Monday, 12 December 2016
Sunday, 6 November 2016
Saturday, 29 October 2016
Wednesday, 19 October 2016
Spoilers; the answer to 'Did I just make life?' is definitely 'no'. But that's ok, because the journey is more important than the final answer sometimes!
Monday, 10 October 2016
Today (the tenth of October) is World Mental Health day! Mental Health is a really important issue for me personally, but also for everyone; while nobody really talks about it 9not nearly enough, at least) it impacts on a huge percentage of the population, and is the biggest cause of death in my age group in the UK. It is likely to affect you, or someone you know, either right now or in the future, so I thought today I'd share some of my tips for lookjing after your mental health. I found these out the hard way so hopefully sharing them will stop somebody else having to!
Wednesday, 5 October 2016
Wednesday, 28 September 2016
|This is the sea, in case you weren't sure! Taken from outside my house last week.|
Wednesday, 14 September 2016
It was a pretty perfect weekend, which is unusual for me as I'm not normally a big birthday person! Thank you, Ciara :) And my family too! And all my friends, especially the Nerds!
Wednesday, 7 September 2016
Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Wednesday, 24 August 2016
So here we go:
Saturday, 20 August 2016
Wednesday, 17 August 2016
Saturday, 6 August 2016
Wednesday, 3 August 2016
This is what drives us forwards; curiosity. Scientists are just people who can't stop asking questions about absolutely everything. As XKCD aptly put it;
|Image from XKCD https://xkcd.com/242/|
Sunday, 31 July 2016
Wednesday, 27 July 2016
I just had a massive meeting with my whole supervisory team (which is quite a lot of people!) which I was terrified about beforehand. I was shaking like a leaf! But it wasn't a meeting with scary supervisors; it was a meeting with fellow scientists, who are all as excited about my project as I am! They just happen to be my supervisors/lab manager. (I do this every time! I get really scared until they remind me that we're all really happy enthusiastic scientists, and they're all lovely people!)
Saturday, 23 July 2016
Thursday, 21 July 2016
For months I've been wanting to make science videos (rather than just sunset timelapses or videos of fun adventures I have) , and for weeks I've been working on it on and off. So here it is: 'What are Friendly Bacteria?'
Wednesday, 13 July 2016
Growing up, I was the right age to get hooked on Pokémon when it started getting crazy popular. I played the game boy games to death, I still have a huge box full of cards, and would get up early so I could watch the cartoon before school. That was years ago, but I'm still doing the same stuff: reading about special creatures, collecting them and sometimes forcing them to evolve. No, I'm not still a rabid Pokémon fan (although I do love a bit of Pokken tournament, and will be jumping on Pokémon Go as soon as I can), I'm just a microbiologist!
My creatures are bacteria, and I collect them in the minus eighty freezer. They have 'types', like the ice type (psychrophiles), fire type (thermophiles) and pretty much everything else too! I work with endophytes, bacteria that live in plants, so I guess that makes me a grass type trainer?
The more I think about it, the more it fits! Bacteria can produce electricity, can be magnetic, swim, fly and produce toxins. They fight, too; their 'moves' are antibiotics they produce to attack each other with. They constantly change, adapt and evolve. Each species has many different strains, all with different 'stats', just like different individual Pokémon.
And I get to gather them, study them, and use them for great things like helping plants grow! Does that make me a Pokémon trainer? I certainly hope so! That would look sweet on my C.V....
Saturday, 9 July 2016
They have a huge range of animals from marmosets to lions, all sorts of fun talks and feeds, and it's just a lovely little zoo. (Link to their website!) A few weeks ago I took a trip there with some friends, and took my camera. Here's the resulting video:
I tried to say interesting animal facts so it's not just pictures of cute animals, but there are plenty of those if that's what you're after! A baby marmoset, emu chicks, coati pups and a joey still in the pouch all feature! Lots of awesome fully grown animals too though.
The music on the bits where either the audio was weird or I wasn't really saying anything seems to be slightly out of sync with what I wanted it to be doing, but it's not bad!
I hope you enjoy it! I've got a few more fun day-trip videos that need editing, and I'm nearly ready to start doing science videos, so if you like what I'm doing feel free to subscribe!
Wednesday, 6 July 2016
As I look around my room, I can see that my bedroom functions as a decent metaphore for how I'm finding life as a PhD student!
That might be helped by the strong flu meds, but I'm going to roll with it anyway.
