Siouxsie Wiles is a microbiologist and bioluminescence enthusiast who heads up the Bioluminescent Superbugs Group at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. I know her through the Auckland Skeptics in the Pub Meetup Group. BSG make bacteria that glow in the dark to better understand how to prevent and fight microbial infection.
She is currently fundraising for her RocketHub SciFund Challenge Project. The aim of this crowd funded project is to study bacterial evolution. RocketHub is not an investment or charity. It is an exchange; funds from you in exchange for rewards. The more you donate, the better the reward!
Any level of contribution is welcome but for us$50 you get your name ‘drawn’ in glowing bacteria. Invest more and the rewards increase.
Thanks for checking out my SciFund Challenge, Evolution in Action!
Bacteria are masters at adapting to their environment, rearranging their genetic material or gaining new genes from their surroundings. This has allowed them to colonise pretty much every conceivable environment. From boiling hot geysers to that pink scum in your shower. Even us.
Did you know that the number of cells that make up our body are outnumbered 10 to 1 by the bacteria that live on and in us? The majority of bacteria are either harmless or pretty beneficial, but some of them have evolved to cause us serious harm. Around the world, one out of every four people that die are killed by a microorganism of some sort. That’s a staggering 14 million people every year.
And you know what? They just keep on evolving! That’s how we get antibiotic resistance and new diseases emerging. So what I want to know is, how do bacteria evolve to cause disease? And that is where you come in! Your contributions to my SciFund Challenge will help unravel how these amazing microbes keep outsmarting us.
Just how are we going to do it?
Bacteria have a number of really useful characteristics that make them ideal for studying evolution:
They multiply really rapidly so we can measure change in a short space of time
They can be stored frozen in a sort of suspended animation. This means we can freeze bacteria from every step of our experiments, building up a living ‘fossil’ record which can be regrown and analysed at any time.
Modern sequencing techniques have made it relatively cheap and easy to sequence whole bacterial genomes so we can unravel any genetic changes that occur during our experiments.
So as not to create some superhuman killing machine able to rampage around the world Contagion-style, we are studying the evolution of a bacterium that doesn’t infect humans and isn’t spread by the air. Instead, we are using Citrobacter rodentium which infects mice using the same ‘modus operandi’ as food poisoning strains of E. coli do in humans. They go in one end… and come out the other! And because mice like to eat poop (more technically known as coprophagia) they easily spread C. rodentium to each other. We allow C. rodentiumto spread from mouse to mouse to mouse to mouse to… you get the picture, each time freezing bacteria that are shed in the poop.
We use a glowing strain of C. rodentium so that we can track exactly where the bacteria are within the mice without having to kill the animals. We then carry out competition experiments between the original C. rodentium strain and the ‘evolved’ poop isolates to see which strains have gained a competitive edge. We do this by growing the strains in the lab as well as getting them to infect caterpillars. This gives a first clue as to whether the poop isolates are starting to change the way they outsmart the primitive part of our immune system.
Why is this important?
This work will give us a better understanding of how infectious bacteria adapt, and how they might evolve in people in the future. This is very important - in the fight against an ever-changing foe, forewarned is forearmed!
How can you help?
To unravel the genetic secrets of how Citrobacter evolves while it spreads from mouse to mouse, we will need to sequence the genomes of lots of our poop isolates. Your contributions will be used to pay for this sequencing, which costs roughly $100 per isolate. The more money we raise, the more isolates we can sequence, and we have hundreds to choose from.
Interested? Check out the rewards section [image below] to see what’s on offer in return for a contribution to this exciting project. Thanks for your help!
For those new to SciFund and RocketHub
RocketHub is not an investment or charity. It is an exchange; funds from you in exchange for rewards from me. The more you donate, the better the reward!
Rockethub is an ‘all and more’ funding mechanism. If I don’t reach my financial goal I get to keep what I raise. If I do reach my goal, I get access to exciting opportunities. And if I raise more than my goal I get to sequence even more evolved bacteria.
The reward structure:Help out at http://www.rockethub.com/projects/7491-evolution-in-action