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TWiM 146 Letters

Jonathan writes:

Hello TWiM Team,

I'm sure it's a long shot but here's hoping for #12!

I was catching up on a SciFri podcast recently and came across this story and just had to share it with you all. (Dr. Racaniello, I think Dixon would also appreciate this but I'll leaving sharing it to your discretion.)

SciFri: Scientific Simplicity by Design


Hand-powered ultralow-cost paper centrifuge


50-cent microscope that folds like origami


Thank you all for such great work on the TWiM podcast. As an epidemiologist, I stumbled upon the TWiX series while looking for ways to stay up to date with research related to infectious diseases. I also was thrilled to find my alma mater (the University of Michigan) so strongly represented in both the TWiM and TWiV podcasts! Here's to many more podcasts from the TWiX series and lifelong learning. Thanks again! 


Anthony writes:

The widespread use of cotton clothing -- that allowed for aggressive washing, including boiling -- has been considered as a major advance in health.

The attached image of text is from here:

The Biology of Human Longevity:: Inflammation, Nutrition, and Aging in the Evolution of Lifespans

by Caleb E. Finch

Napoleon's invasion of Russia might have failed because of poor hygiene.

Evidence for Louse-Transmitted Diseases in Soldiers of Napoleon’s Grand Army in Vilnius


Tangentially, the 140F (60C) possibly scalding water temperature mentioned by Professor Schmidt is chosen to prevent Legionnaires' Disease: 


Much of everyday life is to ward off the pathology of everyday life.

On a separate note, here's something of possible interest for This Week in Insects:


Thank you.

Steve writes:


Hi Microphileaceae,

I happened across the above report of unfortunate Armenian folk being poisoned by botulinum toxin in 'homemade marinade', and was prompted to read more about the wondrous toxin and its bacterial producers.


I was astonished to see that this tiny, soil-living, organism, has managed to evolve toxins that interfere with a single neurotransmitter pathway of higher animals, in no fewer than seven different ways!

I know we aren't supposed to ask 'why' questions, but what on Earth (or in earth) does a soil-dwelling bacterium need with such a powerful and precisely targeted toxin against the nerves of creatures it would normally never meet? It is noted that the bacterium only produces the toxin whilst it is sporulating, so it can't be taken as a simple deterrant weapon against bacteria-eating worms.

I'd be interested to hear what the experts think as to how this particular bacterium, came to evolve such precision guided attack‎ weapons against higher animals. What do the bacteria gain by producing chemicals that attack nerve transmission in seven different ways?

Or is it just accidentally acquired genes evolving with a purpose of their own...


All the best,


Luton, England

Where the weather is, currently, nicely sunny, and very mild by your standards.

Some entries in book give-away:

Mike writes:

I love microbes. I really do! Even if I don't win the book though, I love the podcast and look forward to many more in the new year. Thank you for everything you guys do.



Erik writes:

Second entry, sorry. For my first entry I took it literally when you said send an email with the subject line 'I love microbes.' This entry I'm including a little thank you. I'm a water treatment operator who is entertained endlessly by your podcasts. Thank you all for what you do!

James writes:

Hey everyone,

Just found you all a year or so ago. Really enjoy listening despite much of the content being over my head.

I was a biology and chemistry double major at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Tx (graduated in 1987) and studied under Dr Vicente Villa and Dr Robert Soulen... both amazing professors. I was accepted to a Biology PhD program at Texas A&M but left after a semester to work in the Pharma world on the sales side.

I always loved microbiology and virology and was lucky enough to sell many antibiotics as well as a few antivirals. I always felt like I was teaching the doctors I called on a little bit more about those topics, it was a great career while it lasted (through 2013)!

Listening to your podcast helps me to feel current and still plugged in to that part of the medical and scientific community!

Thanks for all you guys do. Btw I just started listening to TWiP as well! Great job to you all!


Round Rock, Tx

Sean writes:

Hi TWIM Member’s,

Thank you for all your great work. We would use your new manuscript everyday here in our lab.



Sean E. Dunn ASCP(MB)

Arizona Department of Health Services

Public Health Scientist II

“The pure culture is the foundation for all research on infectious disease”. –Robert Koch

Gavin writes:

Hello TWIM folk,

I’m throwing my hat in the ring for the Manual of Clinical Microbiology. Also, I’ve noticed that a lot of listeners have suggested an insect podcast (an arthropodcast?). While this would be interesting, I’d like to put my two cents in and join the chorus of listeners who want more immunology. Audioimmunity hasn’t done anything since September. Thanks again for all the hard work.