Saturday, 2 July 2016
So what are they, and what can they do for us?
Wednesday, 29 June 2016
It's times like this when you have to ask; why, tiny microbes? Why do you do this to me? What did I ever do to you?
...I mean, I've consigned goodness knows how many bacteria to a steamy autoclave-based death, but that wasn't personal!
Wednesday, 22 June 2016
Wednesday, 15 June 2016
Wednesday, 8 June 2016
Saturday, 4 June 2016
... You probably get the point. That understanding is science too!
Wednesday, 1 June 2016
Wednesday, 25 May 2016
Thursday, 19 May 2016
Wednesday, 18 May 2016
Tuesday, 17 May 2016
Monday, 16 May 2016
Saturday, 14 May 2016
I studied microbiology for four years at university, including a year in an industrial lab, and now I'm a fair way through the first year of my PhD, but my enthusiasm for the field is only getting stronger. The fantastic thing is, that enthusiasm is getting more and more prevalent in society.
From regular people hearing more about their gut microbiome, being aware of things to do to avoid food poisoning and knowing that there are some friendly bacteria out there, right the way up to the most powerful people in the world.
Wednesday, 11 May 2016
Sunday, 8 May 2016
Other kids would be allowed to stay up late to watch the football, reality shows or movies, but I didn't want any of that. I begged and pleaded my parents to let me stay up to watch the latest documentary series. I'd have to get ready for bed, be in my pyjamas (teeth sparkling) and I'd be allowed to stay awake to watch it. I'd sit hugging my knees, right in front of the TV (which looking back was probably a big indicator that I was in desperate need of a trip to the opticians, but that's not the point) and just absorb every word, every animal behaviour, every jungle sound, and the beautiful sights and sounds that our planet has to offer. I fell in love with the natural world, and Sir David Attenborough was the matchmaker for that love.
As I got older, his work was still ever-present in my life. This time in school, if we'd been good or it was near the end of term, we could spend a class with Sir David on the screen rather than the teacher on the whiteboard. This turned the whole idea of the documentaries into more than just a fascinating show, it became the highlight of the school term, even the whole year. And still my mind filled with wonder at the brilliance of what Sir David was showing us all.
Even as I became an unruly eighteen year old, he was still a factor. I remember one night out up in Norwich, where after getting back from the pubs we put on Planet Earth and made up drinking rules for it. My brother, who I assume felt self-destructive, chose to drink every time Sir David said anything interesting...
Afterparties aside, I'm still a great lover of everything Sir David puts on TV. Walking with Dinosaurs being on Netflix sustained me during the final stages of my undergrad studies. And tonight, after posting this and eating dinner, we'll be marking Sir David's birthday in the most fitting way I can think of; I'll be sitting in my pyjamas, hugging my knees, marvelling at the wonders of the world.
Happy Birthday, Sir David. One day I hope to make a tenth of the impact you've made on the world. You're my hero, my idol, and my inspiration. You were my gateway drug into science, and rekindle my love of nature every time you open your mouth to speak. Thank you.
Wednesday, 4 May 2016
Wednesday, 27 April 2016
Pseudomonas syringae is a pretty nasty plant pathogen. In fact, a lot of my reading for my project involves inhibiting or otherwise deterring it from infecting plants. But even a common disease causer like this can have its uses!
Because bacteria are so tiny, they can interact with things much smaller than we can. For example; water! Clouds are full of bacteria (see this blog post for more details) condensing water vapour together, but that's not all they can do. P. syringae can freeze water! Only a few degrees above normal freezing point, but a few degrees can make a huge difference (just look at the climate change stats!). This cool paper shows how they do it; they use proteins to move the water into structured arrangements which encourages freezing.
Saturday, 23 April 2016
Yesterday I was reading something about superbugs, and it listed E coli as one of the deadly ones. Everyone's always on the lookout for E coli contamination in food, restaurants, bathrooms etc. But is it really as scary as it's portrayed in the media?
