Bifido Clo Coccinella DonnaMona Enterococcus Esch HQ LabColi LOPS Lord Baci Queen Salmonella Shigella TaxiFish Voice1 Voice2 Barkeeper
Biotoon

Chapter 2

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention



Source: CDC image library

Source: CDC image library

The Petridishires in the labs of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, Georgia, are always a good place to start. Each Petridish is a world unto its own with an abundance of bacterial families serving as an ideal venue for exchanging the latest news and gossip, tools and experiments. Lord Baci slipped out of the package and made his way down the lab bench. Stacks of Petri dishes were towering above him like highrises in Manhattan. Each highrise floor was a Petri dish, where microbial expats lived in their little plastic-covered ghettos.

They were established by H. sapiens to keep the bacteria they need at reach and contained. As everywhere, isolation leads to strange behavior. Some bacteria go nuts. Some vow revenge for the life they are forced to lead as guinea pigs living on artificial food, exposed to experiments or put to work.

It all started when Antoni van Leeuvenhoek first discovered bacteria in 1676. Antoni stuck water under a primitive microscope and saw “wee animalcules”. This got him terribly excited and inspired him to write a series of lengthy letters to the Royal Society. The letters established his claim to the hall of fame of “firsts”. He was truly a bigwig. Scientist are victims to the publish or perish pressure, churning out descriptions of what they’ve done in the hope to get noticed, become visible, get recognition. There is not much difference from American Idol. Except that a microbe hunt is not suitable for public viewing.

http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.46995 and http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.6495

http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.46995 and http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.6495

Antoni drew what he could see, which still forms the rough basis of the human system to distinguish bacteria. From the outside we are not too interesting. We practice understatement. Our coats can barely be distinguished. All the interesting parts are hidden inside. As with books, it requires patience, attention and time for our fascinating secrets to unfold. Mankind has only started to read the first page.

150 years after Antonie’s discovery, Koch cooked up the theory of pure cultures, which ultimately caused gazillions of bacteria to suffer in isolation. Koch was a detective searching for a murderer. To reduce complexity and identify the one and only disease causing microbe, he developed a technical procedure that would tear a microbial community apart and then incite the lonely bacteria to multiply. Since bacteria multiply by division, a single bug can start a family of clones on its own. Once we start to multiply and build our homing structures, we eventually become visible to the naked human eye. The sheer masses of bacteria feeding and multiplying pile up in a heap. This visible result of bacterial multiplication is described as a colony, and the bug that started it is called a Colony Forming Unit. Not Mummy, Mum or MamaBact. If you want to get an isolate, here’s one way how to get them:

While the simplified situation created by this method suits the human simpletons and allows them to look at only one representative of bacteria at a time, the bugs are not amused at all. Like humans, we are sociable. We love to mix and mingle, swap information, urbanize nice landscapes together. Build high-rises, cozy nests, daring structures.

Biofilm with different colonies

Biofilm with different colonies

Or live in little hamlets, just a small pile of us at a time. The urbanized bug in its buildings made of exopolysaccharides, sheltered from the rough environment, cocooning with close friends, behaves quite differently from the hamlet folks.

The urbanites are resilient. They are quick builders, repairing damage in a blink. Try to reclaim a surface they have chosen to settle and you’re in for a long fight. Generations of children have been scraping at their teeth trying to get rid of them, but in the end they all succumb to caries and paradontitis. Lord Baci stopped in front of a Petri dish filled with red agar. A red carpet for the VIP of the microbial world: the notorious Escherichia coli.

E. coli has been isolated from the human gut and is one of the most commonly used microbial guinea pigs. Her DNA has been completely sequenced and manipulated to turn her into a manufacturing unit for products desired by man. Nearly 30% of currently approved recombinant therapeutic proteins are produced in Escherichia coli. Due to her well-characterized genetics, rapid growth and high-yield production, E. coli has been a preferred choice and a workhorse in the biotech industry. As of lately she made the news because some of the radical E. coli groups had figured out how to resist most antibiotics and were successfully infecting, even killing people. Lord Baci could hear her deep voice even before he slipped down onto the agar surface. Esch had come to meet him

Esch
Esch

Hello darling what a treat to see you. Has Queenie sent you to scold me?

 

 

Hello Gutsy Gal, scold you? Why Esch? Because of the few mischievous incidents? Nah. No wonder that you are getting bored and annoyed after all the nuisances you had to endure. A few humans here and there, who cares? Actually Her Majesty thinks that it is an excellent field test to investigate the current state of H. sapiens’ intelligence.

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Esch
Esch

How nice and wise of her. H. sapiens does not think so. They accuse me of being Janus faced. Like little children, putting the blame on me. I am the naughty bug they cannot live without and now some members of my tribe are attacking them. Boohoo. It is still mindboggling to me that humans are heavily manipulating one of their most numerous inhabitants. Haven’t they learned enough about revolutions by now?

 

 

They are not able to extend that concept to the world around them. Historically they believe that they are masters of the universe and the rest are just soulless creatures that were made to serve them.

