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Microbes of 2016

December 30, 2016

From Syria to Trump Tower, this year has not been the greatest for human beings. Yet our microbial communities have flourished. Even the White House (perhaps with prescience) announced the National Microbiome Initiative, predicting that microbes would accomplish some of the year’s most noble and memorable achievements–from CRISPR/CAS (bacterial antiviral defense applied to human gene editing) to the ancient invention of multicellular life. We can all appreciate that one; or regret it, as the case may be. My own lab has been a romp through bacteria reversing our drug resistance, to Haloarchaea evolving for Mars. Why send Mars our humans, when we can send our microbes?

One last salute to microbial scientists: What’s lurking in your showerhead? As you might guess, recalling our famous old shower curtain, the answer is, quite a crowd. Robb Dunn’s lab works at identifying microbes and meiofauna (microscopic invertebrates) in all parts of your home, from your undusted furniture to the antiperspirant of your armpit. Perhaps most intriguing is the great Showerhead Microbiome Project.

Do you ever unscrew the cap of your showerhead to find out what’s growing inside? Not very often. Yet you use the showerhead every day. A daily inoculation–just like all our evolution projects at Bacteria Lab Kenyon. You are running a lifelong evolution project, with your self as culture medium. All you need to do is swipe your scalp now and then, run a DNA prep, and send the contents to MR DNA.

Alternatively, you can send your showerhead water to Dunn Lab project. They plan to sample showerheads from “around the United States and Europe”–rather parochial, I suppose, but they might be persuaded to expand.

So what might we expect to find in the showerhead community? One quaint hypothesis is that we might find amebas, gobbling up the “nontuberculous mycobacteria” (the ones that don’t cause TB but do infect immunocompromised people). More prosaically, we might just find assorted pollen grains from pines and cedars. An early finding of Dunn Lab: the fungi in your home depend more on geography, whereas your home’s bacteria come from you. You may recall the microbial air print–that we can now identify who’s been in a room based on the bacteria they left in the air.

After showerheads, you can move on to the Sourdough Project. Find out the real reason different bakers make different tasting bread. (Hint: Do you have earwax?)

From our own microbiome to yours, we wish you all a Happy New Year.


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