Madona and the Master’s of the Awesome-verse!

3 04 2007

WELL! after i dot all my i’s and cross those t’s, i’m a Master of Science!

the defense went very well. i hyped myself up with a few rounds of a cover of “My guitar gently weeps” from Harrison’s induction to the RnR hall of fame. so rockin’ and rollin’ through this thing was easy.

so, my devoted Madon-ites, I’m sure many of you have been heard to say “what sort of science does this banana do?”


WARNING: the following may be a long read. you may want to keep this running in the background.

In water (lakes, oceans, etc), the most abundant biological particle are viruses. Now, there are viruses that infect just about everything. Animals, plants, everything. Now, one class of viruses infect bacteria, and these suckers are called bacteriophage. Now, bacteriophage infect bacteria by injecting their genetic material into the host bacteria, creating copies of the virus inside the cell, then bursting the cells, releasing new viruses into the environment.

So, there are huge numbers of all kinds of viruses in water, but naturally (and when we treat water and sewage) these viruses will be “killed”, or more accurately inactivated. Now, this can happen in a physical process (they can stick to solids surfaces, and we can remove these solids from our water) or through a biological process. And it’s this process that remains a bit of a mystery.

Another type of cell that is common in water are called ciliates. These guys (that can be about 1,000 times bigger than viruses) will swim about and swallow large amounts of water. The question is, are they swallowing viruses too? Well, one model that was put together a number of years ago to describe how all these organisms interact is called “the killer of the killer of the winner.” So, imagine a body of water. In here, you’ll have all sorts of bacteria. Now many of these bacteria will perform some sort of process that could benefit the environment and would be required to make sure all the “shit” is in order, so to speak. Problem is, some of these bacteria may be…..kind of shitty… as far as being able to use nutrients available. Not only that, some will eat like crazy, and could danger the our slow growers, to the point that certain types of bacteria could die off completely. This is referred to as “competitive exclusion,” is an important part of evolutionary theory, and if that bacteria does something very important in the environment, well, the shit could hit the fan.

So, these fast-growers can be said to “win” the “race to use nutrients.” Now, if we consider the presence of our bacteriophage, they will be most likely to infect, and kill, the fastest growing bacteria (“the killer of the winner, of the nutrient race”). But if our bacteriophage replicates to high enough numbers, our bacterial populations could be in trouble.

Time for the big boys. Ciliates like to eat. And if their bacteria are killed off by bacteriophage, things could get sticky for them. So, along with eating bacteria, they could benefit from eating up bacteriophage (killing the killer of the winner) to help regulate the number of these viruses and prevent excessive bacteria-killing.

So, in my work, I looked at how ciliates (Tetrahymena thermophila, to be specific) will affect a population of a couple bacteriophage (T4 and MS2 to be specific. What I found was, it looks like these ciliates will in fact eat, and inactivate these viruses (they won’t infect their hosts anymore). But the rate at which they do, will differ depending on the virus.

“Well, what the hell does that mean?”

Remember how i said there a lot of viruses in water? They ain’t just bacteria-infectin’ ones, jack! We’re talking biohazard, diaheria-inducing, Dustin Hoffman-coming-to-the-rescue type viruses!! Hepatitis, Norwalk, Poliovirus, and even HIV! Now, thankfully, we have pretty good ways to clean up water (before we drink it), but sometimes our systems fail (Walkerton, for example). So this type of work may not cure cancer, but understanding how something like this happens is really important to understanding how to keep these systems running and how to, potentially, improve these processes.


hope that was enlightening! expect some changes coming in the future, as i try to breathe some life (or possibly zombie-itis?…) into this floundering blog, and try to entertain you schmucks, again!





One response

3 04 2007

I completely understood all of that.
Great job on the defense man.


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