Kristin and I met briefly this week and had a quick discussion before realizing that we needed to move things back a little bit. The end of the semester is harsh for those of us trying to teach remotely; the challenge of trying to maintain rigor and connection during this semester have been immense, and that’s before you add in the other, less considered aspects of the job. But there are a few things I’d like to point out this week as I plot through grading final projects and reaching out to some wayward students who have really struggled to keep up in trying times.
First, my nonprofit has been posting a lot on twitter this week about fluorescence and giardiniera. Giardiniera is an amazing condiment that, in spite of my Italian ancestry, I was only introduced to when I moved to Chicago 14 years ago (I just celebrated my Chicago anniversary!). I will fess up to the fact that all the posts are coming from me. I recently bought myself a black light flashlight in search of all things fluorescent after the news of 3 mammals being shown to be fluorescent in the last few months, flying squirrels, platypuses, and the Tasmanian devil. Fluorescence is an apparently more-common-than-we-thought characteristic of certain compounds that will absorb light as almost all objects with coloration will do, but instead of simply allowing that light to dissipate as heat or vibrations (Like a blacktop parking lot), fluorescent compounds will release most of that energy as a slightly lower energy light. I’m carrying around my blacklight in hopes of discovering something new or exciting that is fluorescence. Long story short, I rediscovered that all vegetable oils have a fluorescent and appear red under a black light. This is because of chlorophyll that remains in the vegetable oil. Two reasons I bring this up: 1) Much like doing art, doing small, simple science experiments can fill your life with wonder and awe. There’s so much around us that we don’t explore, and it’s full of fun mysteries and excitement. 2) Do your research. Everyone already knew this. No credit for rediscovering the wheel! If data exists, use it!
Secondly, I’ve been thinking a lot about something Kristin and I were talking about, about the world we pass by everyday that’s unseen and hidden in data. One thing that sprung to mind and I mentioned to Kristin immediately was our microbiomes. Every one of us has thousands of species of bacteria, archaea, protozoa, and fungi living in and on us. The microbiome is well documented, and each of us have a unique microbiome in every crook and corner of our bodies. On the tip of our noses? Unique microbiome. Not just compared to the rest of our bodies but compared to everyone else’s bodies. The fold of our noses? Completely different microbiome, with different microbes living, surviving, and thriving. Our microbiomes are not just all tiny microbes, but it’s estimated we even have tiny animals crawling all over our skin and face at any given time.
Sorry. Usually I warn my students about that one before bombarding them with that fact.
But this isn’t exactly what I was thinking about with Kristin. We know a lot about the human microbiome. Or at least, we know more than for almost any other organism. But what of those different organisms? What’s the microbiome look like on a maple tree, like the red maple (Acer rubrum) outside my window. What bacteria and fungi are living on that tree? And more specifically, what’s growing where? What’s on their stems, on their leaves, on their new buds, on the trunks, on their roots, etc.? And hopefully everyone isn’t raking up their leaves in the fall and removing them, because that means that you’re removing important nutrients and destroying an important biome. There’s too much information about different biomes out there for me to share everything, but please consider that while you might be eating yoghurt to help with a bum-tum or using different face washes to avoid acne, these very different biomes are not unique to the human body; there are hidden ecosystems on almost every organism we can see with our naked eyes.