Melissa writes:

I would love to receive a copy of the Manual of Microbiology to share with the lab at UCSD (crossing my fingers to be #19).

I've been listening to your podcasts since Dr. Pride introduced me to them when you spoke with him and Dr. Rohwer in TWiV. (I downloaded all of your old podcasts too and am now currently almost completely up to date in all of your podcast stations.)

Thank you for making these podcasts and keep it up. I really enjoy them all, especially TWiP.

Thank you,

Melissa Ly

from Dr. Pride's lab at UCSD

Victor writes:

Howdy y'all,

I am an avid listener and fan of the whole twix nation (not sure if that is spelled correctly). I average a hour commute each day on my commute from Cedar Park Tx to Austin Tx and am often times delighted to have a new podcast to listen to during the arduous journey.

I want to thank everyone for their time and effort they put into the podcast. Listening to Twip has helped me to discover that I want to pursue a career in medicine, specifically immunology.

I am wondering: would it be possible to have a podcast that talked about the clinical aspects of bacteria and viruses? I have a degree in Biology, with an emphasis in microbiology, and I was always interested in the clinical nature of microbes. You could even have a case study in the podcast, like twip. Just an idea.



Emory writes:

Hello Twim Team!

Thanks for all that you do, hope I'm lucky number 12.

I listen to all the Twix (just added Twevo) and am a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. Thanks for making this science accessible.

(Holding the impulse to send 11 other emails to up my chances)



Scott writes:

Hello TWiM!

Sending this email with hopes of winning the Color Atlas of Medical Bacteriology. Listener for a few months now. Although current research opportunities has pushed me out of the lab and directed me towards the clinical field, thank you for keeping me connected to the ever-so fascinating world of microbiology.

Sean writes:


Your podcast is awesome and has encouraged me to read more papers in my spare time. I've been sharing your podcast with my colleagues. Thank you and your team for all your hard work.

Marc writes:

An unqualified listener, but love your show.

You all work in a fascinating domain.

Regards - Marc

Jack writes:

Hey TWiMers,

I'm currently finishing up my undergraduate at UCLA and interviewing for graduate school this cycle. I just wanted to say I really enjoy your podcast, particularly during hours working in a BSC. It has been very helpful during interviews and just in general keeping up with wider microbiology world.

Best Wishes,



TWiM 144 Letters

Kayla writes:

Hey there TWIM team

I am a Veterinary Microbiologist in Cork in Ireland!

Long time listener of all the TWIX series and I love everyone of them.

I work in a diagnostic lab in cork and the only thing that gets me through the day is your podcasts and buckets of tea.

Thanks for the wonderful podcasts :)


Justin writes:

Hello TWiM crew,

I listen to all the TWiX family, but TWiM happens to be my favorite, closely followed by TWiEvo.  Here's hoping I'm #19!  Hope yinz (Pittsburgh plural of you) have a fantastic 2017!

Justin Waldern
Ph.D. Student
Belford Lab
University at Albany, SUNY

Zach writes:

Hey Twim team,

Love the podcast. Keep up the good work!


Teresa writes:

I'm sending this e-mail and hope to be the lucky recipient of the two volume book Manual of Clinical Microbiology.

I am a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner practicing in a group practice in Southern California. I subscribe to TWIM, TWIV, and TWIP.  I find all of these to be quite enjoyable and informative.

Of note, I recently attended a Pediatric conference last year and one of the Speakers was Michael E. Pickering, MD who is the Director of Rochester General Hospital Research institute and Research Professor in the Health Sciences and Technology at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York.  One of his lectures was "It's in the nose:   Pathogenesis and immunity".  He presented the research on the microbiome of the nasopharynx and the innate immune response there.  I know more research from his department is on going and hopefully you and your colleagues at TWIM will keep a lookout for research papers about this exciting research and it's practical application to practice guidelines for care.

Now I'm off to enjoy my sunny 58 degree weather and look forward to continued listening you podcasts.


Josh writes:

Greetings TWIMers!

I just listened to your most recent episode of TWIM (#143), and definitely want to stake my claim for the free book.

