Saturday, October 31, 2015

Time for a #MicrobialHalloween and a #ParasiticHalloween

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I simply adore Hallowe'en. I always have.

Yes, I spread bioluminescent bacteria on Petri dishes, and then inserted them into a pumpkin.  A #MicrobialJackOLantern.
So it should not be a surprise that I like to incorporate this special holiday into my classes, and have a long history of doing so. Today, Saturday, is Hallowe'en.  But even so, my Microbiology students on Thursday, and my Symbiosis and Parasitism freshmen writing students on Friday, participated.  I would like to share their creativity and humor with you.  Learning can take many forms, I have found.  Plus it is fun!

First, one of my #Bio350 students shared their own #MicrobialJackOLantern with me.

Nothing wrong with some streptococcus and a microscope on a rainy Hallowe'en.  Am I right?  Here are some close ups.  I think that these were made by Brian in my class.

First, a Streptococcus-O-Lantern:

Then, a MicroscopicPOV-O-Lantern:

And another student in my #Bio350 course,  Ruth,  just made an interesting pumpkin---a #BacteriophagePumpkin?  A #PhageOLantern?

Now, I generally don't dress up for Hallowe'en any more.  This year was an exception, as you will see a bit later.  But I encouraged my #Bio350 micronauts to let their OMG™ (overwhelming microbial greatness) show itself this holiday.  And some of them did precisely that!

Here are some of my micronauts in #MicrobiallyThemed costumes.

Then, a video.

Let's view what we are seeing here.  

Madison would love to be a "genomic islander."

Kailee and I agree that calling a tool for spreading microbes on a Petri dish a "hockey stick" does a disservice to the sport.  So she expressed that well, and in competitive spirit.

Olivia decided to show her bacterial side in her outfit.  Yes, the blue flagella say it all.

Here is a close up.  I adore seeing transcription and translation taking place as a creative exercise!

Macauley decided for a more minmalist approach, depicting Serratia's lovely prodigiosin, and inexplicably carrying sriracha sauce.  The color?  Maybe the antimicrobial effects?

Hailey tried out a "Two Face" approach to microbiology, as you can see.  She even burned herself with a hot glue gun to promote her craft.

Brian honored his commitment to sterile procedure by depicting that goal via costume.  I don't know about the white hair.

Emily and Emma were inspired by a recent discussion of riboswitches in class, and became "ribos-Witches."  Very creative!

Finally, Cheyenne and Taylor created a two part costume showing the medieval view of plague, and a plague victim.  The makeup was impressive.  And fits in, I think, with some of our zombie interests in popular media these days.

Very nice!  But what about me?

Another one of my obsessions these days is the small but mighty tardigrade.  My long suffering wife Jennifer Quinn has allowed me this obsession, as she does with my microbial tattoos.  After all, they are much cheaper than red sports cars.

I have enjoyed watching them under the microscope.

Unsurprisingly, I tend to collect tardigrade toys of the plush variety.

And even of the 3D variety.

My wife in fact built me a tardigrade table for my birthday this year.

And even commissioned the great Brian Mock to create a tardigrade sculpture for me.

Yes, I seem to have a problem.

So it should not be a surprise that when I decided to dress up for Hallowe'en for my classes, I would choose a tardigrade...and its associated microbiota.  Here is an explainer.

And a close up of the truly fabulous mask Jennifer Quinn made for me.

I also received a nice surprise from one of my #Bio350 micronauts on Friday:  my very own #MicrobialJackOLantern with artwork of the logo for this year's microbiology course.  

As you can guess, I was very touched by this particular #MicrobialHalloween!

My other course this Fall is my freshman writing seminar revolving around symbiosis and parasitism.  So a #ParasiticHalloween sounds grand.  Several of my students dressed up (and I did, too, as my Disco Tardigrade).

In class on Friday, we watched "The Host," an old episode from "The X-Files," about a mutant giant fluke parasite (very appropriate given the course topic).  I also brought gummi worms for the full effect.


Theo is quite interested in parasites in the fossil record, so I shouldn't be surprised at his costume.

Cotton, on the other hand, has an deep fascination with sharks. This appears to be a "cookie cutter shark."

Carmen and Genevieve had a costume that, while not related to symbiotic associations, represents one of my favorite movies.  Can you guess what it is?

Braith did a pretty awesome job depicting a banana slug.

And I have to admit, Mary had perhaps the most horrifying costume of all.

Get it?  Sigh.  This one is less pointed than in earlier years, at least.

But when it comes to humor, I think that JT and Lauren got the greatest laughs with a highly appropriate costume that cost next to nothing.  Such creativity!  Here is the video.

You see, they are depicting the Schistosomiasis parasite, seen here.  The larger male has a channel in which the female attaches.

You can read more about these seemingly "loyal" parasites, and the serious diseases they cause, here.

