Stories tagged germs


Number of people on Earth to number of bacteria, that is. They’re everywhere. EVERYWHERE. And we’re making them stronger, and getting sicker because of it. MRSA: Antibiotic-resistant staph.  a.k.a. - seriously evil stuff.
MRSA: Antibiotic-resistant staph. a.k.a. - seriously evil stuff.Courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Hey, nanoscale science, this is your cue!

[Enter nanoscale science]

Hi! I’m nanoscale science! And boy, have I got some whiz-bang anti-bacterial solutions for you!

For one, there’s this new type of drug that uses nanoparticles to poke holes in bacteria so they die. Sounds really promising against super-bugs…but then again, all the scientists are hoping that if the bacteria in question leave any survivors, we won’t end up with super, SUPER bugs. Because that would be so NOT super.

Because here’s the thing:

“The medical community has for so long been focused on killing as much of the bacteria as they can. Now the interesting thing about bacteria is that you can’t kill them all. You can kill 99% of them, but that 1% that you leave alive is the strongest 1%.” This is from Dr. Shravanthi Reddy – Director of Research at Sharklet Technologies, Inc. She makes a good point. “We can’t keep fighting that same traditional war. We kind of have to shift our thinking. Kind of convince them, ‘hey, you don’t want to settle here.’”

For two, Sharklet Technologies has created this stuff that mimics the skin of actual sharks. Turns out that sharks don’t ever get covered in algae or barnacles or anything like that, but whales and other marine life do. Why? It’s because shark skin has a very special pattern to it – called dermal denticles - a pattern that bacteria apparently hate and can’t really figure out how to properly colonize. There’s nothing chemical about it – it’s all about the shape of the material itself.

Our friends over at Nova made a great program about it:

Granted, we’re pretty limited with how we can treat nasty super-bacteria, like antibiotic-resistant staph infections and MRSA, once it’s in the human body – so we probably shouldn’t rule out our hole-poking options just yet - but we can put this awesome sharkskin technology to work in the places people are most likely to contract infections like those; hospitals being some of the worst offenders.

Makes you just want to go out and lick stuff, doesn’t it?


Not to freak y'all out, but did you know that germs are on everything you touch? Using a special powder called Glo Germ (get it here) you can actually see how germs spread from one thing to another. It will make you want to wash your hands more often. (And the CDC recommends washing your hands frequently. In fact, why don't you go wash up right now?)

Scrub 'em: Use soap and water, and wash for 20 seconds. That's about the time it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.
Scrub 'em: Use soap and water, and wash for 20 seconds. That's about the time it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.Courtesy mitikusa

Goal: to observe how germs are spread
Age level:: 3 and above
Activity time: 2 - 5 minutes
Prep time: 5 minutes

Materials needed:

  • Glo Germ powder
  • Toys or common household/school/office objects to "spike" with germs
  • UV lamp or detector box


  1. Sprinkle Glo Germ powder on your objects.
  2. Arrange them somewhere where others can handle them.
  3. Plug in UV lamp, but don't turn it on.

Encourage others to pick up and play with the objects. Ask them what they know about germs.

  • Do you know where microbes are found?
  • Do you know what a microbe/germ is?
  • Do you know what illnesses are caused by germs?
  • Do you know the best way to avoid getting sick because of germs?

After the discussion, tell them that, as part of an experiment, you've put "pretend" germs on one or some of the objects they may have touched today. Switch on the UV lamp: what glows?

Reinforce the fat that the Glo Germ powder is just to simulate germs. It won't make you sick. You can get rid of the germs by washing your hands. In fact, encourage your audience to wash their hands and then hold them under the UV light again.

(On the other hand, remember that not all germs are bad. Exposure to some germs is thought to protect people against asthma and allergies or colitis, and overuse of antibacterial products leads to antibiotic resistance and superbugs as well as potential damage to the environment.)


Nice spine protector, dude: But can it stop meningitis?
Nice spine protector, dude: But can it stop meningitis?Courtesy jeffedoe
Who needs to live their life with crippling paranoia? No one; it was a rhetorical question. It’s time we grab our paranoia by the soft spot, and say, “let’s just be friends, okay?”

Thanks to technology brought to us by the future, in conjunction with the University of South Dakota (and possibly money from the Department of Defense), we may finally be able to take the “crippling” out of “crippling paranoia.” The paranoia will stay with us, of course, because that’s what gives us our strength, but we will live with the confidence that the dangers of the world are actually two steps behind us.