Because I don’t want to just send a blank email with only a subject, I just want to say that I’ve loved your show, and have been a dedicated listener for about a year now. I’m a graduate student in the Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology program at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and I’m currently rotating in Erin Goley’s lab, which studies the biochemistry of FtsZ. I love your TWIIX series for all the interesting papers you bring up; they occasionally provide really cool papers for me to bring up in journal club.

Thanks for being awesome.


Wan writes:

Dear twimers,

I'm here to try my luck in the contest. There probably hasn't been 19 emails yet(?) but I missed the past few contests on the other twi podcasts so I'd rather send in this email sooner than later.

Thanks for hosting this really engaging podcast. It has taught me a lot of microbiology while keeping my mind engaged while working in the lab.

Look forward to an exciting twi year ahead.

Best Regards,
Wan Yi From Singapore


TWiM 143 Letters

Peter writes:

Greetings TWiM Team

Thinking about the revised estimates for the number of bacterial and human cells in the body from 10:1 to about 1:1, I was wondering what the microbiome cell to self cells ratio is for different species.

I presume that it would depend on diet with herbivores  having a higher proportion of microbial cells than omnivores and that omnivores would have a higher proportion of microbial cells than  carnivores. I would guess that the smallest gut microbiome  would belong to humming birds that exist on nectar and insects.

Has the size and diversity of the microbiomes of different species ever been investigated?


Roman writes:

Dear TWIM hosts,

Love your podcast, keep it up.

Could you give me a name or link to the sound track you use? You say it's by Ronald Jenkees, but it is still hard to find.



Intro: Remix to a Remix from his first cd, Ronald Jenkees.

Outro: Stay Crunchy from Disorganized Fun

Find them at ronaldjenkees.com


TWiM 142 Letters

Carole writes:

Dear Vincent and hosts of TWIM,

I am a long time listener and fan of your weekly TWIM podcasts. I really enjoyed the latest episode in which you discussed a paper by Kelly Wrighton and colleagues, and was especially happy to hear you talk about chemistry! On that note I'm writing to tell you and your listeners about a seminar series entitled the Chemistry of Microbiomes, organized by the Chemical Sciences Round Table of the National Academies of Sciences. In separate workshops the series addressed Earth, Marine and Human Microbiomes, and we were fortunate to have Kelly Wrighton speak at the Earth Microbiome seminars. The talks have been archived at https://nas-sites.org/csr/the-chemistry-of-microbiomes-earth-seminar/ . If you tune in next Wednesday, Dec. 7, you can watch the final talks of the series in the All Systems seminar to be held in Washington DC. http://nas-sites.org/csr/the-chemistry-of-microbiomes-all-systems-seminar/  Listeners can email or tweet questions during the talks.

Wishing all of you happy holidays.


Mark writes:

Hi Michele

I am that rare thing, a British baseball fan (and ASM member), and I have been rooting for the Cubbies this last post-season.  On top of their amazing win, my American post-doc, Morgan Feeney, just pointed out that, in the very early 1900’s, before they were called the Cubs, the Chicago NL team were briefly called the Chicago Microbes (due most likely to Chicago’s famously bad sewage system of 120 years ago – basically the river).

Take a look at this link:


Also the attached newspaper clipping.

Best wishes!


Professor Mark J. Buttner

Head, Department of Molecular Microbiology

John Innes Centre



Supti writes:

Hello I had a question regarding specialized transduction, what are the consequences of the portion of the genome of phage which remains attached to bacterial chromosomes as a result of faulty excision? I mean does it lead to any kind of useful mutation?

Thank you


TWiM 141 Letters

Tom writes:

For the article letter about microbial batteries, I think CV refers to Capacitance times Voltage, which is stored charge. In electronics, current is abbreviated I not C.

The claim in the letter got me thinking about microbial batteries and I wrote a blog post about their theoretical capacity. They have potential!



Nancy writes:

Hello TWIM team,

Since discovering you all I have been binge listening to TWIP and TWIM. Most enjoyable to listen to the discussions and very good leavening for the mind.

The point I wish to make seems so blindingly obvious that I hesitated to write to you about protecting patients from infections in the hospital. All this hand sanitizing and of its cleaning goes on but where is the attention paid to the patients' hands?

There is no hand sanitizer offered before meals or on hand by the patients' beds. I have not seen this visiting my local hospital as patient or visitor.

Maybe I am completely wrong and this protocol is in place  but if not this is a big missing component.

Thanks for the hours and hours of fascinating knowledge.