So in all, it was QUITE the Hallowe'en.  I hope yours was as frightening fun as my own!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Animals (and Plants) in a Microbial World

For my fourth "Mu-Tube" video, I decided to explore some student reactions to a currently shifting paradigm:  that all animals (and plants) have co-evolved in concert with what is innately a microbial world.

As depicted on the Biology 350 (Microbiology) button Kaitlin Reiss and I made for my classes a few years ago reads (in honor of Frank Sinatra): "It's a microbial world; we just live in it."

Dr. Margaret McFall-Ngai has been a long term proselytizer of this One True Microbial Faith™ in recent years, helping to put together this fine Perspectives essay in the Proceeds of the National Academy of Sciences in 2013, and authoring an eloquent extension of this argument in the pages of Experimental Biology in 2015.  

So...I assigned a blog review of the 2013 paper, and Dr. McFall-Ngai's 2015 paper, to my Biology 350 Micronauts.  The students read and ruminated on the contents.  I then briefly interviewed each of them, and recorded their reactions.  I hope you enjoy them in this fourth "Mu-Tube" video.

Even though I apparently fear the small green light at the top of my computer when I record these (I think I need a teleprompter), I am a True Microbial Believer™. And I think the same is becoming true for my Micronauts.

As for me:  avete parvuli Domini.  All Hail the Small Masters! Heck, I even paid to have that motto permanently placed onto my own skin! 

My course logo this year, again,  is to have my students look at the world a whole new way, as if with "microbially colored glasses."  

I think I am making progress with my Micronauts this Fall.

What do you think?  Do you feel the Microbial Supremacy all around and within you?

First evolved.  Last extinct.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The #LuxArt2015 Bioluminescence Awards!

I so enjoy the intersection between microbiology and art, as I have explored in other blog entries here,  such as this one and this one.  

Because of some of the wonderful "microbial art" I have seen in various places, recently both of the luminescent and nonluminescent variety, I decided to involve my current Biology 350 student micronauts.  We need more PR for the great work my students do, after all!

This prior entry of mine describes our #LuxArt2015 competition. I thought readers of this blog might appreciate seeing the winning entries, and the prizes they received for their artistic efforts.

First, there was the opening of our LuxArt2015 Awards Ceremony, complete with "glow in the dark" lollipops instead of a red (Serratia?) carpet. 

Our seventh place entry, by Brian, was a "two part" artwork depicting an anglerfish (since they are themselves luminous, I was personally pleased).

And here is Brian accepting his well-deserved award---luminous fingernail polish.  I keep hoping to see him model the results, but no luck so far.

The sixth place entry, by Madison, made me laugh out loud.  I am a an enthusiastic fan of "Ron Swanson" (played by the inimitable Nick Offerman) on "Parks and Recreation."  How wonderful that Ron Swanson was celebrated in living light!  I just wonder how his character would respond.

Here is Madison accepting her award of luminous nail polish.

Our fifth place entry continues the tradition of "Frozen."  Taylor, the artist, is clearly a fan of Olaf, and it shows up well with Photobacterium leignothi!  "Let It Glow," indeed!

Taylor accepts her award of luminous nail polish here.

Kailee was our fourth place winner, vote-wise, for her interpretation of an elephant painted in living light.

Here is Kailee accepting her award of a Giant Microbe, which certainly seems to please her (though it is Salmonella typhi).

Plus video.

I thought that third place winner Cheyenne was riffing on the odd masks worn during the Great Plagues.  In fact, her artwork is based on a character from the movie "Hercules."  

Here is Cheyenne accepting her award of a Giant Microbe (Campylobacter).  

Plus video.

Second place winner Ruth created a lovely mountain scene of Photobacterium leignothi

Here is Ruth accepting her award---an appropriately sized Giant Microbe of E. coli!

And video.

And finally, we made it to the moment we had all been waiting for: our LuxArt2015 first place winner. Olivia created a lovely angelfish of luminous bacteria.

Olivia was quite excited to receive her award, which is based on the great artwork of Megan Hatasaka.  

And, of course, video.  My micronauts are fairly patient with me. I am very, very proud of them, and want to show them off.

Congratulations to everyone!

Did you think any other entrant merited recognition?  Does this essay give you ideas for future #LuxArt exhibitions?  Please let me know in the comments section.

As for me, I very much enjoyed the entire process, and I hope my micronauts did, as well.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Become a Microbial Supremacist

It has been quite a semester so far, but I continue to implacably swim against the current!  Interesting topics in the classroom, fun experiments in my laboratory, and great students---these things keep me moving forward!

In this third installment of "u-Tube," I discuss how I was first called a "microbial supremacist" by colleagues, and then came to embrace the title with pride.

I also show some of the #MicrobialArtwork that I have used to attempt to entice prospective Micronauts to the One True Microbiologist Faith™ in my classes.