Some strains are, definitely. K2 causes meningitis in newborn babies, O104H4 causes pretty nasty kidney damage (an outbreak in 2011 killed 52 people across the world) and scarily-named 'Entero-haemorrhagic E coli' strains like O157 cause bloody diarrhoea. Obviously being infected by any of these are on nobody's to-do-list, but just as the majority of bacteria as a whole don't cause disease, there are a huge range of E coli strains that aren't a threat at all. In fact, pretty much everyone has E coli as part of their normal community of gut bacteria! Animals included. That's partly why it's always looked for in restaurants and stuff; if it's in the intestines, then it'll be in what exits the intestines... so when they say 'we found E coli in 4/5 restaurants' they're basically saying there's faeces all over the place, so you should probably eat somewhere else until they start washing their hands! E coli is therefore the poster boy for faecal contamination, but it's often more of a sign of contamination rather than the worst bacteria in there. It's just that it's much easier to grow in the lab to detect, and that nowadays when there's so much genetic screening it's again easy to look for as we've got the whole genome sequenced. Often, food poisoning bacteria like Campylobacter jejuni are much more picky about what they want to grow on in the lab so it's quicker, cheaper and easier to just look for the E coli.
This is where E coli starts to redeem itself though; because it's so happy in lab conditions, it's really easy to work with! Everybody should love E coli. Not only is it easy to grow, it's pretty easy to insert genes into via various methods so we can customise it to be useful for all sorts of applications. One of the first examples of this, and one of my favourite examples of Friendly Bacteria, is the E coli that have been modified to produce human insulin. They first did this back in the seventies, and insulin is still made in this way to this day! Yeast is used sometimes too. Before that, they had to cut it out of corpses, or from pigs (which needed lots of accompanying medication).
I couldn't list all the ways E coli is used; a quick search for it on Google Scholar gives more than two and a half million different research papers using it! It's fair to say that without E coli we'd all be a lot worse off.
So should we fear E coli? No! It's our friend! (Apart from the baby-meningitis/bloody diarrhoea ones, feel free to fear them as much as you like)
Thursday, 21 April 2016
Wednesday, 20 April 2016
Weekly Vlog #2! I thought I'd combine this week's vlog with today's blog post to just say why I'm doing it and things like that.
So why am I doing a vlog? I'm ridiculously, painfully shy when talking to anyone. The thought of being the centre of anyone's attention fills me with dread! So why talk about my everyday life and put it out there for the world to see?
Firstly, precisely because it's really scary to me. I both want and need to be better at communicating, not only for things like conferences or my Viva but for general life too. I can barely bring myself to answer the phone, and things like social events or whatever cause me to retreat behind my walls and clam up like... well, a clam. This isn't good, and really holds me back socially which has knock-on affects throughout my life.
Secondly, I want to show that scientists (I know I'm just a PhD student but I'm calling myself one anyway) are people too! Everyone thinks of them as these scary figures in labcoats and rubber gloves but really it's just another job; scientists have fun, go to the pub, go on days out, just like any other person. I want to try and get that message across, and make science seem more accessible and enjoyable; really, anyone can participate in science in one way or another, and everyone can enjoy it!
So that's why I'm doing it. Feel free to tell me how I'm doing, good or bad!
Friday, 15 April 2016
No, not bacteria that can put up your shelves or fix the sink, or even ones that are useful to us... I'm talking hand bacteria! On your hands!
I mentioned before how pretty much everything is harbouring all sorts of bacteria. That definitely includes our hands! Skin is covered with salts and oils and stuff like that that bacteria find super tasty, and that's just average skin! We constantly touch things with our hands, getting tiny but significant amounts of all sorts of stuff (including more bacteria) on them. Now, don't be scared by the whole 'completely coated head to toe in bacteria' thing because as I've said before the overwhelming majority of them won't hurt us! But depending on what you're sticking your hands on, you might pick up something grisly like salmonella or whatever. That's not just touching chicken, though; if Edgar touches a contaminated chicken fillet, then touches the taps or door handle, there'll be salmonella on there, which can get on your hands even if you don't go anywhere near the chicken! Also, never ever wash raw chicken unless you like the idea of spraying tiny droplets of food poisoning onto every surface of your kitchen...
Anyway this isn't a post about food safety, it's about the hand bugs! Recently some researchers found that by comparing the bacteria on your hands to the ones on your belongings, like your phone or keyboard, they can actually get a pretty decent picture of who owns which thing! They'd like to use it for forensic stuff but that's a long way away if it ever happens at all.
Hooray! You thought I was going to be talking about food poisoning and telling you to wash your hands, but no! I pulled it back to the friendly bacteria again, this time crime-solving bacteria! Is there anything they can't do?!
We just watched Bone Tomohawk, it was great but the amount of wound infections and stuff they were constantly risking seemed crazy! We really take for granted how much we know about not getting gangrene that folks back then had no idea about... I guess we take 'not getting killed with an axe' for granted too but I'm here for the microbes not the axe murders!
