Field of Science

Pictures of my microbes

I'm usually very reluctant to put my own work on this blog, as none of it has yet been published. Depite the CC logo at the bottom of the page I'm still very much aware that anything you put on the internet can potentially be taken away and used for nefarious purposes, without acknowledgement. Also I really don't want to 'out' any of my research.

But this is so amazing I had to share it. It's from the control of a failed experiment anyway, so shouldn't be giving too much away. It's taken with a light microscope, and shows a species of Streptomyces bacteria (complete with contamination):

I feel very proud of that picture, and not only because it took ages fiddling around with a microscope and two broken slides (don't ask!) to produce. The big blob in the middle is the Streptomyces, but it's not one Streptomyces bacteria it's a whole network of integrated hyphae; long branching filamentous cells. This can be seen particularly well in the largest blob in the middle, which has a filamentous 'tail' like structure coming out of it, these are the mycelium branching out and breaking away. Some of them will branch off completely as single cells, and differentiate to form spores.

If you look up at the top right hand corner of the picture, you can just about make out some little dark dots. These are E. coli! My sample is clearly contaminated, those little dots were actually wriggling around under the microscope which made it look slightly freaky. Although the contrast in the picture doesn't show it, the little wriggling E. coli are pretty much everywhere, surrounding the larger Streptomyces structures.

My PI was shaking her head and going "Oh dear, it's all contaminated" but I was just staring into the microscope, fascinated at the amazing world presented inside it. It was like that bit in 'The Borrowers' when The Boy peeks under the floorboards and sees a world full of little people, a whole universe of life which he never knew existed. I went a bit mad taking pictures:

The picture above is a closeup of the hyphae, at a higher magnification. You can make out individual threads, which are formed by long thin cells growing forward in a line. This picture shows the meeting point of three different Streptomyces colonies and an area which is miraculously free from contamination.

In a way, I think I preferred seeing the contamination, despite the fact that I now have to grow the things all over again. It was a reminder that the bacterial world isn't just a collection of similar shaped blobs floating around together. Seeing this little snapshot of the Streptomyces in their huge hyphae fortresses surrounded by little scurrying E. coli reminded me that the bacterial world is as diverse in size and shape as the animal one, just on a far smaller scale. In fact, biochemically, it's more diverse than the animal world and just as dangerous.

Anyway, now I have to stop gushing and go do some actual work :)


オテモヤン said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lab Rat said...


I could only read one word in your comment (as I only know english!) and it was inappropriate. All words were linked to inappropriate pages. If I removed the comment in error I apologise.

Mason Posner said...

Nice shots. Are these taken under a 100X oil immersion lens? Phase contrast?

I often think about posting unpublished research, but have not done so yet. Maybe when a paper is close to coming out.

Lab Rat said...

The top picture is under 40X, the bottom (with the hypha) is 100X oil-immersion. Both are phase contrast.

I wouldn't feel happy posting any of my actual unpublished research, but these were just a bit of a side thing, to check for contamination, so it felt safe enough putting them up.

Mason Posner said...

I have seen some good discussions, and at least one article in the Scientist, about blogging unpublished work. It does not seem that the social science web is quite there yet.

Lab Rat said...

I think I remember seeing that science artical. It just wouldn't feel right to me, I prefer to blog about stuff that's actually been through the peer review process.

Having said that, the real-time research wikis we used for the iGEM summer project were really cool, and you could see what the other teams were up too! Even then though, someone stole one of our diagrams...

Kind of Curious said...

Cool photos. Thanks for sharing.

Captain Skellett said...

So cool. I kind of like the contamination too... it feels authentic.