Seriously, I love all fields of biology (and we all have much to teach one another).  But I do adore microbiology.  I suspect it shows.

I hope you like this installment. I have no idea if this approach is a good one, but I will continue! 

Thanks as usual to my wife Jennifer Quinn for encouraging me to continue this series (as well as creating art and video) as well as my loyal electronic friend Kaitlin Reiss, microbiological artist extraordinaire.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

What Should Freshman Biology Majors Know About Microbiology?

Here, in this second installment of "u-Tube," I discuss what first year students should know about microbiology.  Keep in mind that many institutions (like my own) only have one microbiology course.

I believe a good approach is to ask my current junior and senior Microbiology students what they believe freshmen should know about #MattersMicrobial™.  

This is just part of my usual efforts know.

Many thanks to Kaitlin Reiss for the fabulous artwork!

I hope you enjoy the student perspective on this subject.  

Sunday, September 27, 2015

My First Class #LuxArt Competition!

In my one semester microbiology course at the University of Puget Sound, I try hard to balance the usual "target rich lectures" for upcoming tests with creative approaches to my beloved MattersMicrobial™.  My goal is to get the students to "buy in" to the wonders of microbiology---hopefully my enthusiasm is infectious!

Historically, many educators have found that student-centered creativity really engages students and increases overall learning. I have written several blog posts about exactly that, as seen here and here.

Most readers of this blog know very well that I adore bacterial bioluminescence, and have since I was eleven or twelve years old. I enjoy making "art" with "living light," from portraits to a "Luxmas" tree.

I often have to remind students about the difference between fluorescence and luminescence.  It turns out that many yellow "highlighters" actually fluoresce under long wave UV light ("blacklights").  Students have fun with that often, as you can see...and it drives the point home.

Sometimes, the artistic impulse appears using these highlighters.

Me?  I'm much more interested, as everyone knows, in bacteria that generate their own light.  That's because I get excited to look in the incubator the morning after plate work with bioluminescent microbes.  Such as this, recently!

For me, it's been pretty challenging to create some #LuxSelfies with bioluminescent bacteria.  Some of my recent work with my "fancy" camera has shown some improvement..  

Here is Olivia.

How about Braith (five second exposures on both sides for that "double image")?

Or Mary?

I thought that Caitlin's "bacteriolight" portrait turned out well.

There is even a quite spooky (Hallowe'en is coming up) Ruth.

Heck, perhaps most frightening of all:  yours truly.

My wife Dr. Jennifer Quinn even painted the outgoing President of the University of Puget Sound, Dr. Ronald Thomas ("RonThom" to his friends).  She is getting good at this, don't you think?

Why not turn this mixture of art and science over to students?  I have been inspired by several sources, including Dr. Simon Park and Dr. Siouxie Wiles, both of whom have long used bioluminescence for artistic purposes.

Siouxie even sponsors a glorious art exhibition in New Zealand using bacterial bioluminescence, as seen here (and Siouxie, I will find a way to visit one year and participate!).

So I decided on the following assignment for my sixteen intrepid micronauts.  I gave each of them sterile paint brushes, a sample of a culture of brightly bioluminescent Photobacterium leignothi, and a large and small Petri dish for their artistic masterpieces.

I have offered prizes to the top six entrants, voted on by the students (and perhaps readers of this blog?).  

Readers:  please feel free to vote in the comments for your top choices, ranked #1 to #6!  I do not know who made what, nor will I vote.  I am letting the students vote.  Wouldn't it be fabulous if readers of this blog voted, too?

Here goes.  I placed the items on a sheet of plexiglas because I appreciate the reflective effect!

Entry #1

Entry #2

Entry #3

Entry #4

Entry #5

Entry #6

Entry #7

Entry #8

Incidentally, the artist for Entry #8 wanted me to add:  "I tried to write 細菌, pronounced "saikin," which is a Japanese word for "bacteria."

Entry #9

Entry #10

Entry #11

Entry #12

Entry #13

Entry #14

Entry #15

Entry #16

Entry #17

Entry #18

Entry #19

Entry #20

Entry #21

Entry #22

Entry #23

Entry #24

Entry #25

Entry #26

Entry #27

Entry #28

Entry #29

Entry #30

I'm very proud of all of the contributors---these micronauts continue to be tolerant of my crazy approaches and enthusiasms.  I will probably suggest this project again at the end of the course, because this was quite a new medium to the students involved.  I appreciated their good humor and enthusiasm.  And they seem quite excited about the prospects of a prizes!

I just need to be able to afford the really big plates for this kind of project, like Siouxie Wiles used in the video linked above.

Voting will end on midnight (PDT) 5 October.  Aren't these creative students?  This is why I enjoy teaching undergraduates at small liberal arts institutions like my own!