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Esch
Esch

Where did they get that idea?

 

 

It may be our fault. We had to give them some form of self-confidence. Previous Organic Intelligence Experiments failed because the creatures lacked curiosity and drive.

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Esch
Esch

And now they have enough drive to bust the planet.

 

 

Hmm. Maybe. Actually, that’s why I am here. There are rumors that H.sapiens have somehow come across a genetic toolset that could enable them to destroy themselves.

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Esch
Esch

Not so sapient then, are they? A satisfying thought.

 

 

Not really, remember how much work we have put into the Human Project.

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Esch
Esch

How could I forget! You put ME into it. I live in that faulty system with the task to fix flaws and intervene where I can.

 

 

I know, you and tons of other microbial consultants sit in the gut and have to deal with the crap that suboptimal programming has created.

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Esch
Esch

Exactly.

 

 

Esch…apart from the fact that you are fed up and bored out: have you heard anything?

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Esch
Esch

I’m sorry, there’s been no news here at the centre. Nothing since they found CRISPR-DNA. They are still trying to figure out how that really works.

 

 

And they are recruiting bacteriophages to fight the radical E.coli in the gut.

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Esch
Esch

Bacteriophages eh? Those gene traffickers. That won’t do any good. Nothing is happening at the human government level, if that is why you have come to the CDC lab. Like all large organizations, they are suffering from a lack of innovative ideas. The spark will come from outside. Corporate organizations are seeding start-ups to generate new ideas. The rogue science emerges from the private bioshacks that are popping up everywhere. Now that everyone can buy lab equipment online it is only a matter of time. That’s where you have to look. Outside the large systems at the smaller offshore sites.

 

 

And how about the rest of the gut expats?

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Esch
Esch

I am afraid that like me, they cannot take that shit any more. Go and visit them. They will be delighted to see you.

 
Esch smiled her mysterious smile. She was charming. The bacterial Mona Lisa. He still had a crush on her. She shook her shiny flagella and her coat glistened as she came closer. For a short moment their membranes merged and she slipped him a tiny plasmid. Read it later, she said, and retreated to a large colony. Lord Baci blushed.

As usual, Salmonella was in a good mood. She is the hippy of the gut microbes. Long lavish flagella, easy going. Blacklisted by humans as a disease-causing agent. She is very attached to her hosts and if expelled from the surroundings of an organism will wait stubbornly for years to find a new one. Even if it means to go without water for ages. Her ability to survive desiccation and freezing was legendary.

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Still playing with food my dear?

 

 

Never getting tired of it.

Salmonella
Salmonella

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

And they never tire of catching you.

 

 

An endless stuory. As soon as I escape, I try to get back at them.

Salmonella
Salmonella

 

Summertime, when the living is easy. Temperature’s jumping and the bug counts are high…”

Salmonella
Salmonella

Salmonella was swingin’ her flagella while humming the Gershwin tune.

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Any new toys in your repertoire of diarrheal genes?

 

 

Nooooo, she hushed, innocently. Why would you think that? Same old mayonnaise. I am a good egg.

Salmonella
Salmonella

Shigella, as usual, did not budge when he entered. He liked her fuzzy friendly shape and wicked sense of humor. She had ceased to support the Human Project a long time ago. And she knew how to cause trouble. Her appearance in the human gut always lead to riots and toxic fights.

 

Hello Baci, here to check out whether I have changed my mind?

Shigella
Shigella

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

No, just to check whether You have been changed.

 

 

Changed by whom? Homo stupidus? Not really. Just a little helpless nip & tuck here and there. After all, I am on their list of resistant bugs and they are in a frenzy to find a vaccine.

Shigella
Shigella

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

You are not top of the list…

 

 

And you are nasty. I hate to lose to Pseudo Mona. To be rated as a mediocre threat to humankind is really not satisfying.

Shigella
Shigella

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

That’s why I wondered whether you might enjoy if someone pimped your genome.

 

 

No help so far. I heard that you are looking for clues. There’s been nothing new since they went crazy over the newly discovered gene-editing tool. CRISPR they call it.

Shigella
Shigella

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

New for them, standard for us.

 

Lord Baci was just about to leave, when Enterococcus entered the Petridish.

Enterococcus
Enterococcus

Friend Baci, what a pleasure, I just heard that you are visiting.

 

 

There comes the champ. He is on top of the list of threatening bugs. Responsible for 80% of cases of human infection, according to the CDC. And an expert in antibiotic resistance. Enterococcus might be your bug, he is the ideal candidate for tinkering. The most ubiquitous bug in the human gut, mostly friendly, even used in probiotics. But beware when he turns pathogenic. The perfect Trojan.

Shigella
Shigella

Enterococcus
Enterococcus

She’s so cute and competitive. Unfortunately I will have to disappoint you. No new features have been added to my palette of unique talents.

 

 

Shame, I would expect more from the most dangerous bug family.

