What exactly is that sequencing data?

The idea for GenomePeek began two years ago when I was working with Karl Klose, Liz Dinsdale, and Rob Edwards to assemble a P. salmonis genome that was being particularly difficult, even though we had 9 gigabases of sequencing.   To check whether it was a single isolated genome I pulled out all the 16S reads that hit to 16S and then assembled them. All of the assembled contigs hit to P. salmonis, it was only until later that I found that genome had been shredded by an overactive transposon. We still haven’t solved that problem ….

Looks like someone did not do a complete bacterial isolation.

GenomePeek lay dormant for a year, until a student from SDSU’s bacterial sequencing class came looking for help. In the class the students were isolating a bacterium, sequencing, assembling, and then analyzing it.   The student wanted to create a recA phylogeny and was having trouble with taxonomic assignment.   Their question was: “which RecA gene do I use?”.   This set off a red flag immediately, since RecA is essentially a single copy housekeeping gene.   On inspection, their assembled genome did indeed have two full copies of RecA; one that hit to a Vibrio and one that hit to a Photobacterium.   At the time the two 16S rRNA genes hit to Vibrio, although they were clearly different from each other and hit to different species (since then a representative Photobacterium 16S sequence has been added to the NCBI 16S database that is now the top hit). It turned out that this bacterium also had two sets of other single copy housekeeping genes (I checked rpoB, groEL, nifD, gyrB, and fusA). One of each gene hit to a Vibrio species while the other was most similar to a Photobacterium species. Suffice to say the student was very disappointed after spending a few weeks analyzing and writing up a paper.   The idea occurred for a tool where one could submit sequencing data and then quickly get back a set of useful housekeeping genes for phylogenetic analysis. I thought this tool would save everyone’s time wasted on assembly, annotation, and analysis. By quickly checking sequences, we could easily detect whether the original sequencing data was contaminated. I wrote (more…)

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2014 Microbiology of the Built Environment Fellows

The Sloan Foundation has recently announced their 2014 Microbiology of the Built Environment Postdoctoral Fellows.   The awards, along with the titles of the projects are below.  Congrats all!   Look forward to detailed blog posts from all the awardees describing their upcoming projects.


Huan Gu at Syracuse, along with Dacheng Ran. “Understanding and controlling biofilms in the built environment

Sarah-Jane Haig at University of Michigan, along with Lutgarde Raskin and John LiPuma “Regulation of the microbial community structures in drinking water, from source to tap

Brian Klein at Forsyth Institute, along with Katherine Lemon “Microbiomes of indoor track facilities and runners who train indoors vs outdoors

Zachery Lewis at UC Davis along with David Mills and Katie Hinde (Harvard) “Role of the built environment as a venue for microbial cross inoculation between infants

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New Paper : On the intrinsic sterility of 3D printing

As a biologist with a 3D printer, one of the questions I get most often about 3D printed parts is, “Can you autoclave these things?” As it turns out, no, not really. There are only a handful of thermoplastics that can survive the autoclave process, and most of them are not very good for 3D printing. With few exceptions, only polypropylene and blends of polypropylene hold up to repeated autoclave cycles, and polypropylene is, unfortunately, very a difficult material to print. It shrinks a lot when it cools, which causes a lot of warping during printing, and it is very difficult to get molten polypropylene to bond strongly to cooler, solid polypropylene.

It turns out that this is all unnecessary. Fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printing involves shoving a rod of thermoplastic into a hot nozzle until it melts and squirts out the nozzle. For most popular 3D printing plastics like ABS and PLA, the nozzle temperature is somewhere between 180C and 260C, and the plastic stays at that temperature for around a minute, depending on what the toolpath looks like. It’s actually a lot like Pasteurization, except way overkill. Get it? Overkill?

Anyway, here’s how FDM 3D printing compares to various Pasteurization (in black) and autoclave (in red) protocols :

FDM 3D printing compared to pasteurization (black) and autoclave (red) protocols.


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“The Dirt on Antimicrobials”

Bill Walsh of The Healthy Building Network has posted a story on the subject,”the Dirt on Antimicrobials” that covers the health effects concerns from the chemicals themselves but does not address the currently popular subject of the health harm or benefits from the presence of and exposures to the multitude of microbes in, on, and around us.

The post starts out:

“The infusion of antimicrobial materials into building products is on the rise. Manufacturers now routinely add substances such as nano-silver and the pesticide triclosan to paints, tiles and grouts, carpets, solid surfaces, faucets, elevator buttons and toilet seats. The dirty truth is: they do not make people healthier. They do cause environmental harm throughout their lifecycle. And their overuse, like the overuse of antibiotics, may contribute to the evolution of microbes that are more resistant to our known antimicrobial defenses.”

See the complete story here.

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Storify from Animals in the Built Environment 2014 Workshop

Last week, Holly Ganz from microBEnet organized a workshop on “Animals in the Built Environment”, focusing on the intersections between animal care, building design, and microbial ecology.  Participants included zoo staff,  shelter architects, engineers, microbial ecologists, etc.   More detailed meeting reports will follow, but as a teaser here is the Storify from the meeting:


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