Good film though, check it out!
Wednesday, 13 April 2016
Sunday, 10 April 2016
Saturday, 9 April 2016
I'm late posting this (and it'll be short) as I've been out today: we took my dad to a whisky distillery as another birthday treat! They had a brewery on site so the microbiologist in me was excited!
Breweries use yeast (saccharomyces cerevisiae) to create the alcohol. They do this by feeding them a sugar source, in this case barley grist, and taking away all the oxygen. This makes the yeast stop using the oxygen for respiration so in order to still get energy it ferments the sugars to ethanol, which gives the drinks their alcohol levels. Ethanol does eventually kill the yeast if there's too much of it, which is why you can't get much higher than fifteen or so percent without distilling it!
We saw that process too, with the big fractionation columns, then got to try some of the end product (and even some of the raw 92% stuff!) Which was delicious!
It was a fantastic day, and for me was great to see some friendly microbes being put to good use! Thanks, Penderyn!
Wednesday, 6 April 2016
So how do we accommodate these weird and wonderful needs in order to take the bacteria from where they've evolved to live to a much more convenient (for me) laboratory? To be honest for a lot of bacteria we still don't know the answer; only a small proportion are able to be 'cultured', or grown in the lab. We can still find out about the picky ones by sequencing their DNA though, don't worry!
The ones we can grow in the lab do need a bit of looking after. It's a bit like looking after a pet Rabbit! First, you find an enclosure for them; rabbits have hutches, bacteria get petri dishes. Next, they'll need some 'bedding'. Rabbits get hay, which they also like to eat, so in the same way we give the bacteria an agar gel containing nutrients. This gives them a place to grow, and also the food they need! There are a lot of different rabbits but they can mostly be kept fed with the same mix of rabbit food, and once again bacteria are the same. They need a source of carbon, like sugar, some nitrogen, like in ammonia (although some can use it straight from the air), phosphates, and salts. (Of course it's a bit more complicated than that but that's the quick version!) These are all in 'general media' like the well-named 'nutrient agar'. This can then be modified to cater for a particular bacteria or family of bacteria. Some bacteria need to be grown in agar containing blood! Other common things are things like yeast extract, iron or sulphur.
|They even look similar! You see it too, right?|
Now that they've been fed and housed, we need to work out where to put the rabbit/bacteria. If you put the rabbit hutch in deep shade all winter, you might have some poor frozen bunnies inside. If you put it in full sun over the summer months, they'll start to cook! Bacteria are very similar. Some are happy at room temperature, some need 37 degrees celsius (our body temperature... this is ideal for human pathogens, so I tend to avoid it in my experiments) and some 'thermophiles' like Geobacillus need temperatures around 60 to 80 degrees! I think the highest growth temperature recorded is around 118 degrees (which is crazy! They can survive being boiled!) in some extremophilic bacteria. And archaea too, which is another microbe kingdom like bacteria and fungi. This is pretty easy to control these days though, there are all manner of fancy incubators that can go up to any temperature your pet
|Some don't mind a bit of heat!|
That's pretty much it, to be honest. Different bacteria need different things so it's impossible to describe everything in a short blog post but I did my best! Maybe someday soon we'll be seeing bacteria in a cage at the pet shop... There is a microbe zoo in Amsterdam so it's only a matter of time!
Saturday, 2 April 2016
I've been doing this blog for a little while now, but haven't really gone into much detail about myself. So who am I? Why do I like friendly bacteria so much? And why am I doing this blog at all?
I'm a twenty three year old PhD student with a microbiology background, in the first year of my PhD. I'm working with a type of friendly bacteria called endophytes, which live in plants and can help them grow and resist disease in exchange for a safe, stable place to live. It's fascinating! It's a bit like the bacteria in your intestines, they don't hurt the plant at all and can even provide good things like hormones and nutrients! I've got a long way to go before I finish but I'm loving it so far so I'm sure it'll fly by.
So why do I like friendly bacteria? Since a young age I've been amazed by the power bacteria have. These tiny creatures so small you can't see them can have huge effects on people, and even the whole world. Just look at the old plagues! The black death killed a huge proportion of the population of the world, but the bacteria behind it (Yersinia pestis) is still much smaller than even one cell of a human. Obviously more than one cell of it was involved, but just as a billion harmless droplets of water can cause flooding and devastation, the huge number of bacteria cause illness and death on a huge scale.
