Some Bacteria Could Have A Rudimentary Form Of Memory

When we think of bacteria, we think of simple single-celled organisms that basically exist to consume resources and reproduce. They don’t think, feel, or remember… or do they? Bacteria don’t have brains, and as far as we know, they’re incapable of thought. But could they react to an experience and recall it later?

New research suggests that some bacteria could have a rudimentary form of memory of their experiences in the environment. They could even pass this memory down across generations via a unique mechanism. Let’s dive into the latest research that is investigating just what bacteria know, and how they happen to know it.

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The Blue Soup Saga Is One Beefy Mystery

Beef soup! You’d normally expect it to be somewhere from reddish-brown to grey, depending on how well it was cooked and prepared. However, strangely, an assistant professor found the beef soup in their fridge had mysteriously turned blue. That spawned an investigation into the cause which is still ongoing.

[Dr. Elinne Becket] has earned her stripes in microbiology, but the blue soup astounded her. Despite her years of experience, she was unable to guess at the process or a source of contamination that could turn the soup blue. Indeed, very few natural foods are blue at all. Even blueberries themselves are more of a purple color. The case sparked enough interest that [Elinne] went back to the trash to collect photos and sample for research at the request of others.

Thus far, metagenomic DNA analysis is ongoing and samples of the soup have been cultivated in petri dishes. Early analysis shows that some of the microbes form iridescent colonies, Another researcher is trying to determine if the bugs from the soup can make blue color appear on soft cheese. There’s some suspicion that a bacteria known as pseudomonas aeruginosa could be the cause of the blue color, but that presents its own problems. P. aeruginosa¬†is classified as a Biosafety Level 2 pathogen which would require some researchers to abandon work on the project for safety reasons.

The jury’s still out on this microbiological mystery. If you’ve got some ideas on what could be going on, let us know in the comments!

Robot Vs. Superbug

Working in a university or research laboratory on interesting, complicated problems in the sciences has a romanticized, glorified position in our culture. While the end results are certainly worth celebrating, often the process of new scientific discovery is underwhelming, if not outright tedious. That’s especially true in biology and chemistry, where scaling up sample sizes isn’t easy without a lot of human labor. A research group from Reading University was able to modify a 3D printer to take some of that labor out of the equation, though.

This 3D printer was used essentially as a base, with the printing head removed and replaced with a Raspberry Pi camera. The printer X/Y axes move the camera around to all of the different sample stored in the print bed, which allows the computer attached to the printer to do most of the work that a normal human would have had to do. This allows them to scale up massively and cheaply, presumably with less tedious inputs from a large number of graduate students.

While the group hopes that this method will have wide applicability for any research group handling large samples, their specific area of interest involves researching “superbugs” or microbes which have developed antibiotic resistance. Their recently-published paper states that any field which involves bacterial motility, colony growth, microtitre plates or microfluidic devices could benefit from this 3D printer modification.