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Next They’ll Tell Us Germs Can Dance

• December 23, 2010 • 5:00 AM

Researchers discover very specific patterns in the movement of bacteria, which has important implications for the treatment of infections.

Anyone who’s ever visited a male collegiate dorm room can testify to the amazing properties of bacteria, but not even the guys in Animal House could have seen this one coming: Bacteria can stand up — gulp — and walk around.

University of Notre Dame researcher Joshua Shrout, co-author of a new study with UCLA scientist Gerard Wong in the journal Nature, reports that he and his colleagues have observed very specific patterns in the movement of bacteria, which has important implications for the treatment of infections.

January-February 2011 Miller-McCune “The significance of the work is that we show bacteria are capable of ‘standing up’ and moving while vertical,” Shrout said in a press release announcing the findings. “The analysis methodology developed by Gerard’s group made this observation possible. They developed a computer program to analyze time-lapse data series, just like those showing plant development that you watched on PBS as a kid, of bacterial motion on surfaces. By tracking thousands of bacteria for minutes to hours, the stand-up walking pattern was observed and verified to occur with some frequency.”

All of which raises the question: There used to be a show on PBS about time-lapsed plant development? Can’t imagine why it would have been canceled.

The Cocktail Napkin appears at the back page of each issue of Miller-McCune magazine, highlighting current research that merits a raised eyebrow or a painful grin.

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Matt Palmquist
A graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Matt Palmquist, a former Miller-McCune staff writer, began his career at daily newspapers such as The Oregonian and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In 2001, he became a staff writer at the SF Weekly in San Francisco, where he won several local and national awards. He also wrote a humorous current affairs column called "The Apologist," which he continued upon leaving the Weekly and beginning a freelance career.

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