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Up close and personal

I really didn’t expect this. I always thought of bacteria as a crowd, a mass of cells that fermented or infected, never as individuals. But that is just what is happening here, using semi-conductor technology and the manipulation of fluids at a micro-scale to isolate and then observe individual bacteria within a population and how they respond differently to anti-biotics. Not only that, but there seems to be altruism in bacteria, the stronger helping the more vulnerable to survive the stresses of an agressive drug. All this from hard-headed scientists, a mathematician and two biophysicists. At which point the conversation took a second unexpected turn: from the micro to the macro. It moved to the mathematical modelling used to understand the overall effects of our chemical weaponry on bacteria, and how it is close to philosophy. These models focus on relationships, on the network of connections and consequences (intended and unintended) of our actions, which often rebound upon us: because “we are part of this nature”, needing to find ways of “living together with the bugs”. It seemed that the more we tried to focus on the really small the more the conversation rebounded to the drone-eye view, the overall picture and the relationships that hold the world together (more about this is another post, also beautifully illustrated here). Lots to think about! [Thanks Krasi, Stefano and Jehangir for taking me on such a thought-provoking journey today. Great fun talking with you.]

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