Moselio Schaechter

  • The purpose of this blog is to share my appreciation for the width and depth of the microbial activities on this planet. I will emphasize the unusual and the unexpected phenomena for which I have a special fascination... (more)

    For the memoirs of my first 21 years of life, click here.

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December 13, 2010

Retrospective, December 2010

This blog is now entering its fifth calendar year, surely a respectable age for a blog, perhaps bordering on the venerable. With the passage of time, our blend of posts has included more and more contributions from guest writers, some from young students, others from experienced and distinguished microbiologists. In other words, this blog has become a bit of a forum where people of different backgrounds and experience can share their excitement for the world of small things. We hope that as this blog enters its next year it will continue to provide you with microbial joys.

As is our tradition, we present here a lightly annotated list that includes most of our posts from the past half year.


False colorized influenza viruses in DCK cells.
Credit: Centers for Disease Control/C. Goldsmith,
J. Katz, and S. Zaki. Source.


Physical VirologyManuel Sanchez tells us how physical measurement can be carried out on a single virus particle, revealing differences in how far a virus can be pushed around. We borrowed this piece from his blog, Curiosidades de la Microbiología.

Tales of DeathSome Bacteria have turned the burden of viral infection into an opportunity. They have co-opted the elaborate phage tail structures for their own use, for killing specific target Bacteria and, sometimes, even larger game.

 A Giant Among GiantsMimivirus made a big splash, but a whole host of giant viruses have been found, mostly in aquatic environments, and more are being discovered all the time. Their genomes carry hundreds of genes, many of them unexpected for a virus.

A Fastidious BacteriophageMichael Yarmolinsky brings back phage Chi from near oblivion. This coliphage attaches to a host's flagellum and then makes its way to the cell surface, taking advantage of the flagellar rotation.

Dr. Rous’s Prize-Winning Chicken.  Welkin Johnson celebrates the 100th anniversary of Peyton Rous's discovery of an oncogenic virus, now known as the Rous sarcoma virus.

When the End Is the StoryWelkin Johnson tells us that HHV-6 is unique among human hespesviruses in being integrated into our chromosomes. Not only that, it prefers the telomeres!

Promiscuous Bacteria & Viral PlayboysOccasionally, phages carry bacterial genes from host to host—one of the mechanisms for horizontal gene transfer between Bacteria. Looking at single bacterial cells, researchers found that genes were delivered more often than we realized, and even to non-hosts.




Uncovering Beauty in Proteins to Fight the Pneumococcal Fratricides. César Sanchez let us borrow a piece from his blog Twisted Bacteria where he discussed how competent pneumococci induce their non-competent brethren to commit suicide.

Siblings Strike AgainMarvin Friedman tell us that a soil bacterium, Panebacillus dendritiformis, makes a small protein that inhibits growth of adjacent colonies.

Cheap ExportsUniv. of Michigan graduate student Daniel Smith explains how he discovered that proteins meant for export contain more of the amino acids that are energetically cheaper to make.

The Ins & Outs of Those Mysterious MicrocompartmentsDo you feel a bit mystified by carboxysomes, Pdu microcompartments, and other such subcellular structures? Alan Derman makes them crystal clear.


Haeckel’s evolution of man. Source.


Fattening Up Microbial Geological BiomarkersSterol-like compounds, the hopanoids, survive in rocks for billions of year. Paula Welander explains how studying the present day hopanoids helps us to decipher their messages as evolutionary markers.

The Flying CowA rare bird there is that has a rumen-like crop, with rumen-like microbiome and all.

Trees—Phylogenetic & Real The cyttarias, fungi of the Southern Hemisphere, have coevolved with their host trees, the Southern beeches. How appropriate that Darwin described them!

Plasmalogens Have Evolved TwiceHoward Goldfine explains that plasmalogens (ether-linked phospholipids) evolved separately in anaerobic bacteria and protists.

The Sea Slug's Guide to Plastid AdoptionOne meal of plastids provides a young sea slug with an in-house photosynthesizing partner for life. Makes one wonder where the genes needed for plastid maintenance are lurking.

Fine Reading: The Sex Habit of FungiIf you’ve been confused by the sex habits of fungi with their multitude of mating types, here’s your chance to un-confuse!

Terms & Conditions


Of Terms in Biology

Bacterial PloidyThis is a term that has been applied to Bacteria with various meanings, something we tried to clarify here.

Monophyletic, Paraphyletic...  Our fellow blogger, Psi Wavefunction (Skeptic Wonder), explains, with diagrams.


One Symbiont Is Good, Two Are Better: The Forever Fascinating Story of the Leaf-Cutting Ants and Their BacteriaThese proto-farmers depend on selective biological fungicides to preserve the purity of their crops. Such compounds are made by both old associates and newly acquired actinomycetes.

Color Me AphidAphids have acquired genes for making carotenoid pigments from symbiotic fungi.

Microbial MatchmakersFor fruit flies, diet can change their microbiota; a change in the microbiota can alter their mating preferences.


H. pylori Source.


The Twist in the StoryKevin Young tells us that the helical shape of Helicobacter is a virulence factor. No wonder he loves bacterial shapes. See here

Bacterial Physiology and Virulence: The Cultures ConvergeFred Neidhardt discusses the fascinating connection between the alarmone, ppGpp, and bacterial pathogenesis

Listeria’s Visiting CardDaniel Portnoy’s lab discovered a novel signaling compound, cyclic-di-AMP, and clarified something about its role in pathogenesis.

Our Counterintelligence StaphGraduate students Karen Schwarzberg, Mike Gurney, and Nikos Gurfield discuss how Staph epi inhibits Staph aureus, a protease being the culprit.




Riding the Spore WindMushrooms disperse their spores by forcibly discharging them. In some cup fungi, some of the spores help others travel further by creating a bid of wind.

Commuting to WorkIn the coastal waters off Chile grow huge mats of sheathed, sulfide-oxidizing bacteria, covering astoundingly large areas.

Marine Snow: Dead Organisms and Poop as Manna in the Ocean.  Graduate student and blogger Hannah Waters tells us of the riches that descend to the bottom of the oceans, including excreta and cadavers.

Biofilms Over Troubled WatersMark Martin describes the thin surface layer on the ocean that provides a habitat for oil-degrading microbes.

An Inactive Mine Provides Active OpportunitiesThe highly acidic outflow from an old mine in California is a heaven for metagenomicists. Plenty of novel Archaea there.

Power of TenYou’ve often heard that our body has 10 times more bacteria than human cells. Where does this estimate come from?

The Uncultured BacteriaKim Lewis approaches the apparent non-cultivability of most bacteria by showing that, with an understanding of bacterial physiology, much ingenuity, and lots of patience, many more species will grow in the lab.

Small Things: First Responders to Oil SpillsJay Grimes and Ron Atlas wasted no time in explaining the role that microbes are likely to play in cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010.



Odds & Ends

Good Writing Beats Bad Writing, Most Any DaySurprisingly, one of us maintains that scientific writing has improved in recent years. Let’s hope it’s actually true.

Making Science PersonalAmy Vollmer shares a wonderful experience—how she brought non-science professors into her lab for the summer.

Hello Again, MetabolismAmy Vollmer cannot let go of her love for central metabolism and explains why it still must be taught.

Microbiology in the Andes: Ancient and Unexpected  In the 17th century, an early university in Quito, Ecuador, was a premier center of learning in Latin America.

Comments on the "Synthetic Cell."  Bernard Strauss recalls previous examples of life creation.

It’s a Book!  Microbes matter to coral reefs, according to the recent book by Forest Rohwer (and Merry).

Of Ancient Curses, Microbes, and the ASMOn the occasion of her ascendancy to the ASM presidency, Bonnie Bassler shares with us her thoughts and insights about matters microbiological.



Such a fantastic resource for educators, and for people (like me) who are eternally afraid that they will miss something weird and wonderful in the microbial world! Hats off (literally) to Elio and Merry!

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