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Dividing cells, Wrong Bag, and Unmentionable

June 18, 2012

The day in  San Fran started out with an obligatory march past the anti-immorality protesters stationed beneath the rainbow flag at the mall (rainbow flags are all along Market Street). I asked one, an African-American gentleman, if he knew the word “miscegenation.”  (Sp? not sure)  He did not. I thought, what a great day it is that a black person doesn’t need to know that word. In a few years, the H word will be gone; it’s barely there in the media today. Even the thing Prop 8 bans will soon be gone from the vocabulary.

A theme of the sessions this year is cell development. That may sound boring to most people, but it is incredible to watch in 3D the cell membrane of a magnetotactic bacterium pucker in, tidily seal off a vesicle, and start to grow a magnet inside. Then the magnet takes its place in a long row of tiny magnets along the undulating wave of the cell. If Magneto were here, he would be caught in a thick goo of all the world’s magnetic bacteria.

Then, the remarkable news that someone from Australia is about to publish that planctomycetes actually have a nuclear membrane with a nuclear pore complex. Planctomycetes include germs that recycle half our nitrogen, using an intermediate (hydrazine) better known as rocket fuel. The missing link with eukaryotes?  I don’t know–there’ve been false positives before for the missing link, like Giardia. Maybe Heteromeles can explain why this is so amazing.

My student’s poster on pH in E. coli biofilms was mobbed with people wanting to know how we got such pretty pictures. The answer is long, long, long hours in a dark room staring at a microscope. One of the coauthors finally switched labs to study wetland ecology.

The students told me about this session on the microbiology of animal bites. I hadn’t noticed that one, but I decided to sit in. The talk focused on the most common type of animal that bites: dogs and cats. We learned that dogs most commonly bit men, and cats most commonly bite women (because those are the predominant owners/companions of dogs and cats respectively). We learned about all the gram positive and gram negative microbes that inhabit the bite wounds. We also learned that while cats generally bite the hand (that pets them), dog bites occur all over the body.

Then (as all presenters do–this is an old trick of the teacher) to wake up the audience, a slide flashed of a dog bite on an unmentionable part of the body. Supposedly, a man had been “training his dog to attack at midnight” when he got this bite.

You should have seen my students’ faces. I reached for the camera, but was too late to get a photo of the most terrified/disgusted student faces you ever saw.   I’m not sure how the bite could have occurred under the conditions stated, but I wish the anti-immorality protesters were there to see;  maybe they could go off and protest for animal rights or something else useful.

  1. June 18, 2012 11:11 am

    You sound extremely busy, Joan. San Francisco sounds nice. Enjoyed this, thanks.

  2. heteromeles permalink
    June 18, 2012 9:45 pm

    Sounds like a fun, Joan! I’ve done my scope time, and I know exactly how those students feel. Good for them for sticking it out!

    I don’t know anything about planctomycetes, so I had to read up on them a little. It looks like they recycle nitrates back into N2 gas, and it looks like the hydrazine intermediate pathway has been known for a few years, although I bet the genes have not. From my admittedly plant-centric perspective, these bacteria remove useful nitrogen from the biosphere, but whatever charges their batteries, I guess. I don’t know enough about the genetics of the nucleus to know whether you can determine how the nucleus was inherited, but I’d hazard a guess that we could figure out whether the planctomycetes have the same genes as eukaryotes for making a nucleus, or whether they came up with the same design through convergent evolution.

  3. paws4thot permalink
    June 19, 2012 6:01 am

    Those last 2 paragraphs brought tears to my eyes!

  4. June 19, 2012 9:30 am

    Thanks, everybody. I guess I was so busy I forgot to explain the bag. At the posters, I picked up someone else’s bag by mistake. There are about 5,000 convention bags walking around with their owners. Luckily I found the owner (even more scared than I was) and exchanged back. Absent-minded professor strikes again.

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