This power the bacteria hold captured my imagination. What if we could use that potential for the benefit of mankind? To continue the water analogy, hydroelectric dams use the power of the water for good, and I wanted to do the same with bacteria. This was before probiotics were popular, and I didn't really know about common uses of microbes like brewing or antibiotic production, but I kept that interest alive as I went on in life, and ended up studying microbiology at degree level. I've done some work in an industrial lab looking at bio ethanol production for fuel, and now I'm here working on my plants!
I realise "using microorganisms to improve higher organisms" sounds very Resident Evil (and I must admit that did help keep my interest in it going) but it's very safe and there's no danger of zombies! Although if it did happen nobody would be worried because I'm in the middle of nowhere and there'd be nobody to bite!
That's who I am, and why I'm doing what I do, but why did I start this blog? I'm really keen to get more science widely known, especially about the 'good bugs' in the world. I feel like a lot of people aren't really told much about bacteria, and microbes in general, so tend to throw up barriers whenever they come up rather than finding out about them. All science affects everybody, so I think having an understanding of how things work would benefit absolutely everyone no matter what they do or where they live worldwide. I already tell my family and friends about awesome, interesting things I find out but I want to spread that around and tell the world!
Whether you're a scientist yourself, or a child in school, or work in retail, an office, in construction, wherever, I want to make awesome scientific developments available, accessible and understandable to everybody!
Wednesday, 30 March 2016
I'm also going to be making more use of my YouTube account! I'll be doing a weekly vlog made of short clips from each day. Hopefully it will help me gain confidence in speaking, something I'm really bad for. Plus in a few years, having a nice record of everything I get up to will be nice for me!
I also want to do a monthly (Or twice monthly) short video, more scientific or instructional/educational, starting by talking about my favourite subject; Friendly Bacteria!
Here's the routine then:
Wednesday - Blog post published at 12pm BST
Saturday - Blog post published at 12pm BST
Sunday - The week's vlog, posted by 6pm BST
This isn't too packed in the week, but is still pretty regular and will hopefully be easy to stick to.
I'm going to schedule this for a 12pm upload tomorrow then! (As it's Tuesday today)
Have a lovely week!
Sunday, 20 March 2016
Monday, 14 March 2016
It'll be doing this by looking at methane on Mars; methane breaks down in sunlight so why is it there? It's either being produced by some kind of chemical reaction between rocks and water, or by biological processes. Most methane on Earth is biological, often created by methanogenic archaea or bacteria, which are found all over the place; the bottom of the sea, deep down in the rocks of the Earth's crust, and even in rumen of cattle. Everyone knows cow burps are bad for the environment, but it's not the cows making the methane; it's bacteria!
So why do bacteria make methane? What's in it for them? They make methane by reducing carbon dioxide with hydrogen. This enables the cell to produce ATP, the same thing all cells (from bacterial to human cells) use to provide energy for all the chemical reactions they need to do. So instead of using oxygen like us (or like anaerobic bacteria) they use CO2 and make methane!
Could they be found on Mars? Yes! The conditions there would definitely support species like those found here on Earth (but obviously evolved for Martian conditions rather than Earth's), especially the extremophilic archaea and rock-dwelling organisms. If they are found there, it will create more exciting questions like are they related to life on Earth? Or did they come from a separate origin of life? Whatever happens, it will lead to really interesting missions and science in the years and decades to come. It's a really exciting time to be alive! (And to be a microbiologist!) I'll be spending the next few years eagerly awaiting the results of this mission! Good Luck team ExoMars!
Sunday, 13 March 2016
I had all sorts of blog and video related plans for this weekend buuuut I came down with the 'flu so have spent it in bed (apart from a trip to the orchestra, that was awesome).
This video is one I took on thursday evening down on the beach! It's of a massive flock of starlings, I've never seen it so big! They always fly around over Aberystwyth, and before sunset do these huge murmurations over the pier before flying under there to roost for the night. It's a gorgeous sight to see, especially on a day like thursday when the sunset is beautiful too!
I'm coming back out of this illness now so will hopefully be back to blogging and stuff soon. Plus I have plans for little videos about things which is exciting!
Tuesday, 8 March 2016
If you want to learn more, head over to this FreshWaterBlog post to read all about Kathleen Carpenter from Dr Duigan herself!
