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E. coli Summer Research

June 10, 2012

Some “hard science” for a change. Kenyon students are hard at work studying E. coli bacteria–actually, grilling burgers for the weekly Science Quad cookout. As you would expect, the heroic lab tech (and author of our most recent paper) is getting the job done, with the PI standing by helpfully (not much).

Back in the lab, Keith is  trying to get E. coli to evolve to grow better in acid (and live through our stomach perhaps). Anna is growing biofilms in acid–surprising, we thought E. coli  wouldn’t be able to do it. Maria and Michael are showing how genes of amino acid and fatty acid metabolism help the bacteria survive. And Walker, the Ohio chess champion (orange shirt) is doing our glassware (as everyone knows, the most critical part of any bacteria experiment). Meredith wasn’t there that day but she’ll be back Monday.

So much for happy science in rural Gambier, while most of the humanities faculty are away in London or other exciting locales.
What would you like to see us testing in E. coli?

  1. June 10, 2012 5:40 pm

    Ahh man I miss Gambier so much. Hope you guys are able to be productive and have fun! Also that pose seems classic Keith.

  2. June 10, 2012 7:38 pm

    Yes, Gambier summer rocks. But you’ll soon find lots to do with MRSA in Maryland.
    See you in San Francisco.

  3. heteromeles permalink
    June 11, 2012 1:27 am

    That looks like fun! Being an ecologist, I’d love to see a summer diversity vs. fall diversity study of some sort. Perhaps compare samples from identical locations right before students arrive (for summer school? Fall term?), from the same locations after students arrive, and then midway through the term.

    This is a test of invasion ecology. I’d predict that there would be a fairly massive population shift as microbes arrive from all over. The question is what happens as the people settle in and stop moving around so much. Does the same E. coli strain (or strains) take over (in other words, is there some sort of predictable succession), or are there different strains after every vacation (succession is not predictable). And if different E. coli strains dominate, is it because they are novel strains (new to the environment), or is the dominant strain unpredictable?

    • June 11, 2012 9:18 am

      You’re right, there must be vast arrays of new E. coli and Bacteroides showing up every year.
      Everyone brings their own private cultures stored in the appendix.

  4. June 11, 2012 8:06 am

    I’m not even sure if it’s ironic that I have discouraged Walker and his sister from eating hamburgers at cookouts for the past couple of summers if they don’t know where the ground beef comes from.

    • June 11, 2012 9:20 am

      We have vegetarian “burgers” from Kroger.
      The beef is from Lannings. I avoid beef myself, but we please the crowd.

  5. SFreader permalink
    June 12, 2012 1:58 pm

    Reflecting back on my own undergrad lifestyle … It would be interesting to do a longitudinal study on undergrad exposure to various e.coli strains and other bugs (encountered at BBQ fund-raisers, tailgate parties) and long-term susceptibility to/incidence of immune diseases/conditions.

    The above idea arose from your post and an article in today’s ScienceDaily … [See excerpt below:]

    “Dr. Taneja and her team genetically engineered mice with the human gene HLA-DRB1*0401, a strong indicator of predisposition to rheumatoid arthritis. A set of control mice were engineered with a different variant of the DRB1 gene, known to promote resistance to rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers used these mice to compare their immune responses to different bacteria and the effect on rheumatoid arthritis.

    “The gut is the largest immune organ in the body,” says co-author Bryan White, Ph.D., director of the University of Illinois’ Microbiome Program in the Division of Biomedical Sciences and a member of the Institute for Genomic Biology. “Because it’s presented with multiple insults daily through the introduction of new bacteria, food sources and foreign antigens, the gut is continually teasing out what’s good and bad.”

    The gut has several ways to do this, including the mucosal barrier that prevents organisms — even commensal or “good” bacteria — from crossing the lumen of the gut into the human body. However, when commensal bacteria breach this barrier, they can trigger autoimmune responses. The body recognizes them as out of place, and in some way this triggers the body to attack itself, he says.”

    • June 12, 2012 4:01 pm

      Yes, the gut immune system is balanced to support the gut microbiome; but when the bacteria get in the wrong place, there is trouble.

      The worst, though, is when antibiotics kill off all the good ones, leaving the Taliban “Clostridium” to rough up the neighborhood. That’s when you need fecal transplant.

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