April 2017 Microbe of the Month© — Microbes in Space Part I — Gravity

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship MOTMerprise®™ It’s continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new microbial life and new microbial communities, to boldly go where no microbiologist has gone before. Greetings professional laboratorians and lightly trained micro nerds of earth. This is your all powerful commander and overlord speaking to you live from MOTM™ headquarters in sunny Wakashaw, WI.

Today, we are proud to announce the very beginning of a brand new, multi part, never before seen, heard, or smelled, mini-featurette, Microbes in Space® (MIS™). We launch our adventures in the void with Part 1 — Microbes in Space© — Gravity (the movie), but not the one with what’s his name and the girl, the other one, the one with what’s her face and the guy. It had really great special effects and an OK plot that really fell apart badly on a second viewing. The special effects did not hold up all that well either.

If you are anything like me (and most assuredly you are not) then you cannot hear the word gravity without immediately calling to mind the lyrical stylings of the immortal Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest in the classic track Buggin’ Out from their 2nd release The Low End Theory. Let Phife Diggy himself explain “….I float like gravity, never had a cavity, Got more rhymes than the Winans got family.” Was ever a truer thing spoken?, wouldn’t we all float like gravity if we had never experienced the heartbreak of dental caries (note to self — future microbe of the month topic, oral microbiology — nice!). While the track is regarded by many as marking the emergence of Phife Dawg it is regarded by me as wicked phat and ultra dope. RIP Phife you are sorely missed.

I can read your minds my youthful wards, “Tribe Called what? Phife who?, gravity doesn’t float, does it?” While it is true I now know everything, there was a time when even I was a young whippersnapper dreaming of one day running a multinational microbe focused monthly e-newsletter operation as a side gig from my actual job doing whatever it is I do all day. So to answer your question let me tell you a story from my youth. I had a professor once who told us that bacteria were so small and light they were unaffected by gravity. If you were to release one in a vacuum they would simply float suspended forever. Immediately I suspected something was amiss. Back then I had only taken a year of college physics and read maybe 30 or so books on quantum mechanics and cosmology so I was still a novice in the area but I knew that ultimately gravity was nothing more than the curvature of space time and that it was not a field like electromagnetism that only affects particles with certain properties. Massless particles are equally as affected as particles with mass. Everything is affected by gravity. Thoughts and feelings may be exceptions thought even that is highly debated in the philosophical and scientific communities.

“What gives professor no nothing. Why are you lying to me?” is what I was thinking. I was very angry and wrote quite the screed on his teacher evaluation at the end of the semester when I knew it was too late to affect my grade which was a barely passing 99.7%. I slacked a bit in that class, it met on Thursdays at 8am. Wednesday nights were nickel draft nights at PawPurrs and they were open until 2am, and it was ladies night which meant lots of drunk sorority girls which meant………[redacted]. Anyway I wasn’t about to let that kind of deal just slip away without taking full advantage of every opportunity. Occasionally (always) I would have a few (crapload) too many and be a little (lot) hung over in class (at home in bed) the next day. Without being present for the lectures my audiographic memory was useless and I actually had to study some or ask someone to read their notes and the relevant book chapters out loud for me. That usually was a non-starter at least for the two bit yokels I hung out with. Long story short he was wrong I was right. No big surprise there am I right? Of course I am, didn’t I just make that point? Am I right? Etc.

I recognize this edition was not as jam packed with the educational materials you have come to expect from MOTM®. In fact, I am contractually obligated to provide you with at least 50% sciencey stuff per installment. If I do not management reserves the right to revoke my license to practice microbe of the monthing at any time. They are such party poopers those management types. That said I am really tired and also lazy so even though I found a ton of really awesome and cool microbes in space facts they are going to have to wait for future installments. We always end the same way and by now you all must know the drill. It is trivia contest time. Winner receives adulations, prizes, good fortune, blah, blah, blah, gift certificate!

Here it is:

But first a fun fact (note to management-educational content). Gravity has had an effect on the development of animal life since the first single-celled organism. The size of single biological cells is inversely proportional to the strength of the gravitational field exerted on it. Therefore, in stronger gravitational fields the size of cells decreases, and in weaker gravitational fields the size of cells increases. Gravity is thus a limiting factor in the growth of individual cells.

And now the question:

Exposure to microgravity has been theorized (and there is some limited evidence) to cause at least three specific changes in bacteria. Be the first to name them (I will need references as well and a link to a web page is not a reference) and you win! But be warned, no doubt you witnessed the fate of our last MOTM© trivia challenge losers. Twas a brutal and ugly thing, that ended in triumph and exaltation. Anyway that could be you, or just the bad part, one never knows unless one tries. You have until midnight April 30 to submit your answer. Good luck and keep watching….the stars!

MOTM® Commander, Emperor, Sith Lord,

Daniel DeMarco, Ph.D.

Written by

Research scientist (Ph.D. micro/mol biology), Thought middle manager, Everyday junglist, Selecta (Ret.), Boulderer, Cat lover, Fish hater

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