Today is International Women's Day, and the talk last night was part of my university's week-long program of events celebrating it, in particular Women in Academia (especially STEM fields). I've been really lucky across my academic career in terms of meeting and working with some excellent female scientists. My work placement supervisor, undergraduate personal tutor and my current PhD supervisor are all female, and all really powerful scientific figures in their own right. I know that I'm not really ordinary in that respect, as many fields and research groups are very male-dominated, but it is still strange for me to think of cases like Kathleen Carpenter's life where her being a woman made things more difficult professionally. However, me finding things strange doesn't make them go away, nor does it diminish them; women are still pretty massively under-represented in academic circles. For instance, I learnt recently that at my institution (Aberystwyth University), there are more Professors called 'Michael' on the staff than the total number of female Professors. No matter which way you look at it, that's not equal, that's not 'fair'. I don't know about a lot of aspects of life, but I do know science; and I can truthfully say that in my experience there is no aspect of scientific research where one gender is 'better' than the other, so the fact that things are so unbalanced in general definitely shows that it's a situation that can be amended rather than being some 'fact of life'.
How's that going to happen? I think that motivation is a big factor, motivation to go down the path of an academic, of a scientist. And hearing talks like last night's, talks by influential female scientists about other influential female scientists, definitely help motivate people. I myself definitely felt deeply inspired by Kathleen Carpenter's story, and I'm sure that with the efforts of Dr Duigan and others like her, more and more people can be inspired by the important tales of Dr Carpenter and others just like her. I'm really glad that International Women's Day brought this talk into my life.
Happy International Women's Day! (Both remaining minutes of it, I left this a bit late. Oops!)
Saturday, 5 March 2016
I'm visiting my folks for the weekend, and took advantage of the weirdly non-cloudy weather tonight to drive off into the middle of Wales to a scenic overlook on the edge of The Epynt, a massive MoD training place (we mere civvies are allowed on the footpaths and roads around the edge) with no streetlights anywhere. It was really dark, and kind of a spooky drive with sheep-eyes reflecting the headlights from the bushes and the odd band of soldiers on exercise or whatever looming out of the darkness, but good grief it was more than worth it. There was no moon, only a few distant lights on in various farmhouses, and the smallest amount of cloud cover Wales has ever seen. Conditions were absolutely perfect for stargazing.
For Valentine's day I was given a really cool little book giving a month-by-month guide to the stars and planets and stuff. The only problem was, the visibility was so good that it was hard to see the regular constellations among all the little background-stars normally invisible behind all the light pollution! We could make out a whole load of different ones though, Leo, Orion, Canis Major, the Pleiades, and The big shiny Jupiter! (To name but a few! Seriously, there were all the stars, it was breathtaking)
My girlfriend said "I thought I'd seen the stars before. I hadn't!" I don't think it could be said more perfectly.
Go see it, find some remote dark spot, wrap up warm (warmer than I did, I still can't really feel my feet) and sit out there soaking it all in. All we did was drive for a bit then stand by the car looking at the sky, but it was definitely one of the best things I've ever done. I'll definitely be doing it again soon!
No, I don't have a picture, my camera wasn't charged and my phone wouldn't have come close to doing it justice. I don't think any picture can. Go see it. Go on. Off you go.
Thursday, 3 March 2016
What is it? It sounds like some kind of old-school medieval magical bestiary for Bacteria!
... Yep. That's pretty much what it is. And it's glorious.
The Bacterionomicon describes 40-odd species of pathogens as if they were fantastical beasts in a magical land called Soma, and the apothecaries of the healing blade (representing antibiotics). The descriptions are dramatic and exciting, but still actually really accurate medically too! There are different areas of Soma that represent parts of the body (like the 'Faecal Inlet'... lovely), and in the bestiary it says where each monster lives.
|Listeria monocytogenes (I didn't make this, the authors of the book did! All credit goes to NerdcoreMedical. If I'm not allowed to have this picture here I'm happy to take it down)|
It's not just fun to read, (or say out loud for that matter... Bacterionomicon...mmmm) the illustrations are beautiful to look at. Take a look at the one for Listeria monocytogenes, the one I blogged about the other day. It looks fearsome! The whole book is just packed with fantastic drawings.
There's also an awesome-looking card game called 'Healing Blade: Defenders of Soma' in the works that goes with it that I can't wait to try! It's not out yet but as soon as pay-day comes around I'll be pre-ordering a copy!
