Micro Magnets

Art Project: Micro Magnets

by Emily Reast

For this project I’ve made a series of color coded clay magnets representing different   types of microbes. I want to show that microbial life can be interesting, presenting diversity, and that it can be beautiful (even if I’m not the best artist). The green magnets represent bacteria, the blue yeast (fungi), the orange and red viruses, and the purples archaea. I’ve included some features such as flagella and pili on several of the magnets to make them appear slightly more realistic. Of course the different microbes are not accurate in their relative size to each other, but I had limited resources and didn’t want to make any of the art actually be microscopic. Furthermore, the quality of being magnetic allows the microbes to change orientations and colony formation on the surface to which they stick. The photo attached to this post is the magnets stuck to my dorm room door here on campus.

Hola, como te llama?

Emily Reast



My intent was to paint a typical scene of a llama in a field within a mountainous area such as the Andes in South America. I tried to have a dark silhouette of the llama with colorful mountains and grasses in the surrounding area.

This art was done on an EMB agar plate, so it naturally had a darker background than the other medium options in lab and selects against Gram positive bacteria. This photo was taken three days after inoculation, and I thought this photo was taken at a good point that represented the artistic coloring that I hoped for. The black color, which I used for the llama, was caused by Chromobacteruim violaceum, a Gram negative bacteria. The mountain outline was painted with Serratia marcesceus, another Gram negative bacteria. To fill in the tops of the mountains and  represent snow, I used Citrobacter freundii, another Gram negative bacteria that I hoped would produce more of a white color. The patches of grass were painted on with Escherchia coli, Gram negative, because I hoped it might turn out to be dark with a green tinge. The color of the Escherchia coli did change though since inoculation. This was likely due to the reaction it had with the EMB medium and because the bacteria produces acid. The colors of the other bacteria didn’t show any significant color changes over time, probably due to the similarity in the medium from which they were growing off beforehand. This is an excellent example of a differential medium as well because of the differences in visible colors and the fact that all bacteria placed originally on the plate did visibly grow.

Parkinson’s Disease Medication and Bacteria in the Small Intestine

Study shows how gut bacteria affect the treatment of Parkinson’s disease

Source: News Medical Life Sciences

Jan. 18, 2019



Summary: Levodopa is a commonly used medication for people with Parkinson’s disease. This study was done to look into whether gut bacteria could be what’s contributing to the high variation in levels of levodopa that reach the brain in different patients. Levodopa is typically absorbed in the small intestine and can commonly be converted to dopamine and sent to the brain. The study found that the bacteria tyrosine decarboxylase present in the small intestines of rats did result in lower concentrations of the drug in the body, meaning the amount of bacteria present in the gut determines how effective the medication can be.


Connection:I would say this connects somewhat to what we have discussed in class because we have discussed anaerobic microbial cultures in areas such as animal guts. We’ve discussed how bacteria can have profound effects on people’s bodies. The abundance of this bacteria in the small intestine can affect many aspects of a person’s life when living with Parkinson’s disease. Examining the presence of bacteria and how they can alter other systems is something we have talked about briefly in class.


Critical Analysis: Admittedly, I think this article was fairly inconcise and indescriptive. However, I really thought the subject was interesting. I’d never thought about the gut to brain connections before, and the fact that it could affect the dosage results of medications so much is a little surprising to me. I wish the article would have included more on the nature of their methods and procedures as well. One thing I liked about how the article was written was the use of common language and phrasing which made it relatively easy to read and understand. This is an article I could see being read by most of the general public quite easily.


Question: I was a little confused on what happened to the Levodopa that was converted to dopamine. Would the increase in dopamine create side effects? And if so, what would they be and would they be of concern if the medication was to be significantly increased in order to increase Levodopa concentrations in the body?

Bacteria Dispersal Through Bubbles

Bursting bubbles launch bacteria from water to air (Study illuminates new mode of bacteria dispersal.)

Source: MIT News
November 15th, 2018



Water contaminated with bacteria can extend the longevity of a bubble’s time exposed to the above air surface and cause it to have more of a reactive pop when it bursts. Specifically, the secretions from bacteria were shown to extend lifetimes of contaminated bubbles on a water’s surface. This extended time can cause the bubble to throw up to ten times more droplets, at ten times smaller than their size otherwise, released ten times faster when it bursts. The main concern about this is that the smaller and lighter droplets can be more easily dispersed throughout the surrounding environment.

In class, we have briefly discussed bacteria as being a large part of the microbial world. We also dove into examining the black plague which was caused by a bacteria, Yersinia pestis. I think the focus of this article could actually have contributed to the spread of the black plague because there was likely lots of unsanitary conditions for water storage. The high exposure to contaminated water in the time of the black plague likely meant that the bubbles that were released from that water were able to disperse themselves very effectively. This could have increased the spread of the bacteria and the prevalence of the black plague.

