington University are using this knowledge to understand the microbe’s role in carbon cycling and has helped connect some unknown areas of basic concepts.

An understanding of how these microbes store the electrons could potentially lead to the production of alternative biofuels.

Connection: The electron tower helped to visualize which compounds are metabolized by a microbe in question. We’ve also talked about the use of microbes in our everyday lives (probiotics, waste water treatment, immunizations, etc.), and could potentially lead to an alternative energy source if researchers discover the mechanisms to harness this microbe for bioplastics or biofuel (as mentioned in the article).

Critical Analysis: This could potentially lead to a great alternative source for fuels in the future.   It’s in its exploratory stages currently and much more about specific mechanisms needs to be learned before researchers are ready to turn it into biofuel.

The draw back of this type of approach poses the concern about how this application will alter the microbial world around us. Other fuels accumulate in the atmosphere so how will the accumulation of an organism affect our environment?


Question: How could the artificial abundance of this microbe affect the ecosystems around it?




A6: Painting with Microbes

Emily Werner


Escherichia coli- I used this on the EMB agar because it ferments lactose with the specific differential media and creates a green sheen color to it. I thought this would be appropriate for the northern lights.

Enterobacter aerogenes- The color of this microbe is a yellow-white. I used it for the moon and the stars in the photo. The bacteria is anaerobic because it too turned black on the media due to fermentation. I had overlooked that when choosing the bacteria. The stars that I dabbed onto the plate didn’t show up so I’m thinking that there wasn’t enough bacteria present to start a colony or it was still undergoing the lag phase of replication.

Citrobacter freundii-   This was used for the river and the mountains. I wanted to go for a shadow style look for the mountains.


Each bacteria was gram negative so they showed up well on the plate as this agar specifically selects for only gram-negative. The agar was a dark red to begin with but lightened up over the course of 4 days.



A2: Microbes in the News


E.coli was used specifically to use its DNA in a research project conducted by Baylor College of Medicine. The team set out to look at the mechanisms of cancer-causing proteins when overproduced in a cell and e.coli was an ideal model because of its simplicity in structure. They genetically modified the bacteria so that it was illuminated red when there was DNA damage present. These specific proteins they reproduced were known to induce cancer but they wanted to know where the genome was specifically damaged.

How does it relate?

E.coli is a microbe that we’ve discussed during the past four weeks of class. It’s a model organism (cheap and easy to maintain in a lab setting) that is heavily studied which makes it an ideal microbe for research.

Critical Analysis

I found this summary of the actual article really easy to read and understand. It used a lot of common vocabulary most people could read it easily. I didn’t have to go back and read over the article five times to understand it. One thing that I would advise people to do to be skeptical readers of this article (or any article in general) is to understand that E.coli is an extremely simple organism compared to a complex organism such as a human. This could be a oversimplification of the reality of understanding proteins and their role in the formation of cancer in complex organisms such as humans.


How do these researchers reproduce proteins in a lab setting, and how do they know which proteins they’re reproducing?

You can read the article from Science daily here.

A3: Epithet Epitaph- Nancy F. Millis

Millisia brevis is a type of fermenting bacteria that produces mycolic acid and is found in activated sludges (wastewater treatment process) in Australia.   This bacterium is named after the Australian  microbiologist, Nancy Millis (1922-2012). The word brevis  means short, branched rods. It is an actinomycete, a gram-positive bacterium.

Millis was born in Melbourne Australia in 1922 and was one of six children in her family. After high school she first completed training at a business school but after a few “dreadful” years of working in this industry, she enrolled in an Australian university to study agriculture and earned her bachelor’s degree.

She traveled to Papua New Guinea to educate women on various types of agriculture methods. Unfortunately, she had to end her time there because an illness she caught almost took her life. After this she went on to work at various universities around the world in Europe and Asia and earned her PhD from University of Bristol in 1952. She was the first person to introduce applied microbiology courses.


“Professor Nancy Millis, microbiologist.” Australian Academy of Science. 2001.  https://www.science.org.au/learning/general-audience/history/interviews-australian-scientists/professor-nancy-millis

“Millisia brevis.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 24 Mar. 2018.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millisia_brevis

 gen. nov., sp. nov., an actinomycete isolated from activated sludge foam.”    International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology 56: 739-744.  Retrieved from:  https://ijs.microbiologyresearch.org/content/journal/ijsem/10.1099/ijs.0.63855-0#tab2

A1-Intro post

Hi my name is Emily. I’m in my junior year as a biology student. I’m interested in understanding more about aging and how it affects organisms and thought this class would be a great resource. I got my nursing assistant license and found out that I love working with the elderly. I have no clue what I want to do for my career and it changes every week but I do really love learning about cellular and molecular biology!