I don't know what else to say about it, I'm no book-reviewer, but if you like bacteria and are pretty nerdy, (i.e. someone like me!) then I'd definitely recommend it!
Don't just take my word for it, here are links for you to peruse:
(I'm not affiliated with NerdcoreMedical in any way, I just think they're totally awesome)
Tuesday, 1 March 2016
Listeria is a bacteria (that's why I'm talking about it!) called Listeria monocytogenes. It's important (and worth worrying about/recalling weirdly flavoured butter over) for two key reasons: firstly, it loves the cold. This bug can happily grow in your fridge! Stopping bacteria grow is the whole point of fridges so listeria just makes a mockery of that. If it's growing, the number of bacteria goes up and up increasing the chances of getting ill if you eat it. So how ill does it make you? It normally just causes flu-like symptoms (in fact, there's a high chance you've had it but thought it was just the flu) but the second key reason it's important is a secondary effect: listeria can cause miscarriage. This is the reason you're supposed to avoid dairy stuff when pregnant (especially un-pasteurised cheeses like that fancy smelly french one you've got tucked away in the fridge). It does that to animals too; if a breeding herd of cows get fed contaminated food, they all get ill at once resulting in an 'abortion storm', which is pretty high up on my list of horrible phrases (right beside de-gloving accident) and obviously results in farmers losing animals and money, not to mention how it affects the poor cows.
I don't want to freak you out or make you stop eating cheese or whatever though (unless you're pregnant). All dairy food is tested constantly for all sorts of bacteria, and the tests for listeria are some of the most important. Any tiny amount of listeria in any product is always treated really seriously: while Tesco are losing out on the apparently lucrative flavoured-butter profits, the alternative is much, much worse. As a result of this, even when there's a scare like today's one you're pretty safe. Yes, listeria is one to avoid, but don't let the thought of it ruin your day!
It's not all bad though; listeria is being used in experiments looking at using it to treat cancer! It's really clever: normally our immune system recognises cancer cells as being our own cells, so leave them alone. But these researchers are modifying listeria cells to show markers for the cancer cells as well as their own (and to make them not cause disease obviously). When introduced to the body, the immune system looks at these modified listeria and starts associating them with the cancer cells. So the immune system starts thinking the cancer cells are listeria, and attacks them! Re-wiring the person's immune system to fight the cancer from within. This is still very much in the experimental phase, but it's a really exciting idea that I think is pretty promising! Plus it's a way that bacteria are being used for good (you can't get much more 'good' than fighting cancer) which I'm really enthused by and passionate about.
I initially drew it just with pencil on a spare bit of paper, then scanned it in with my phone. I use GIMP for image editing, and turned it from pencil lines to black outlines. From there, I played around with colour gradients and patterns and stuff, leading to the finished little avatar I'm using now!
I find it really fun just messing around drawing things. Once various things arrive from Mr Amazon, I'll incorporate that into some videos I'm planning! Exciting.
Sunday, 28 February 2016
I went out to the local Red Kite feeding station today. As you can see, there were hundreds of them! Red Kites are some of my favourite birds, it's always great to see them flying overhead. From a distance it's hard to tell them apart from other birds of prey like Buzzards, but if you look at their tails then you'll see a lovely forked tail on a Kite. They were once almost hunted to extinction in the UK but programs like the one I went to today have helped them recover, to the point that now they are a pretty common site in Wales (and elsewhere in the UK too). They're normally pretty solitary animals, characteristically of a raptor, but the daily feeds at Bwlch Nant Yr Arian bring unusually large flocks together. I've been a few times before but today's was by far the largest group I've seen yet; it was really impressive!
They're being fed raw meat, supplied by local butchers. Red Kites are happy eating carrion so are often seen flying over roads looking for roadkill. Crows, too, feed on dead meat and it is quite common to see a few crows trying to chase a Kite out of their territory. Today though, the crows were outnumbered by far! They can still be heard pretty clearly in the video (the loud cawing) but the piercing cry of the Kites can be heard too.
I always find it fascinating how they rarely seem to flap their wings while circling; they use thermal currents, and rises of air created by the mountains to stay flying without using any real effort. They circle above the feeding area, waiting for someone to be brave enough to swoop down to get some meat. They're big, powerful and (here) in large numbers but they're still very timid. Once one of them moves to get food they all follow suit, taking advantage of the classic 'safety in numbers' strategy often seen throughout the natural world.