TWiM 137 Letters

Daniel writes:

Long time listener, first time writer. It has been far too long for me to offer my sincere gratitude for the podcasts. Some years ago I was a welder working a very boring job and I managed to get through my day by listening to podcasts and lectures. These podcasts and lectures convinced me to give up my boring day job and go to the excitement of university. There I progressed in biochemistry and developed a love for science, and went on to a Masters and am now working on my pHD. You can’t imagine the excitement and fulfillment when I heard our paper was featured on your podcasts (That one about diderms and monoderms). All that work seems to have paid off and it truly feels like I am a real scientists now.

So thank you!

I feel I need to give a shout out to my pHD program. The pasteur institute has an international pHD program where they call for applicants every year and provide an amazing 3-year pHD program. This institute is probably one of the best for doing science and I couldn’t picture a better pHD. Here is a link:

As for our paper thanks for the nice overview. To address Dr. Schaechter’s comments about seeing how the systems compare between E. coli and the Negativicutes I have this for you:

First of all remember E. coli is one of the most “evolved” bacteria there is. They have a large genome and incredibly complex systems (probably not the best model system due to that, but that’s history). See attached tree (It is pretty rough, so don’t make a big deal about the deep nodes, Monoderm phyla in grey, No root so don’t pay attention to what is ancient). The Negativicutes are so extremely distant that it is amazing they posses the same systems and any genomic synteny. However with the pili (some supplemental figures in the paper) it is clearly the same system. The BAM/TAM system is drastically different and matches the more closely related Fusobacteria, and other Terrabacteria beautifully. We have a lot more to say on this story and we will have more fun articles coming months :)

Daniel Poppleton

Anthony writes:


Climate influence on Vibrio and associated human diseases during the past half-century in the coastal North Atlantic.


TWiM 136 Letters

Steve writes:

Hi Microbophiles,

Here's an interesting little historic snippet from The Lancet.
Venerable bacteria: In another interesting history of science piece, The Lancet gets bully over Koch's bovine TB samples--but not over the tragedy of him advising that this form of the pathogen was not significant for human health, and thus delayed the introduction of basic meat and milk hygiene and testing.


It seems that the good and the great nearly always put their foot in it somewhere!

All the best,


Where it has been hot and sticky for some days (and nights: most people don't have air conditioning in UK homes.).   Incidentally: how does one get black mould stains out of pillowcases? Yes: that sticky!  :/

Anthony writes:


"The plague of 1665-1666 was the last major outbreak of bubonic plague in Britain, killing nearly a quarter of London's population.
It's taken a year to confirm initial findings from a suspected Great Plague burial pit during excavation work on the Crossrail site at Liverpool Street.
About 3,500 burials have been uncovered during excavation of the site.
In Germany, molecular palaeopathologist Kirsten Bos drilled out the tooth pulp to painstakingly search for the 17th century bacteria, finally obtaining positive results from five of the 20 individuals tested from the burial pit.
"We could clearly find preserved DNA signatures in the DNA extract we made from the pulp chamber and from that we were able to determine that Yersinia pestis was circulating in that individual at the time of death," she said.
"We don't know why the Great Plague of London was the last major outbreak of plague in the UK and whether there were genetic differences in the past, those strains that were circulating in Europe to those circulating today; these are all things we're trying to address by assembling more genetic information from ancient organisms."

Steve writes:

Hi TWiM team,

Just to say thanks for your interesting discussion of the points I raised regarding uses of gut gas analysis/fingerprinting, and hand hygiene in the context of declining use of copper coinage.

One or two of my points weren't expressed very well:

I hadn't intended to convey the sense of a general increase in the spread of infectious diseases‎, but more in the increase and spread of antibiotic resistant strains. The widespread use of antibiotics and antiseptics in hand and surface cleaners has, most likely, produced the general decline in infection that the team noted, but, previously, there would have been a good deal of copper in circulation on people's hands in addition; and bacteria on the fingers would frequently be brought directly into contact with copper metal, which would kill them before they could be passed on. This may have held back the spread of antibiotic resistance.

It does strike me, that, from what I hear in your podcasts, antibiotic resistance does not have to arise denovo very frequently: it is a part of the general  variation which just needs to be selected by knocking out the‎ remainder. Also, you have noted that horizontal transfer, even between unrelated bacterial species, begins almost immediately, when they are mixed  together. Given this, it seems to me that antibiotic resistance has taken a surprising long time to spread and become a major health concern. It could be, that the metals in our environment were holding it back, until recently, when our metal pipes and handrails were replaced with plastic and plastic coatings, and we reduced our use of coins in favour of plastic cards, paper, and electronic transactions.

