E.coli bacteria. These bacteria are normal inhabitants of the human intestine (also animal intestines) and are usually harmless. Steve Gschmeissner / SPL / mediadrumworld.com

By Mark McConville

INCREDIBLE images have revealed the colourful patterns of the bacteria found in households and everyday objects across the UK.

Stunning scanning electron micrograph (SEM) show purple and green pattern of the bacteria found on a cat’s tongue, the yellow almost rice-like texture of Pseudomonas bacteria – commonly found in most man-made environments, and the brown and white circular pattern from bacteria off a human foot.

Bacteria from a cat’s tongue. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of bacteria isolated from a cat’s tongue. The two most frequently found bacteria are pasteurella and clostridium. Steve Gschmeissner / SPL / mediadrumworld.com

 

Other striking snaps show large green or brown circle of bacteria from a newborn baby’s gut, the pink grape-like bacteria contained in breast milk and the blue strands of plaque-forming bacteria which is responsible for tooth decay.

The coloured scanning electron micrographs were taken by one of the world’s leading scanning electron microscopists Steve Gschmeissner from the UK.

Breast milk bacteria. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) from a culture of breast milk. Steve Gschmeissner / SPL / mediadrumworld.com

 

“For many years I have been waiting to share my wonderment at the microscopic world that exists around us and even in us,” he said.

“For anyone involved in microscopy the SEM is the ultimate boy’s toy. Costing between £100,000 and £500,000, there are only a handful of people around the world who have access to this for fun. To be able to use this equipment is a dream come true.

“The SEM picks up basically where the normal light microscope finishes and it takes it so much further by magnifying the specimen by up to a million times.

Foot bacteria. Scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of bacteria that live on human feet. Such bacteria metabolise sweat and other substances on the skin. Steve Gschmeissner / SPL / mediadrumworld.com

 

“Also different to a regular microscope is the fact the SEM builds a 3D image using electrons giving you a unique view.”

Recent research has found that 30 percent of babies’ gut bacteria seem to come from the mother’s breast milk and that another 10 percent can be traced to skin around the mother’s nipple.

When babies started eating solid food a whole new range of bacteria are found, forming the gut microbiome that persisted into adulthood.

Newborn baby’s gut bacteria. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) from a culture of a four day old baby stool showing a single colony of bacteria. Recent research has found that 30 percent of babies’ gut bacteria seem to come from the mother’s breast milk and that another 10 percent can be traced to skin around the mother’s nipple. Steve Gschmeissner / SPL / mediadrumworld.com

 

Other images include the multicoloured worm-shaped bacteria found in soil and the rod-shaped multicoloured bacteria commonly known as E.coli.

Bacteria in the soil are directly tied to nutrient recycling especially carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur. Bacteria are a major class of microorganisms that keep soils healthy and productive. A teaspoon of productive soil generally contains between one hundred million and one billion bacteria. That is as much mass as two cows per acre.

Plaque-forming bacteria, coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM). Plaque consists of a film of bacteria embedded in a glycoprotein matrix. The matrix is formed from bacterial secretions and saliva. Plaque is the main cause of tooth decay. Steve Gschmeissner / SPL / mediadrumworld.com

 

A pink and brown scan depicts bacteria obtained from a train door handle. In studies, seats and handles on most trains harbour infectious bacteria that can survive at least one antibiotic.

Bacteria from a train door handle, coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM). In studies, seats and handles on most trains harbour infectious bacteria that can survive at least one antibiotic. Steve Gschmeissner / SPL / mediadrumworld.com

 

Some bacteria, such as certain strains of E.coli and MRSA, can cause life-threatening illnesses, although most of the bacteria detected were harmless. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) analysis identified that 32 per cent of bacteria were associated with the gastrointestinal tract and 29 per cent with the skin. Another 20 per cent was associated with the genital area, largely as a result of poor hygiene.

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