Friday, March 11, 2011

Giant Microbe Plush Toys

Ok, so I know this will sound silly.

I was over at Sierra College's Bookstore this week and, while waiting for a sales associate to find the lab manual for General Biology, I was pleasantly surprised when a colorful group of fuzzy Giant Microbes attracted my attention. I had heard about these plush toys and looked quickly through the assortment to see if Saccharomyces cerevisiae (beer and bread yeast) was available, but alas some other aficionado of commercially valuable single-celled eukaryotes must have been there before me. Disappointed, but not discouraged, I continued rifling through the extant selection and chose a Helicobacter pylori, with its distinctive crop of lophotrichous flagella, and then I waffled for a while between a giant red plush erythrocyte or a gangly looking neuron, finally settling on the former.

When my granddaughter visited today, taking a break from her horse-husbandry classes at UC Davis, she hesitated not at all to properly identify the erythrocyte in its concave plushness, as a "red blood cell". I was pleased. The H. pylori was, in turn, a mystery to her. She did always lean more toward anatomy and physiology than toward infectious diseases—leprosy being the sole exception. Her romantic fascination with the flesh-destroying disease had popped up unexpectedly after viewing "The Kingdom of Heaven" film. Notwithstanding the wonders of leprosy (or the charms of Orlando Bloom for that matter) my g-daughter evinced laudable interest when I explained that Dr. Barry Marshall had intentionally infected himself with H. pylori by drinking a beaker full, got very ill, and then cured himself with a mixed course of powerful antibiotics. His bold actions silenced the detractors who touted conventional wisdom that bacteria could not live in the harsh, acidic stomach environment. Marshall and his co-researcher, Dr. Robin Warren—both of Australia—eventually shared the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Hmmm, I just checked the Giant Microbe website again…no Mycobacterium leprae. Well, maybe they'll add to their lineup in time for Christmas. Then g-daughter will have something to cuddle up with as she dreams about life in Jerusalem at the time of Baldwin IV...the Leper King. Meanwhile, our hats are tipped to the team of Marshal and Warren, for discovering and isolating H. Pyloriperhaps the world's most common infection.

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