Shigella
Shigella

Enterococcus
Enterococcus

What about the other probiotics candidate? Our yogurt friend.

 

 

Who? Bifido?

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Enterococcus
Enterococcus

Go see him. He’s in the anaerobic hood.

 
Bifido was already glued to the Petridish wall, watching him, as he approached. He could see his distinctive Y-shape. The anaerobic hood in the lab was home to all the bacteria that do not tolerate oxygen. Lord Baci took a deep breath and dove in. As a Bacillus subtilis he was able to endure anaerobic conditions for a while. Still, he hated the stench. The Bifido Petridishire was at the far end of the hood.

Bifido
Bifido

I heard you were comin’.

 

 

The news spread fast all over the bactonet.

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Bifido
Bifido

Sure, everyone in the lab is blogging about the visit of Her Majesty’s favorite agent.

 

 

Then you know.

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Bifido
Bifido

That I do not have the answer. Choosing a yogurt bug to spread some new genes or disease is certainly a great idea, but so far they only use me like a cow. Constantly trying to improve my yield and the scope of proteins and enzymes I shit into the yogurt. Milking me as much as they can.

 

 

Haha, soon you will be purple and famous like the Milka cow.

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Bifido
Bifido

Yes, and they should insert a moo-moo gene into me so that the yogurt cups make a noise when you turn them upside down.

 

 

Fantastic. That could save energy because it would allow them to switch off the light in the fridge. They could always identify the probiotic yogurt by the sound it makes.

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Bifido
Bifido

I can already see the “Got moo?” commercials

 

 

You mean “Gut moo?”

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Bifido
Bifido

Another meme we should put in their heads. Speaking about memes, why don’t you go over to Clo’s? Our toxic psychopath has announced that he will go straight to their heads to take control.

 

 

Did he manage to do it?

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Bifido
Bifido

With some spor(e)adic success.

 

 

Where do I find him?

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Bifido
Bifido

Over there. He has a hood all to himself since he has become such a commercial hit.

 
Lord Baci made his way to the next lab that was dedicated to Clostridium botulium alone. Biotox warnings were plastered all over the place since the toxin produced by Clostridium is one of the strongest in the world. It attacks the nervous system and will kill an adult human at a dose of around 75 ng. Clo was sitting in the middle of the Petri dish, surrounded by his clones.

 

Welcome to my hood. Greet my brolony.

Clo
Clo

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Hi guys. Clo bro, you’ve become quite a superstar.

 

 

The VIPs of the world know my name and call upon me to satisfy their vanity. A market of around 4000 million USD and 20 million vials globally. The top cosmetic treatment in the US.

Clo
Clo

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Not bad. You have quite an influence. Mostly on women though.

 

 

Oh, you little chauvinist bug! The VIPs matter. And there the statistics are different. Men, women, they all need to look good. They all invite my products straight to their heads.

Clo
Clo

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

So how close have you come to your goal of adding some memes into the beauty treatment?

 

 

We’re in.

Clo
Clo

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Cool.

 

 

We tweak the toxin and mask the info with better performance. The better performance serves the vanity of scientists and blinded by their success they never look at the rest.

Clo
Clo

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Nice scheme. All done within your team?

 

 

If you think that I am the answer to your question. No. No external influence. But then, I serve the vain, the wounded souls. I know them when I see them and there is one in this lab…

Clo
Clo

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Are you saying…but Esch said that I won’t find anything new in here. She said that the innovation is happening in the informal small garage labs.

 

 

As always, the Grand Dame of all bugs is right. Look over there. See the guy with the tie? You should follow him. Hurry up, he will leave in about 15 min. Always very punctual when leaving the lab. 17:15 sharp. Make sure that you make it to the bench top where he keeps his car keys and hitch a ride on his tie.

Clo
Clo

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

How do you know?

 

 

He talks on his cell a lot and the lab bugs like to go outside on his tie. Over the last months he’s been helping a kid set up a garage lab. The way he gets upset when some deliveries do not work, it is certainly not a school project. Brilliant mind, but no EQ. He always loses out to the smart talkers and now he’s pissed. Very pissed about something. I think he’s even going to sacrifice his wife for some gig. Just because she cheated on him while on her last assignment for an environmentalist magazine. She falls for the good loking Green fleecy types with broad shoulders and a mission. Ah, the complications of sexuality…I am glad I live alone with my clone.

Clo
Clo

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

What? Why didn’t you report it?

 

 

It never crossed my mind. There are so many of them now. If we lose a few, what does it matter?

Clo
Clo

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

It matters if they actually obtained one of the ancient tools.

 

 

Wow, now that’s another story…that would be a major wipeout.

Clo
Clo

Lord Baci
Lord Baci

Exactly. Thank you, I have to run.

 

 

Good luck bro!

Clo
Clo
At 17:11 Tie Guy leaned over the lab bench to grab his keys. His tie slipped out of the lab coat and wiped across the surface. Lord Baci jumped on. A bunch of other bugs joined him. The crowd that was already on the tie hollered a hello.



     
    




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