I started my first podcast, This Week in Virology, in September 2008, together with Dickson Despommier, father of the Vertical Farm. Although I viewed the creation of a science podcast as an experiment, I was surprised when people began to listen. Since then I have created five other podcasts, scattered at different websites. Now you can find all of them at MicrobeTV.
MicrobeTV is a podcast network for people who are interested in the life sciences. More specifically, the podcasts of MicrobeTV use conversations among scientists as teaching tools. Although I have been a research scientist my entire career, I have also had opportunities to teach graduate students, medical students, and undergraduate students. A long time ago I realized that I love to teach, and my podcasts are the outside-the-classroom expression of that sentiment.
My original idea behind TWiV was to teach virology to the broader public by recording conversations among scientists. The success of this approach led me to create This Week in Parasitism, This Week in Microbiology, Urban Agriculture, and This Week in Evolution, all of which can now be found at MicrobeTV.
You may ask why I do so many podcasts. The answer is simple – because I love talking about science and teaching others about this amazing field that makes our lives better. I could not do all these podcasts without my terrific co-hosts. I am also grateful to the American Society for Microbiology for their assistance and support for many years, especially Chris Condayan and Ray Ortega and the Communications Department.
MicrobeTV is the home for all of the podcasts that I have produced (and there are more to come!). But I’d also like to use MicrobeTV as a platform to showcase other science shows. The requirements are few: you should be passionate about your subject, you should have a great relationship with your audience, and your podcast audio must be excellent. If you are interested in joining MicrobeTV, send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Science and technology play important roles in the nature and quality of our lives, so it is not surprising that as a society, we are increasingly challenged by problems that have a scientific component. Individual decisions about vaccines, regional choices about water availability, or global agreements about climate change all require that science have a voice during the decision-making process. The microbial sciences touch upon such a wide range of issues that scientists in those fields are particularly relevant to these discussions. If scientists do not participate in these dialogues, then others will fill the void and the information may not be accurate or science based. Scientists must communicate about science with public audiences in order for members of the public to make informed decisions about the complex issues that face us in our technologically advanced society.
Bacteria frequently grow in communities called biofilms, which are aggregates of cells and polymers. An example of a biofilm is the dental plaque on your teeth. Biofilms are medically important as they can allow bacteria to persist in host tissues and on catheters, and confer increased resistance to antibiotics and dessication. Therefore understanding how biofilms form is crucial for controlling microbial infections. An advance in our understanding of biofilms formation is the observation that filamentous phages help them assemble, and contribute to their fundamental properties.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an important human pathogen which is a particular problem in patients with cystic fibrosis. The ability of this bacterium to form biofilms in the lung is linked to its ability to cause chronic infections. Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms contain large numbers of filamentous Pf bacteriophages (pictured; image credit). These viruses lyse cells and release DNA, which becomes one component of the biofilm matrix.
Mixing supernatants of P. aeruginosa cultures with hyaluronan, which is present in airways of cystic fibrosis patients, resulted in the formation of a biofilm – in the absence of bacteria. A major component of P. aeruginosa biofilms was found to be Pf bacteriophages. When purifed Pf bacteriophages were mixed with hyaluronan, biofilms formed. Similar biofilms also formed when the filamentous bacteriophage fd of E. coli was mixed with hyaluronan. Mixtures of Pf bacteriophages and various polymers (alginate, DNA, hyaluronan, polyethylene glycol) formed liquid crystals (matter in a state between a liquid and a solid crystal).
Pf phages were detected in sputum from patients with cystic fibrosis, but not in uninfected patients. Addition of Pf phage to sputum from patients infected with P. aeruginosa made the samples more birefringent, a property of liquid crystals. Compared with a strain of P. aeruginosa that does not produce Pf phage, colonies of virus-producing strains formed liquid crystals. These observations indicate that Pf phage help organize the bacteria into a biofilm matrix.
Some features of biofilms include their ability to adhere to surfaces, to protect bacteria from dessication, and to increase resistance to antibiotics. Addition of phage Pf increased biofilm adhesion and tolerance against dessication. Such addition also made the biofilm more resistant to aminoglycoside antibiotics, because these were sequestered in the biofilm. No phage-mediated increased resistance to ciprofloxacin was observed, probably because this antimicrobial does not interact with polyanions of the biofilm as do aminoglycosides.
These results show that presence of bacteriophage in a biofilm of P. aeruginosa helps organize the matrix while contributing to some of its fundamental properties. It seems likely that filamentous phages of other bacteria will play roles in biofilm formation, suggesting that targeting the phages in these matrices could be effectie strategies for treating biofilm infections.
ASM Live will be broadcast from ICAAC/ICC 2015 in San Diego, CA, where host Michael Schmidt, PhD, Professor and Vice Chairman of Microbiology and Immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina, and co-host of This Week in Microbiology, will interview researchers about their work.
I usually don’t post TWiM episodes here, but #90 has a lot of virology. In this episode, recorded in La Jolla, CA at the annual meeting of the Southern California Branch of the American Society for Microbiology, I first speak with Laurene Mascola, Chief of Acute Communicable Diseases at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Dr. Mascola talks about how Los Angeles county has prepared for an outbreak of Ebola virus. Next up is David Persing, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical and Technology Officer at Cepheid. His company has developed an amazing, modular PCR machine that is brining rapid diagnosis everywhere, including the United States Post Office. And it might even be available on your refrigerator one day.
How viruses cause disease explores the interplay between viruses and their host organisms. The course begins with an overview of how infection is established in a host, then moves to a virologist’s view of immune defenses. Next we consider how the replication strategy and the host response determine the outcome of infection, such that some are short and others are of long duration. The mechanisms by which virus infections transform cells in culture are explored, a process that may lead to tumor formation in animals. We then move to a discussion of how viral infections are controlled by vaccines and antiviral drugs. After an introduction to viral evolution, we discuss the principles learned from zoonotic infections, emerging infections, and humankind’s experiences with epidemic and pandemic viral infections. The course ends with an exploration of unusual infectious agents such as viroids, satellites, and prions, followed by a discussion of the causative agent of the most serious current worldwide epidemic, HIV-1.
To create the Coursera courses, I divide the lecture videos from my undergraduate offering into 10-20 minute segments. I add annotations to indicate parts of the illustrations that I highlight during each lecture. Questions are also inserted in the videos to ensure that students are learning the desired principles. Weekly quizzes, a final exam, and discussion forums round out the Coursera experience.
Because others might benefit from the shorter videos, I have also made them available at YouTube. These videos are annotated, but do not have the built-in questions which are only available on Coursera. I would be pleased to learn how to add questions to YouTube videos.
On episode #252 of the science show This Week in Virology, the complete TWiV team reads email from listeners about anti-vaccine activists, a career in microbiology, placentas, a virology textbook, the HeLa cell genome, norovirus, and much more.
On TWiM #55 we discussed the remarkable ability of copper to reduce hospital acquired infections. Now you can watch Michael Schmidt, TWiM co-host and a co-author on this work, discuss the findings at a recent TEDx talk in Charleston, South Carolina.
On episode #53 of the science show This Week in Microbiology, Vincent, Laura, David, Kalin and Paul get together at the Society for General Microbiology meeting in Manchester, England to talk about next-generation approaches to antimicrobial therapy.
You can find the audio for TWiM #53, along with show notes, at microbeworld.org/twim. Watch video of the episode below.