The second remark--about mosquito's stance on it's legs--left me puzzled as to why it wasn't understood by the team. Having spent many a night scanning my walls and ceilings for nearly invisible mozzies, that whine in one's ear, as soon as the light is turned off, and then vanish again when it's turned back on, I had become very familiar with the, two back legs in the air‎, stance of the common mosquitoes, here.


I had assumed this was a general thing among those that hold themselves at an angle to the surface, but, following your team's confusion, I checked more Google images, and see that there are, indeed, as many pictures where all six legs are used, as there are of those where the back legs are held aloft or just left loose. I don't know how many species I'm looking at though.

One could imagine that the back legs might be needed for purchase while the proboscis was penetrating the skin, but then can be relaxed as‎ grip is transferred to the proboscis itself; but those on my walls hold their back legs aloft though they are not feeding, so it seems to be a preference, or have a specific purpose.   I had speculated that the raised legs may serve as aids to sensing air currents, and so contribute to the mozzie's uncanny ability to avoid swatting hands! Possibly the stripy legs of some species could be used in signalling too.

Anyhow, I have always found this stance an interesting observation. I further note, that the same places where the mozzies land, are frequented by Pholcus 'daddy long legs' spiders, but they rarely get caught. Both the spider and the mozzie have the same habit of doing high speed push-ups on their spindly legs, from time to time. I hope it's not catching!  :)

Hope this explains my points a bit better.
Many thanks for your, always thought provoking, podcasts.

(Weather now uniformly grey, cool, and still.)

Vincent: I asked Kristen Bernard at UW-Madison:

Mosquitoes often don't use the last pair of legs, but will use all six for balance especially once blood fed.


TWiM 135 Letters

Reed writes:

Dear Vincent, Elio, Michael, and Michelle,

I've just recently finished TWiM number 133 and wanted to comment about the use of the term "secondary metabolite" throughout the episode and often in the primary literature. Michael pointed out that a secondary metabolite is a molecule that is produced by an organism as it reaches stationary phase.

This is actually one of several characteristics that are used to define what a secondary metabolite is. Other common features are that secondary metabolites are "small" molecular weight compounds, they are not involved in the normal growth of an organism, and that they are dispensable for growth and fitness of the producing organism.

However, while many of these molecules are non-essential under laboratory conditions, they may be critical for survival under natural conditions. For example, siderophores are critical for scavenging iron under iron-replete conditions. Pyocyanins produced by Pseudomonas aeruginosa are involved in redox homeostasis. Bacillaene produced by Bacillus subtilis is essential for defense against lysis caused by Streptomyces sp. Mg1 and predation by Myxococcus xanthus. Lugdunin highlighted in the episode is another such case.

Additionally, many of these molecules are produced during multiple growth phases and are not exclusively limited to stationary phase. Taken together, these few examples illustrate that secondary metabolites may be far from "secondary" in their physiological importance. It is for these reasons and more that many have taken to calling these wonderful molecules "specialized metabolites"!

Thank you for the podcast!

Anthony writes:

He withered away for 7 years. Doctors didn’t realize his passion was killing him.

According to the paper, when doctors initially tried diagnosing the man’s illness, they overlooked his daily hobby: playing the bagpipes.
Tests conducted on the man’s bagpipes found a slew of fungi and yeast living inside the musical instrument.
Inside the air bag was a mixture of Paecilomyces variotti, Fusarium oxysporum, Rhodotorula mucilaginosa,and Penicillium species. In a petri dish, they formed a psychedelic swirl of green, orange and red mold.
Henrik writes:


thanks for providing so much information!

I have a mast cell activation syndrome and recently was by Prof. Dr De Meirleir in Brussel to look for chronic infections as a possible cause for mast cell dysfunction. He found that I have positive serology for Tularemia, so it seems that I was in contact with the any of the F. organisms.

He did some follow up tests I will only get to know next month.

My question is: Can the organism F.T. establish chronic infections or will the host either always die or kill the pathogen completely?

