Constellations in my Borrelia

by Janie Jones

So, do any of you ever wonder what I do when I’m in my Lyme Studies lab?

I know, you have been dying to know!

Mostly I count Borrelia burgdorferi, the primary bacteria responsible for Lyme disease in the U.S.  There are other Borrelia species that also cause Lyme disease, but most are not found in my neck of the woods.

In general Borrelia are thin spiral shaped bacteria that swim about independently.  However, they do also form clusters of varying size.  I don’t know why for sure, and I don’t know if anyone else does either.  They might and I just haven’t stumbled on that information yet.

Anyway, I am responsible for a strain that has been genetically engineered to express a green fluorescent protein that makes it glow green.  This has many practical applications, it makes them much easier to see for sure, it also makes it easier to tell if the bacteria is alive as dead bacteria don’t make glowing green protein, they don’t make anything if they are dead.

So every week I gaze into a microscope and check for itsy-bitsy green lines on a field of black.  A healthy bacteria culture has millions or even billions of the little critters all swirling about doing their little bacteria thing.  Often there are so many it looks like the depths of outer space, if the stars, planets, galaxies and nebulae were all fluorescent green anyway.  To see them well it is best to turn off the lights in the lab to reduce the ambient light which can interfere with catching a glimpse of the faint green glow, so it really does often feel like star gazing through binoculars.  The other day it so strongly put me in mind of star gazing that I started looking for shapes in the “constellations” of bacteria.

Lo an behold I found Ursa Major!

Teddy bear Bb edit png

I think I just discovered the evolution of Bear-relia!

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