The invention of Kevlar was a coup in the sweaty, awkward wrestling match of crippling paranoia—the high strength fiber assured protection from low caliber firearms and low temperature fires alike. One could strut confidently down the street, swathed in high tech fabric, feeling pretty safe from random gunshots, and flaming sewer explosions, and cougar attacks.

But…what if the cougar’s mouth is full of germs? I mean, it would be, wouldn’t it? Germs are a lot smaller than bullets, and maybe they could penetrate the Kevlar weave… And what if I accidentally licked my armor after a particularly sour sewer explosion?

Crippled. With. Paranoia.

Until now! The future and South Dak… whatever, those things I mentioned above, they’ve made another move in the arms war against paranoia: Germ-resistant Kevlar. By coating the fabric with a chemical called N-Halamine, a Kevlar garment could gain long-lasting anti-microbial properties. What’s more, once it does wear down, the chemical can be reactivated with diluted bleach, which is convenient, because I’m always carrying bleach around anyway (to fight the germs).

This is very exciting. I mean, with armor to best enemies both great and small, what’s there to be worried about? Invisible enemies?

Invisible enemies. Invisible, radioactive enemies…

As the Mississippi flood waters recede, a new threat is rising. Public health officials in Iowa are warning people about the health risks associated with cleaning up their water-damaged homes, farms and buildings. Bacteria thrives in the water, and could lead to a number of diseases, and can contaminate well water. Water-logged buildings are a haven for mold, which can cause serious problems for allergy and asthma sufferers.

A fashion student at Cornell University has designed a line of clothing which actually kills germs on contact. The cotton clothing is coated with silver nanoparticles that deactivate bacteria and viruses. The hoods are lined with other nanoparticles that break down air pollutants.

And they look sharp, too!


Do you eat food that has fallen on the floor? Do you follow the five second rule? Scientists at Clemson University have extended the studies of Jillian Clarke, a high-school intern at the University of Illinois in 2003, on this topic. Their results are reported in the Journal of Applied Microbiology and summarized in a recent NY times article.

They conducted three experiments to determine the survival and transfer of Salmonella bacteria from wood, tile or carpet to bologna (sausage) and bread.

They found:
• Salmonella bacteria can survive for up to 4 weeks on dry surfaces in high-enough populations to be transferred to foods
• Salmonella bacteria can be transferred to the foods tested almost immediately on contact.

This study demonstrated the ability of bacteria to survive and cross-contaminate other foods even after long periods of time on dry surfaces, thus reinforcing the importance of sanitation on food contact to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.

So what do you do?


Transmission electron micrograph of Escherichia coli O157:H7: Courtesy CDC
Transmission electron micrograph of Escherichia coli O157:H7: Courtesy CDC
A recent NY times article looks into various approaches underdevelopment to prevent or treat food poisoning by the bacteria E. coli O157:H7. These approaches include:
Prevention – as we saw last fall, this does not always work. This is especially true with fresh produce.
Cattle vaccines – it reduces but does not eliminate the E. coli found in manure. Would this give us a false sense of security? What would the incentive be for farmers to vaccinate their herds? Cows don’t get sick from the bacteria so it would have to be a mandate or altruism.
Cattle antibiotics – feeding antibiotics to cows raises concerns of creating more antibiotic resistant pathogens.
Industrial chemicals – feed cows sodium chlorate which the O157 bacteria converts to it to sodium chlorite which poisons the pathogen
Bacterial-killing viruses – these are viruses that infect and kill only bacteria.
Friendly bacteria – is also known as probiotics. This approach feeds cattle friendly bacteria to displace the O157 bacteria. It is already sold to aid cattle digestion and some believe it reduces the amount of O157 bacteria in the manure
Human vaccines – are still years from the market. Early testing looks promising. Testing the effectiveness will be difficult. Should we be vaccinating every child in order to protect a small number? And would this make us lax with our food handling techniques. That will lead to other food and water borne infections.
Human drugs for treatment – outbreaks are rare and sporadic so these would be hard to test in clinical trials. The clues that signal an infection don’t start until 3-4 days after ingestion of the bacteria so it might also be hard to diagnose and treat the infection in a timely manner.
Monoclonal antibodies – these are a synthetic version of your body’s own infection fighters. They seem to be working in animals and with early human safety trials. But the cost is prohibitive to test them in order to prevent hemolytic uremic syndrome. This would start working once the toxin is already in the bloodstream so there are questions about its effectiveness.

We will probably see a few of these techniques used in parallel. What do you think is the best approach and why?