Thank you very much,


I asked Katy Bosio:

There have been a few reports of chronic infections with Tularemia, but I think those were largely restricted to the early days of antibiotic therapy (see Public Health Reports, 1926, 41:1341) and were symptomatic.  They also started with a known exposure to F. tularensis.

It sounds as though the listener may be asking if F. tularensis can cause sub-clinical disease, i.e. infection without detected signs of illness.  There is not much data on this either, but there have been some reports suggesting that it is possible (Emerging Infectious Diseases, 2010, 16(2); Emerging Infectious Diseases, 2015, 21(12)).  


Catharine (Katy) M. Bosio, PhD
Senior Investigator
Immunity to Pulmonary Pathogens Section
Laboratory of Bacteriology
Rocky Mountain Laboratories
Hamilton, MT


TWiM 134 Letters

Nathan writes:
Dear Vincent, Elio, Michele & Michael,
Thank you all for the wonderful podcast!  It’s a great gift to humanity and science communication.  It would be great if you could discuss the really interesting paper by Din et al recently published in Nature.  TWiV listeners know about viral-based anti-cancer therapies and successes such as Amgen’s T-Vec.  Now here’s a bacterial based approach.
Keep on podcasting.
Nathan in Chapel Hill

Cindy writes:

Hi TWiMmers,
I'm finally writing to say how much I enjoy your podcast after a year of listening. I was just listening to the latest episodes for a while because I'm lazy and you have years of podcasts to go through... but you weren't updating fast enough to satiate my appetite. I have been going through your feed for the last couple of weeks (while still listening to the latest updates) and cannot believe the goodies I've been missing out on! I considered #11 to be my favorite until I listened to #131 just today. I try to take anything about the microbiome with a grain of salt, as Elio suggests, but find myself picking my jaw off the ground after each episode that focuses on it. The way you TWiMers present the data and explain the experiments (either good or bad) make them easy to understand for us laymen/women. I knew nothing about bacteria other than there are really gross ones in bathrooms until this last year when I decided to go back to school for a marketing degree and fell in love the first time I looked through a microscope. I'm 27, a first year college student, mother of one, starting a career in Microbiology from scratch and still can listen to your podcast with some understanding because of how well you present it. Every episode I listen to keeps me hungry for more and so intensely curious about the world that is all around us and is so vitally important, as we continue to find out, that I sometimes finish an episode almost giddy with excitement over the work that is being done. Episode #131 is one of those episodes. Thanks for taking the time to spread the good word that is science and thanks for keeping it accessible.

Keep up the good work!

Steve writes:

Hi Microbies,

A research snippet mentioned in this week's Lancet, prompts me to get in touch with a couple of questions I've been meaning to run by the team:

Firstly: I've been wondering, while reading and hearing of all the remarkably technological work going into characterising the gut microbiota by brute force processing, why I never hear of 'gut gas fingerprinting', as a more simple method of characterising the makeup and activity/health of both the microbiota, and the host?

It seems to me, that a 'cheap and cheerful'‎ GCMS readout from a fresh faecal sample, could actually prove to be a very useful diagnostic and research tool--particularly so, if trace gas composition could be associated with particular microbial communities and disease conditions. Maybe microbiome researchers should routinely do GCMS on their samples when they do their PCR etc: it could reap great rewards as the data mounts up.

This actually struck me, when I was listening to Dickson discussing the 'foul smelling diarrhoea' associated with Giardiasis: most people probably think that all faeces smell foul, so how is the patient to describe degrees of foulness? This could be quite important to me, as I am disabled by severe bloating in combination with severe cramping in the small intestines, but, there seems to be no way on offer from doctors, to find out what is going on, other than occult blood tests and x-rays that show nothing.‎ Colon checks out OK, but what of the rest?

I've had breath tests that were indicative of overgrowth, but not of what by (This did not respond to penicillin antibiotics.).  At the same time 'normal' bowel movements can give off a powerful, almost petrochemical/mercaptan odour, which, most certainly is foul.   It seems to me, that routine GCMS‎ fingerprinting, could remove the uncertainties associated with describing odours, and be a valuable aid to diagnosis and identification of problems in hard to reach places.

The article that reminded me to ask about this, was actually on the issue as to whether, or how much, microbial gases 'control us'‎ by the production of 'gasotransmitters', so it looks as if gas and trace gas analysis could determine good biomarkers for all manner of purposes.  

