Because I am having a bad day and have nothing better to do (besides all my homework) I thought I would share with you my collection of adorable fluffy microbes.
This here is Varicella-Zoster Virus, otherwise known as the chicken pox. People don't usually give him a lot of credit since almost everyone had chicken pox growing up but he can hang around in your nervous system for years and reappear as Shingles later on. Thankfully there's a vaccine now so this generation will be spared the days of itching.
Personally I think this one is pretty cute but he has a much worse reputation which is deserved, this is Bacillus anthracis or Anthrax. He is a super durable little bacteria that can live in the soil for years in a kind of hibernation state called endospores. Actually the majority of anthrax cases are only cutaneous and cause lesions that while painful are rarely deadly. Its when the spores are breathed in or ingested that it can be fatal. Anthrax primarily effects animals that graze on the soil where it lives. Interestingly, it has been suggested that the historical event that inspired the fifth plague of the bible, death of cattle was actually anthrax as was the sixth plague, boils which could have easily been from people coming in contact with infected animals.
This one is not only cute but is kind of a celebrity (notice the cape). He's been in the news a lot over the last few years. MRSA used to stand for methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus but now its more commonly used to refer to multi-resistant staphylococcus aureus. This is a nasty little bacteria. Normal staph a. lives all over the surface of the skin and doesn't usually cause any problems, even when it does, a few doses of antibiotic can clear it up. This isn't the case with MRSA, they are resistant to most if not all of the drugs usually used to treat staph infections. This can lead to some pretty ugly pre-antibiotic nastiness. Drug resistance is a whole big topic that should get its own post (hint hint self)
This one is another recent celebrity and the cause of our worlds most recent pandemic (although there is some debate about that). This is Influenza A virus H1N1 or the swine flu. I'm sure you guys all remember the panic a few years ago when this first showed up. A lot of people laughed at the time that everyone was making too big a deal over nothing but it had the potential to be terrifying. Not too long ago a very similar virus killed up to 100 million people around the world. Most people didn't think about that when the swine flu started spreading. We got lucky. Especially us young people, in 1918 the flu pandemic inexplicably killed young, healthy people and we still really don't know why. So watch out, this one may not have been so bad but the next one might.
Look at the cute little tentacles! Actually those aren't tentacles they're flagella and their how Escherichia coli move around on their mission to make us sick. Everyone has heard of E. coli, the bug that gets in spinach and unpasteurized milk and sprouts. I won't gross you all out with how it gets there. E coli is actually pretty cool, it is used as a model organism and I can guarantee that if any of you have taking a microbiology class you have worked with this and had to learn all about the dreaded Lac Operon. Still, E. coli can also be pretty scary, some types live harmlessly in our intestines and help us digest but a few serotypes can be deadly and new, worse ones pop up occasionally.
Oh oh oh! This is my favorite. the Ebola Virus. Possibly one of the scariest "living" organisms know. Ebola is relatively rare (thank god) but when it does show up its hard to miss. Most outbreaks, depending of the type of Ebola have a case fatality rate between 75% and 90%. That is huge. It was discovered in the Congo in 1976 and has been striking fear ever since. The really interesting thing about Ebola is that because it is so deadly it isn't actually that effective a virus. Because it kills so many and so quickly the outbreaks usually kill themselves off as they kill of the susceptible hosts. Luckily for us Ebola doesn't spread all too well despite being very contagious because it requires close contact and people tend to stay away from people bleeding out of funny places. The really scary thing about Ebola is the potential for it to go airborne. Again, that and the Reston outbreak are a topic for another post (again, hint hint self).
An oldie but a goodie, Mycobacterium tuberculosis or TB for short. Most people think that TB disappeared with bleeding and hoop skirts but that's unfortunately not true. TB is whats classified as a reemerging infectious disease. The reasons it is reemerging are complicated but the most important ones are drug resistance and HIV. Globally there are many many co-infections with between TB and HIV. Having HIV weakens your immune system as we known which makes it susceptible to TB infection. The other issue is drug resistance (again). Because treatment for TB requires many months of antibiotics many people, especially in poorer regions, don't complete their treatment. This creates the perfect environment for the bacteria to evolve. The weak are killed off and the strong survive leaving bacteria that can't be killed by the usually antibiotics. Its a huge problem and again could be the subject of its own post.
This one is really cute but not all too exciting. This is a Rhinovirus, otherwise known as the common cold. One cool fact, there are over 250 known cold viruses! That's a lot of colds.
And finally, a microbe of a different sort. This is a T4 Bacteriophage. It is a virus that essentially hunts bacteria. This one in particular goes after E. coli by punching holes in its membrane and injecting its DNA. Cool huh!