Monday, March 8, 2010

Microbe Monday: Way cooler than an ant farm.

As a child, I did not own an ant farm. I thought they were pretty cool, but there was something about keeping a colony of ants in the house that just didn't sit to well with my mother. I did own Sea Monkeys, but I accidentally boiled them to death in the window.* Anyway, I think I found something even more cool than an ant farm or sea monkeys. While perusing the ASM website, I decided to check out the 2009 Editor's Choice Award Winners, where I found the video: "Mud and Microbes: A Time-lapse Photographic Exploration of a Sediment Bacterial Community."
Using a combination of time-lapse photography, light, an adaptation of a Winogradsky column, sediment from a pond, finely-shredded paper towels, calcium carbonate and magnesium sulfate, the participants created a simple, yet fascinating way to get a peek at microorganisms in the soil and sediment. The creators of the following video hope that it will serve as a catalyst to discuss microbial ecology and microorganism dynamics in the world around us and to increase increase interest in the study of soil microorganisms in nutrient cycling.
The video is composed of stills taken over the 40 day experiment and the progression clearly demonstrates how phototropic microbes with differing metabolic capabilities respond to the nutrients and light.

In a longer version of the video the narrator informs us that the bottom area of the plates become anaerobic, favoring reducing conditions where sulfate-reducing and cellulose-degrading bacteria proliferate. The black color is iron sulfide. (Note: the shredded paper towels are located in the bottom of the "mud column.") He goes on to describe that the pink/purple areas near the bottom are likely populated by purple, nonsulfur proteobacteria, the green patches likely represent green and purple sulfur proteobacteria, while the green at the very top is most likely green algae and/or cyanobacteria. It is important to note that the bacteria from this experiment were not isolated or typed and these descriptions are just best guesses.

Anyway. I kinda want to make one of these, take samples and look at them under the scope.

*Portions of the Sea Monkey "aquarium" contained magnifying glass that would enlarge the Sea Monkey as it swam by, allowing one to see that the tiny things swimming around in that container didn't actually look like monkeys. Sun, water and magnifying glass is apparently a deadly combination for a Sea Monkey.

Michael Lemke
Microbial Ecology
University of Illinois at Springfield
Springfield, IL 62701

Roza George
Department of Microbiology
University of Georgia

Keith Miller
Department of Computer Science
University of Illinois at Springfield
Springfield, IL 62703-507

1. Charlton, P. J., J. E. McGrath, and C. G. Harfoot. 1997. The Winogradsky plate, a convenient and efficient method for enrichment of anoxygenic phototrophic bacteria. J. Microbiol. Methods 30:161–163.
2. Couger, G. 2002. Habitat for lab specimens and other uses for common household items.
3. Rogan, B., M. Lemke, M. Levandowsky, and T. Gorrell. 2005. Exploring the sulfur nutrient cycle using the Winogradsky column. Am. Biol. Teacher67:279–287.
Barbara Schubert and theUniversity of Chicago Orchestra performed Richard Straus’s Also Sprach Zarathurstra, Creative Commons license: attribution, noncommercial, no derivative works.


chall at work said...

looks awesome. I will send this to two of my friends with children who are interested in "strange" things :)

I never had an ant farm nor sea monkeys. I did however, look at the mold at the cheese and bread with interest.... ^^

Tom said...

I wonder who got to clean those glass plates afterwards.

microbiologist xx said...

chall - cool. Let me know if they give it a try.

Of course you looked at mold with interest. It's totally cool and hairy. ;)

TJ - Maybe it was the woman standing in front of them at the beginning. I think she was thinking, "Damn, this is going to smell like shit in 45 days and I am going to get stuck cleaning it. sigh"