Field of Science

Blogging Microbes- Communicating Microbiology to Netizens

There was a conference on Blogging microbes at Nottingham University, with talks from Alan Cann, Shuna Gold, James Gurney and Oscar Rosales, organised by Ivan Lafayette from the Toxicologist Today.
Oh yeah, and I was there as well, talking about how blogging can enhance your scientific career.
We had a lot of fun there, it was crazy meeting other bloggers, and the people who read blogs. It was a really great atmosphere, and it was interesting meeting some of the other people in the community in real life.

It's also time that I confessed. I've been cheating on you guys with another blog. I've started contributing to I curate and contribute content there, aimed more towards a general audience than this blog. If you just want to read the stuff I write, then check out
I have no plans to leave field of science, as there is definitely some content I would like to contribute here, such as the MicroTwJC summaries, which wouldn't really fit for a lay audience. So keep an eye on this space as well.

#MicroTwJC 49 Expanding the Genetic Alphabet

Recently scientists have achieved a feat the like of which has not been seen in billions of years, they have added new letters to the genetic alphabet of a living organism.  What did they do? How did they do it ? Is it too good to be true? All these questions, and more await.

#MicroTwJc 46: FtsZ placement in Bacterial cells

An In depth look at how bacteria divide in "FtsZ placement in Nucleoid Free Bacteria"!

Statistical Websites:
1-way ANOVA
Tukey's Honestly Significant Difference

Microbiology Twitter Journal Club Website for more details:

MicroTwJC 45: When Antibiotic Resistant Compete (A video presentation)

This summary of the latest Microbiology Twitter Journal Club is going to be different in two ways. Firstly, it's late. Secondly, it's a video. I noticed a while ago that my explanations of papers tended to end up longer than the papers themselves, and I decided to experiment. Here are the results


The Post Antibiotic Era will take your job away.

In 1934, The Los Angeles Milk Commission gave its employees devastating ultimatum- lose their tonsils or lose their jobs. When our antibiotics stop working, your employer may force you to make a similar choice; and they'd be right.
Infectious bacteria are developing resistances to our medicines at alarming rates, and we are entering a Post-Antibiotic Era. If you want to know how people will cope in this new era, the best place to look is in the past. In the era before antibiotics.
 In the early 1930's, scarlet fever and strep throat were much more common than they are today, and much more hazardous. In the worst case scenario, a sore throat could develop into full blown sepsis.
So when a report was published in 1931 describing 71 outbreaks of this disease that could be traced to one common factor, people paid attention. That common factor was milk contaminated with bacteria named Streptococcus epidemicus. These bacteria tended to infect the udders of cows, causing mastitis. Since the udders also happen to be where the milk was produced, bacteria inevitably spread to the milk.
Needless to say, these outbreaks needed to be brought under control.
That responsibility fell to the Los Angeles Milk Commission,  implemented a number of rules to prevent any more outbreaks occurring.
The first step was to find any dairy cows infected with the disease. Fortunately, there were already rules in place for this. Cows needed to be certified to be free of S. epidemicus, and any infected cows needed to be isolated from the rest of the herd.
Here is the problem. Both humans and cows could carry S.epidemicus. To control any outbreaks, the same restrictions that applied to cows had to apply to the humans who worked with them. Humans could carry S. epidemicus without any symptoms, and appearing perfectly healthy.
Out of a thousand employees tested, fifty were carriers. This was devastating. They could no longer be allowed to work, for the risk of them causing an outbreak was unacceptable. 
There were no available antibiotic treatments to allow these carriers to rid themselves of S.epidemicus, but that didn't mean there were no options. It was known at the time that S. epidemicus survived in human tonsils. If the tonsils were removed, then the bacteria would have nowhere to go, and die off.
In a quote from the Director of the milk commission:
"care is taken in each case to impress upon them that the procedure is not compulsory except that otherwise they must retire from employment at certified dairies"
Basically, the procedure was only compulsory if the workers wanted to keep their jobs.
Unsurprisingly, most of the workers chose to go through the operation.
But sixteen of the infected employees either refused to go through with it, or were refused on the basis of underlying health issues that could render such an operation life threatening. These people were forced out of their jobs, and any dairy in the area was given their details should they attempt to apply for another job in the milk industry. Essentially, they were blacklisted from the industry.
You can say it was cruel that employees were forced into this situation, and you're not wrong. But it was an awful dilemma, and one that is destined to repeat. In a world without antibiotics, people who become carriers of diseases may remain carriers for the rest of their lives. Through no fault of their own, these people will pose a threat to the rest of the population, and it will hurt their chances of working in certain jobs. Would you send your kid to a school where a teacher constantly infects their students with life threatening illness ? Or buy groceries from a man with chronic diarrhoea? Allow yourself to get treated by Typhoid Mary?

