Microbial Trash is Human Treasure, Part II: MudWatt Captures Bacterial Poop!

Microbial Trash is Human Treasure, Part II: MudWatt Captures Bacterial Poop!

The soil under your feet hosts the world’s next clean, sustainable source of energy. Geobacter sp. and Shewanella sp., soil bacteria, “poop” electricity. Actually, their “waste products” are electrons, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide that can be captured in a Microbial Fuel Cell turning microbial “poop” into electricity. Capture the Waste! When any organisms breaks down food, it releases the energy stored in that food in the form of electrons. With most organisms, from mammals to microbes, the electron “waste” binds to oxygen, iron, or sulfur inside the cell(s) of the organism to conduct other processes. Electrogenic bacteria give off their electrons into the soil around them. An MFC captures those lost electrons using electrodes and wire to complete a circuit and generates electrical current. The energy harnessed can then light up a LED, run a clock, thermometer, or any of a number of other things. Electrogenic bacteria can be found naturally in soils all over the world. If the soil is stinky, you’ve found Shewanella and Geobacter having a party. In addition to giving off electron “waste” these electrogenic bacteria release stinky sulfur compounds. Think of the rotten-egg smell of mud in a swamp or marsh. I found a pot of

Microbial “Trash” is Human Treasure

Microbial “Trash” is Human Treasure

We humans have been treasuring and using microbial “trash” for tens of thousands of years. We eat and nurture microbes for their waste products – yes, you eat microbial poop. Metabolic by-products or “waste” would be more appropriate to say in a classroom/polite company, but really – it’s just “poop”. Yogurt, sauerkraut, buttermilk, kefir, bread, beer, wine, cheese, even chocolate, and coffee – are all tasty to us because microbes have eaten the sugars in milk or some plant part. With the exception of corn, whatever you eat goes into your mouth in one form and comes out the other end in a totally different form. Same with microbes. Bacterial Poop: Sugars to Lactic Acid Bacteria like Lactobacillus sp. eat lactose milk sugars and poop out lactic acid. That’s why unflavored, unsugared yogurt is tangy and slightly sour. Same thing with the buttermilk I’ve been culturing recently. YUMMY. Other Lactobacillus sp. eat plant fiber sugars and poop out lactic acid to make sauerkraut and kimchee. Check out a yogurt experiment my girls and I did a while ago. Yes, the girls roll their eyes when I say that they are eating microbial “trash”. Fungal Farts: Sugars to alcohol and carbon

#MicrobeWeek: Celebrating the Small

#MicrobeWeek: Celebrating the Small

The American Museum of Natural History, PBS’ Brain Craft and Gross Science, and Science Friday have teamed up to spread the love and importance of microbes during #MicrobeWeek!   You still have a few more days to celebrate #MicrobeWeek – a celebration of the small and certainly my favorite week! #MicrobeWeek was created by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in celebration of their current microbially focused exhibition The Secret World Inside You, (see my review). AMNH teamed up with BrainCraft, Gross Science, and Science Friday to create four YouTube videos and other content about their favorite microbial research. Erin Chapman, Senior New Media Specialist at AMNH, says, “We figured with all the “awareness” hashtag days out there, microbes certainly deserve their own week. It’s really only recently that the study of the microbial world has become (as curators Susan Perkins and Rob DeSalle describe in their book Welcome To the Microbiome) “a full-fledged scientific field,” but the amount of research that’s being done now is just phenomenal. To me, it feels like microbiome research is a big part of the contemporary scientific zeitgeist, but hasn’t yet made as huge an impression on the general public. We want to get folks as

The Secret is Out!

The Secret is Out!

In an (Invisible) Galaxy (Not) so Far Away The mirrored, twinkling hall of the exhibit The Secret World Inside You transports you to the fantastical world of your microbial self. This new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York educates young and old about the microbes that live in and on each of us and outnumber our human cells. What are these organisms? How do we get them? Where do they live? What do they do? How do they influence our health and behavior?  Curator Susan Perkins, PhD kindly invited and toured me, another science mom friend (Robin Munro), and our oldest daughters (ages 7 and 8) through the exhibit. We were all astounded at the fantastic features and information in the exhibit. It was one of those rare exhibits that appeals to all ages. Microbial Fun for Everyone The three years of planning by curators Susan Perkins, PhD and Rob DeSalle, PhD and AMNH staff are obvious in the attention to detail, scientific accuracy, and engaging content of The Secret World Inside You exhibit. The curators have developed the perfect exhibit to bring everyone together to this common table to learn about the quickly

Fabulous Friday Feature

Fabulous Friday Feature

I’m a visual person. I’ll never forget the day Daddy took my sister and me in the backyard to teach us how to use a SLR camera. Those were the days of FILM! He had my sister and me take turns jumping into the air while the other one used different f-stops, shutter speeds, and ISO settings on the camera to try to “freeze” the other person in the air. Then we went in the darkroom and developed the negatives. I didn’t really understand how the different parts of the camera worked together until seeing the difference in the images. Slow shutter speed = blurry sister; fast shutter speed = sister suspended in mid-air like a cartoon character! Ask any of my former students and they’ll tell you I pack photos into a lecture to make my points. “A picture is worth 1, 000 words” right? Well, stay tuned every Friday for some sort of graphic, video, interactive site, or webinar on the amazing microbial world. If you can’t wait till then – click on over to the MostlyMicrobes YouTube channel or Pinterest site. This first Friday Feature is one of my favorite science education sites – Learn.Genetics – developed