Thursday, December 17, 2009

Breaking Up Bad Bacterial Biofilms

Check off another successful Born to Do Science event! Dr. Marianna Patrauchan spoke this evening about biofilms.

We kicked off the event with the debut performance of a new song called "Super Scientist." It's all about how much patience and persistence it takes to do the type of important research Dr. Patrauchan does. By the end of the song she was beaming! Watch for the song - I'll be posting it soon.

Then we talked about cystic fibrosis and how for some reason this usually harmless bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA), forms a deadly biofilm in lung tissue of CF patients. These bacteria are very common in humans, so what is it about CF that induces them to grow?

Dr. P's hypothesis is that it has something to do with the higher concentration of calcium ions present; these ions are a signal from the body to the immune system that something is wrong (CF!). The PA bacteria pick up on it and it signals them to form a biofilm.

It takes proteins to pick up a chemical signal and act on it (see this amazing film!), so Dr. P's research involves sorting through hundreds of candidate proteins to see which ones, if knocked out, could block this process from happening. For each candidate protein a mutant PA strain with the corresponding gene knocked out is created and tested, and each test takes about six months to complete!

When I interviewed her in preparation for her talk, she hadn't yet found the magic protein, however...

In a high point of the presentation she revealed a slide showing a dramatic difference between the wild PA and a particular mutant strain growing in the presence of calcium. A positive result! Go, super scientist, go!!

Now that we've identified it, we just need to figure out how to block that protein from doing it's job, and perhaps a drug can be developed that will prevent fatal PA infections in CF patients!

Dr. P shared a stack of nutrient plates with the kids. Each kid chose four sources of bacteria (they are everywhere - pencils, fingers, crumbs from the floor, etc.) and seeded and labeled their plates. Tomorrow, they'll be able to see bacteria growth!

Hey, if any of you are reading this - send me a photo of your results and I'll post them here!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Upcoming BTDS on Biofilms!

Coming Thursday 12/17 at 6:00 PM at the Stillwater Public Library:

Breaking Up Bad Bacterial Biofilms

Scientific Espionage in the Battle Against Cystic Fibrosis

Dr. Marianna Patrauchan from the OSU microbiology department will speak about her biofilm research, which may eventually help save lives.

If you'd like to come prepared, check out the related links below. This isn't required, but it would help you ask great questions!

Artwork by Marianna Patrauchan - Who says scientists can't be artists, too?

Microbe World - Microbiology in the news

Pseudomonas_aeruginosa (The type of bacteria Dr. Patrauchan works with)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"Ain't It Beautiful" Video

Those of you who attended the last "Born to Do Science" saw a slideshow set to the song I wrote based on Cheryl Baker's research on cultivating resistance in wheat to the Russian wheat aphid. Cheryl and I have been refining the song and the slideshow since then, and here is the final product for your enjoyment!

Oh, and you can view the lyrics, plus download the song for free for a limited time from my songbook - click here.