I had honestly never considered the spread of microbes from bursting bubbles before I read this article. I find it interesting because this probably related to many areas of microbial spreading all over our planet. Microbes trapped in frozen areas in Alaska are likely bursting as melting continues to increase, and the contaminated areas in our state are probably consequently affected. I think it’s amazing that the small release of a minuscule bubble in water can make big differences in the dispersal of microbes throughout large areas.
The article cites a well-recognized scientific journal and includes a study done by researchers at MIT. The article seems to recognize where there is a lack of knowledge on the subject and even the mistake that led to the creation of the original study. I think it’s valuable that the article includes the thought process that led to the study because it makes the article more easy to follow and understand. The article is written in a great way to communicate with the public; there are helpful graphics and analogies with common day occurrences in many people’s lives.

My main question is: What can bacteria use as a food source while trapped in these bubbles? It seems like a very bare environment considering that the microbes can be trapped in these spaces for many years even.

A2: How Plant Microbes Could Help Us

How plant microbes could feed the world and save endangered species

Source: Science News

Date of Article: September 6, 2018




This article is about microbiome based farming and conservation on Earth, an area of  increasing importance as the human population continues to grow. While some microorganisms could help plant growth substantially, some plants are under strong threats if exposed. The article examines some cases of plants that benefit from growing in an area of microbial growth and exposure compared to those that are later exposed to supposedly beneficial microbes.


In class, we’ve discussed the plague quite a bit and how people can develop a sort of immunity to it after recovering from it. The presence of microbial communities can offer a similar type of protection like an immune system. While certain bacteria can harm plant growth, others can save it. We’ve seen in class just how harmful exposure to the wrong types of microbes can be, and this is mentioned in the article I have included. We don’t want to accidentally infect our crops with something that’s is going to harm plants and animals. Like the plague, it is important to understand the relationship between various microorganisms and the other organisms they can come into contact with in their environments.


I had never considered the importance of microbial communities in sustainable crop growth or in aiding the preservation of threatened species. I found it interesting that fungi and bacteria in an area can have such a profound impact on plant communities just depending on the location of the plant. I would have assumed that all plants of the same species would have similar reactions to similar microorganisms and that they would not have been able to inherit such important survival protections directly from their parents. The article seems to me to be scientifically accurate. There are a lot of questions and explanations of observations, but not many planned solutions or strong claims made. The article also uses information from different setting, presenting scenarios related to both agriculture and plant conservation. Experiments and observations are explained in a clear way that conveys the scientific methods used but does not use too much jargon and specific terminology that a person who isn’t a scientist wouldn’t be able to understand it. Overall, I found the article really interesting and relevant to our future and planning in the United States. It appeals to both an aesthetic/outdoors reader and a business minded one. I think the most important part about the article though is that it clearly communicates that this area of science needs more studying and that we haven’t been able to clearly identify micro biomes that are beneficial and harmful to specific plants yet.


Is there a specific microbial component in the arctic regions of Alaska that protect plants from local conditions but would be lethal or harmful to plants in lower regions? How might these microbial communities affect those plants which humans also consume (such as a blueberry)?


A3: Tatumella Citrea and Harvey Tatum

Harvey Tatum worked for the Enteric and Special Bacteriology Sections of the CDC in Atlanta, USA. She was a microbiologist and bacteriologist who contributed greatly to the naming and understanding of the bacteria in the genus Tatumella. Tatum found vital information leading to scientists being able to tell whether or not a bacteria can ferment or not and how that is relevant in medical fields. The main name is named after Harvey Tatum, but there are also various strains, such as ptyseos and citrea, that have been classified over the years. Tatumella ptyseos was the originally discovered strain though. Information about Tatumella is relatively hard to find because there have been very few confirmed infections of it in humans.
The word Tatumella is a modern feminine latin noun, and the second part of the name, citrea, means citrus. This is included because the strain Tatumella citrea was found in Japanese orange trees.

Hollis, D. G., F. W. Hickman, G. R. Fanning, J. J. Farmer, R. E. Weaver, and D. J. Brenner. 1981. Tatumella ptyseos gen. nov., sp. nov., a member of the family Enterobacteriaceae found in clinical specimens. Journal of clinical microbiology 14:79-88.

Costa, P. S. G. D., J. M. D. C. Mendes, and G. M. Ribeiro. 2008. Tatumella ptyseos causing severe human infection: report of the first two Brazilian cases. Brazilian Journal of Infectious Diseases 12:442-443.

A1: Intro Post

Hello, my name is Emily Reast. I’m in my fourth year of my undergraduate studies and hope to achieve a degree in biological sciences. I’m an avid lover of the outdoors, and I value maintaining a healthy lifestyle, in all aspects that contribute to being happy and healthy. I work as a lab assistant in the Bret-Harte lab over in Arctic Health which works with plants, so I haven’t got much experience in the field of microbiology at all. I’ve been really excited to take this class for a few years now, so I’m happy to be here. I think microorganisms and their worlds are fascinating and amazing. I’m always intrigued at the detail one can see though a microscope that are otherwise invisible to us.