Come to think of it, I do remember that someone was trying to develop an 'artificial nose' for detecting disease states in similar manner to the dogs that we hear of that can smell skin cancers. So gas/VOC sampling, both internal and external, surely should be getting at least as much attention from microbiologists as whole microbiome DNA, proteome, etc. sequencing?

What do you think?


Secondly: I've been listening to your various conversations on hand washing and ‎the problems attendant on trying to control spread of infections. I've been meaning to ask two things:

1: How the heck does anyone clean under fingernails, when most bathrooms do not seem to contain nail brushes, and the brushes available in shops become like the one in the attached picture, very quickly?  The only way I've ever really got my nails clean was with a high pressure flat jet on the garden hose--which is not really practical indoors. Perhaps there is scope for some kind of bathroom jet nail cleaner? Or an entire rethink of the bathroom basin to make it an enclosed device for jet-sterilising hands only.

2: For Michael:  As a child, I remember being, frequently, told to wash my hands after handling money (which in those days meant big coins), because 'you don't know where it's been'. Despite this, most kids would have a few big copper coins in their pockets, most of the time, and be continually handling them with sweaty fingers (Especially holding them still while running!).   

Children, and a good many parents, would have had copper, silver, and brass in appreciable concentrations in the sweat of their hands, almost all the time.‎ Far from being agents of disease spread, it seems likely that the universal use of copper and silver coinage must have played a big part in the prevention of disease spread.

(Actually, a lot of people don't even seem to like pockets these days, so that might be another confounding factor I hadn't considered. Perhaps the answer is to make mobile phone covers of copper: phones rarely leave most people's hands?)

In addition to this, there was pretty much universal use of copper and brass for door handles, hand rails, curtain rails, door push plates, pots and pans, keys and locks...   We were constantly charging ourselves up with microbe killers wherever we went, and this was obvious from the beautiful sheen/patina on 'public metal'‎ created by the touch and sweat of many thousands of hands.   How quickly those coins went dull and green when left at the back of drawers...   (How easy it is to recall the taste of copper! My mouth waters at the thought! I wonder if today's children know that taste?)

So, it seems quite plausible to me, that the switch to paper and plastic money and electronic transactions, and away from the best metal in the coinage that remains, coupled with the near disappearance of decent metal door and window 'furniture'‎, bathroom plumbing, and handrails, could be the single most contributive cause of the modern spread of diseases, by contact.

What does the team think?

Your very good health.


At a sticky 24C, as it's better than opening windows and letting mozzies in!  (Ooh: Which reminds me: Why do they have 6 legs when they only use 4?  :) )


TWiM 133 Letters

Arthur writes:

Hello TWIMers!

I'm a graduate student working in mycoplasmology and I  must say I've been overjoyed to hear the past few episodes mention our tiny friends!

Elio's mention of their unique mechanism of moving ("Gliding Motility") made me think of a recent paper from the group in Japan under Dr. Miyata - you may find the paper quite interesting (attached)! They've done a lot of work on mycoplasma motility, and local US researchers such as Dr. Mitch Balish at Miami University also have made great advances in this field.

In discussion of the Mip/Mib system, one thing that has caused some head scratching in our lab has been why the microbe cleaves the Fab portion rather than the Fc? The human species (M. genitalium and M. pneumoniae) don't have the serine protease (at least based on homology searches) and bind to IgG nonspecifically - it makes you wonder why the microbe has conserved that binding protein? Quite a neat area that needs more work!

Thanks for such an interesting podcast and keeping me preoccupied during my hours in the mouse facility!

Warmest Regards,



Frank writes:

Dear Drs. of TWIM,

Two observations on pili conduction.

TWIM #51 featured Hazel Barton discussing her discoveries of microbial excavation of caves.  Barton’s comments on the role of Geobacter electron transport in speleogenesis would be very interesting.

Secondly bio-batteries would seem to be far ahead of their time.  These energy sources that are so valuable to low C/V biological systems are likely not going to be useful in our crude, relatively high C/V electronics.  I have to imagine that our current electronic technology will eventually discover and utilize biomolecular processes to accomplish computing and communication.  At that time, bio-batteries will come into critical use and we can start to approximate the complexity and elegance of multicellular organisms.

August Gloom pervades the northern California coast where the temperature is Ugh point 7 (15.5C) and the humidity is only a optical tease of much needed falling water.
Thanks for all the education.  Your importance can’t be overestimated!

Best Regards,

Aptos, CA


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