07.02.14

More on vulnificus season: Students get involved

Posted in Bioterrorism, Culture of Lickspittle at 11:43 am by George Smith

In 1982 there was virtually no interest in the flesh-eating microbe, Vibrio vulnificus. When I left school, doctorate in hand, there were probably only a handful of people working on it worldwide. On interviews in which I presented a seminar on it, there was never any enthusiasm. No one wanted to hear a thing. The research, the entire stay at grad school, was regarded as virtually nothing.

Yesterday, from the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville:

More than 40 Florida residents showed up at hospitals last year with a certain bacterial infection, and soon the words “flesh-eating disease” screamed across headlines.

The bacteria, which killed 11 people, is always an underlying concern, but sometimes officials don’t know how prevalent the bacteria is in local waters.

A Jacksonville University class went out on the St. Johns River on Monday to get an idea of how much of the bacteria exists in the waterway.

There’s no guarantee the study will find much bacteria or any at all, said Anthony Ouellette, a JU assistant professor of biology. The goal of the project is to check out a public safety concern while teaching his students real-world research methods.


Forty-one Floridians developed the infection in 2013, including one in Duval County, one in St. Johns County and one in Nassau County, and 11 people died, according to the Florida Department of Health.


“If we do have an upsurge at some point,” [the professor leading the student sampling experiment on the water] said, “having background numbers for what naturally exists in these habitats is important.”

Out on the St. Johns River on Monday, Marshalluna Land balanced a dropper over a sampling well as the boat swayed.

The JU marine biology graduate student carefully diluted the salt water so she and her peers would be able to filter out the bacteria and other microbes for study.


As a side observation on the value of the social network, I posted a link to my V. vulfnificus season summary on FB and it was ignored, except for one comment, an inappropriate “Yummy!”, something I had to gently chide the person over.

This is not to say science isn’t dealt with on the social networks. I often see posts to my feed about some aspect of science pre-masticated by the media, shared by people with no science background in my “friends” list. But it always has to fit into their political or philosophical worldview or be of a current famous scientist in the news.

Basic science at the grass-roots level has virtually no meaning for most Americans. That’s a pity and the entire country’s loss.

Perhaps Upworthy needs to handle it.


Previously — on the vulnificus beat.

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