A microbiologist, along with environmental and earth scientists, often creep into my stories unintentionally. Usually, when I want to double-check what the microbiologist would do, I call Mrs R, a microbiologist here in Durban. I was most fortunate when Mrs R allowed me to tag along to the Microbiology Department and gave me an instructive tour of the lab.
First things first, what do microbiologists do?
My understanding is that microbiologists study minuscule microbes with the aim of achieving various ways to make life better – from brewing better beer, producing better cures for illnesses, improving industrial processes, or preventing bored depressed timber from spontaneously combusting.
And while a microbiologist could inadvertently eradicate all life on earth as we know it, there’s very little chance of this if they follow the Six Rules For A Microbiology Lab User.
The most exciting thing they get to do is play with super-cool machines like: centrifuges, the Vortex, incubators, and something called a Thermal Cycler, many of which separate DNA indicators from the rest of the cells so things like genetic modification can become a reality. Also, they get to make better puns than I do (the microbiologists, not their equipment). But what microbiologist do the most is run experiments, analyze results and come up with solutions, all of which makes my eyes and brain hurt when I think about it.
I found microbiologists to be a friendly, welcoming lot, with diverse interests and personalities. They seem more social than most other scientists, and answered idiotic questions from myself with patience and good humor. Then again, I didn’t mess with any of their cultures…
A Vortex is a vital piece of equipment for any microbiologist, unless they are The Flash.
Three little known facts about microbiologists.
This extracted protein in a gel looks pretty enough that you want to stick an ungloved finger in it. Not recommended.
A DNA sequence looks a lot like someone was amusing themselves with Excel instead of a super-cool clickable 3-D view of a DNA helix we see in the movies. A quick study of Mrs R’s work revealed that I should never challenge a microbiologist at Tetris, and neither should you.
Contaminated petri dishes make for excellent abstract art.
Six Rules for the Microbiology Lab
For more about the fascinating, and often controversial, world of microbiology contact your nearest university microbiology department or lab.
Leenna Naidoo would like to thank Mrs R and her colleagues for their kindness and indulgence, and for their efforts to encourage greater accuracy in a writer’s research. Any errors fall squarely at my feet.