What I do: Parents edition with special animated GIF for Mom and Dad


One of my goals is to help the masses understand scientific discovery. More precisely, why should we care (i.e. spend money) about bacteria and/or plants. Visiting the parents this weekend, my mom and dad talked about some of my posts that I have on Facebook. Something dad said has stuck with me, I paraphrase: he starts reading then I lose him along the way. My response was that I need to try harder. I am not in a lab researching bacteria anymore, but I still do have a rich curiosity about what discoveries are coming out among the scientific community. As a practice for the future, I will now try to describe what I used to do; here it goes, dad.

animated bacteria GIF, microbiology, bacteria gif, animated gif
Why did the bacterium decide to avoid the fire and move towards the yummy cheeseburger? Decisions, decisions…

Learning Maya animation is not just a hobby, but hopefully will be a channel to help describe complex information in a easily understandable way. 

 

Like humans, bacteria have decisions to make. We can design experiments to watch them decide which direction to travel, towards something or away from it. My research was to help understand how bacteria are attracted or repelled by certain chemicals in their environment and exactly what these chemicals are since a lot of chemicals are ignored by the bacteria. Scientists can look at the genes of a bacterium (which are a parts list and instruction manual) and predict which genes code for proteins that are used to detect chemicals in the cell’s environment. If one of these genes are taken out (no longer an available part), we can observe changes in what chemicals that cell responds to. If this is successful, we can predict that that particular gene is responsible for the bacterium moving towards or away from a specific chemical. By chemical, I mean compounds, usually nutrients, that can provide energy for the cell. 

Soil bacteria love to live around plant roots. The roots leak chemical nutrients into the soil that attracts bacteria. This is a win-win for both plants and bacteria. Bacteria receive nutrients to survive while plants receive “help” defending themselves against disease as well as receiving some nutrients they can’t make themselves but the bacteria can. These bacteria can also produce plant hormones that help the plant grow. This is a big area of research as a way to increase crop yield, i.e. food or biomass for bioenergy fuels.

There you have it, what I did as a scientist in about 400 words instead of 300 pages like the dissertation.

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