Bacterial Buddies

Commenter JohnV asked me whether I had let any of my silkworms crawl on an LB plate (what microbiologists use to grow colonies of bacteria) to see what kind of bacteria is living on them in case I ever suffer from catastrophic experiment contamination. I hadn't thought of what kind of bacteria could be living on my silkworms (we are thinking about what kind of bacteria live in their digestive systems that help them digest leaves) so I tried it out! I let one of my wormies crawl on a plate, and I touched one with my relatively clean fingers as a pseudo-control.

i-7d0d6be9dd86f20e50bec15563afd251-fingerworms.jpgI let the plates incubate at 37 degrees celsius (body temperature, which a lot of bacteria like to grow at) overnight and then forgot about them and left them on my bench at room temperature for another night and then took a picture of them this morning:

i-a6c2f1e99ea1c2a461039119bd995880-wormfingers.jpgEven though there are likely many more microbes present that don't like to grow on LB plates, there are definitely more species of bacteria and fungus living on the silkworms than on my fingers (or in beards) but I don't know if I'm any more worried about contamination or infection now than I was before.

Indeed, most of the experiments done for TV by Mythbusters or the evening news that show you how many bacteria are living on your everyday things are meant to scare you into buying horrible antibacterial wipes, but to me they just show how interconnected we are with the bacteria that surround us each day and how fragile that ecosystem is. We are lucky to live in a time and place where knowledge of microbiology, indoor plumbing, hand washing, and antibiotics have eradicated many of the bacterially mediated infectious diseases, but knowing that bacteria can cause disease makes many of us desire a sterility in our environment that is not only impossible but also dangerous. The fear of bacteria and overuse of antibiotics has led to an increase in actually deadly antibiotic-resistant infections as well as likely contributing to the increase in auto-immune disorders such as asthma and allergies. So let's celebrate those bacteria that grow up on our LB plates when we swab our everyday surroundings!

Let's do a little experiment: give me suggestions of things to swab and photograph in the comments (within reason) and we can start making a little family photo album of our bacterial buddies!

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I always wondered what would be growing on my doorbell.

Also, a dusty corner, is that just dust or something worse?

really, i would experiment all day with a tray of plates and an incubator...

One thing I would really like to see, but which is a bit more involved, is a swab of your hands every 30 minutes after a good handwash. How long do your hands actually stay clean?

Just on a normal day, you are in the bathroom, do your stuff, clean your hands, swab. leave, do whatever, 30min later, swam. and so on, until your next bathroom break, swab before entering, do your business, and swab before washing, and final swab again after washing.

Or have such studies been done?

I'll stop suggesting now :)

What a fab idea!

I've always been damn curious to know how alive is the ecosystem in the keyboards and mice of a typical public-use computer lab.

Pets.. Start on a few dogs mouths

By rijkswaanvijand (not verified) on 06 May 2010 #permalink

How about freshly opened food or drinks from sealed packages? I wouldn't necessarily expect packaged foods to be sterile, but I wonder how many cfus they might contain right out of the package?

hmmm ... what about a toothbrush just after use and again after it's dried? i like to tell myself that anything on the brush dies when the bristles dry, but i've got no scientific basis for that one ...

Quick, swab all your swabs; who knows what contaminants they might have!

By just some dude (not verified) on 06 May 2010 #permalink

How about the rise of autoimmune diseases like allergies, MS, crohn's disease, corrosive colitis and the eradication of certain parasites or other symbiots for which we have been adapted over long periods of our species history?


By isaac newton (not verified) on 06 May 2010 #permalink