 None of those sixteen workers ever suffered any symptoms. They may spent their life working in the dairy industry, only to be cast aside. They at least had the option of getting surgery to prevent them from being carriers. Not all bacteria are polite enough to live solely within an easily removed organ. 
The Post-Antibiotic Era is coming, and it won't just affect "sick" people, it will have wider effects throughout society. If there is one lesson we can learn from this eighty year old paper, it is that you don't even have to be "sick" for bacteria to ruin your life.

*Streptococcus epidemicus is a defunct classification that tends to be refer to what would be called S. zooepidemicus these days, and S. pyogenes.

Bonynge C.W. (1934). Solution of the Streptococcus Carrier Problem *†, American Journal of Public Health and the Nations Health, 24 (10) 1031-1034. DOI:

TMI Friday: When you've literrally had your Chips

The victim of this weeks TMI friday didn't really do anything wrong. In fact, this is less of a TMI Friday than a FML Friday, but it's an odd story that perhaps you'll find interesting, and perhaps learn from.
Our story begins with a 42-year old gym teacher who had hurt her foot. She didn't exactly know what could have caused the pain, but the point was that it was there. She had been enduring it  for four weeks, and her doctor had given her painkillers to help her get over the pain.
But it wasn't enough, but there are other things people can do to relieve pain, such as wrapping something very cold in a towel and applying it to the afflicted area. It usually works pretty well.
That was what this lady did. She wrapped a bag of frozen chips in a towel and rested it upon her aching feet. But then she fell asleep.
When she awoke forty minutes later, she found that the pain had subsided, but that her foot had now become swollen and red. The next day, the foot became discoloured, and her doctor prescribed her a course of antibiotics. The day after, she was in the emergency room with what was described in the paper as "third degree frostbite".
Frostbite causes blood vessels to constrict, which helps the body to retain heat, but reduces the blood flow to the extremities. Your extremities need blood, so not getting it can be pretty bad for them. When it gets cold enough for layers of skin to freeze, the real trouble begins, because this can cause the cells to die off, and can lead to blisters.  In this particular case, the cold compress froze the nerves and muscles below the skin, causing them to die off.
This is why physicians recommend that you always try to put some layers of fabric between you and the cold surface,and that you should never put on a cold compress for more than 30 minutes. Also, Chips are for eating.

Graham C.A. Frozen chips: an unusual cause of severe frostbite injury, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 34 (5) 382-383. DOI:

TMI Friday: Frippery Furrows Fanny

Jewellery, body piercing and other such frippery are usually harmless. A ring here, a piercing there. Humans have been using these accoutrements for millenia without problems. at least, problems they'll admit to.
In this weeks case, we look at a young lady who repeatedly suffered from vaginal bleeding after sex. There was nothing wrong with her menstrual cycles, and there were no signs of bleeding outside of sex. 
She had been suffering with this problem for seven months.
Further examination of the lady's delicate area revealed abrasions and lacerations. 
She then admitted that her boyfriend wore penile jewellery of the ‘Prince Albert’ type. This information shed light on the aetiology of the post-coital bleeding as well as the bizarre vaginal ļ¬ndings
With this revealed, the doctors furnished the woman with the rather obvious advice that she should get her boyfriend to remove his penile adornments before the engaged in copulation*.

Esen U.I. & Orife S. (2006). Penile jewellery: a cause of post-coital bleeding, Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 26 (5) 483-484. DOI:
*I got a thesaurus for Christmas.  Apologies.

TMI Friday: How long ?

This weeks victim/perpetrator showed up to Hirosaki hospital with blood in his urine. The doctors spotted that he had a foreign body that had wormed it's way up into his bladder, but they couldn't quite work out what it was. An x-ray revealed five cm diameter blob, but how could such a large object get up there in the first place ?
The patient revealed the answer. His suffering began when he inserted a long vinyl tube up his urethra.
How long had it been there ?
Two years. 
How long was it ?
One and a half metres.
I don't know if the Guinness book of world records recognises the accomplishments of people who stuff things up their own schlongs, but if they did, I suspect the gentleman in this study could be a world record holder.
Just don't try to break his record at home. Or in public.

 Imai A., Suzuki Y., Hashimoto Y., Sasaki A., Saitoh H. & Ohyama C. (2011). A Very Long Foreign Body in the Bladder, Advances in Urology, 2011 1-2. DOI: