I got together with some of my homegirls from the research lab today and went out into the community to teach junior high age girls about how awesome microbiology is. This was part of the Seattle Expanding Your Opportunities program (SEYH) and is a workshop held every year for girls in the Seattle community that are interested in science.
We spent quite a bit of time preparing a one hour workshop (which we repeated three times) on some of the different aspects of bacteria - we explained what bacteria are (and what we do with them at our jobs), had the girls look at bacteria samples under a microscope, and guess where they are in the environment (and then look to see if they were right). We also did a couple of biochemical experiments to look at what bacteria produce - one bacteria (Flavobacterium) produces a color pigment that changes when you add acids or bases to it (like the Horse of a Different Color from the Wizard of Oz). Another bacteria (Bacillus) produces an enzyme called amylase that breaks down starch to make sugars (this is used to make ice cream!). And a third bacteria (Vibrio fischeri), my favorite, makes light. They played with each of these bacteria and we got to hear lots of squeals of delight and gasps of amazements when they saw what the bacteria could do. It was exhausting but very fun.
This is one of 50 plates we made for the glowy fish bacteria (Vibrio fischeri) that glows in the dark when it grows to the right stage (the glowing letters in the picture are made from bacteria). The girls all got to take home a plate of glowy bacteria to show off.
Glowy fish bacteria live on fish and glow in the dark in the ocean. They get nutrients from the fish to live, and in exchange they produce light for the fish. The angler fish in Finding Nemo uses glowy bacteria to attract unsuspecting prey (like Nemo's dad and Dora). The fish and the bacteria use each other for their own benefit, which is called a symbiotic relationship.