Jul 07

Micro 101: Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes

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The basics of microbiology:

[youtube Um6DkyG57Hc]

May 30

The importance of bacteria in our world

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Great lecture by Bonnie Brassler, Princeton University USA:

[youtube TVfmUfr8VPA&feature=related] Check out this blog

Sep 02

Semester Baru!

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Kata pak Rektor, dosen harus banyak pakai Bahasa Inggris, so sedapat mungkin saya akan bilingual. Juga karena saya telah terdaftar di researchblogging.org saya harus pakai Bahasa Inggris juga, so… posting’s gonna be a mix of two languages!

If you are a student at the Department of Biology, semester 5, this is the place for any additional material related to BIO 30270 (MIKROBIOLOGI)  and BIO 30271 (PRAKTIKUM MIKROBIOLOGI), specifically materi yang diberikan oleh ibu Sitaresmi.

 Selamat Datang, Welcome!

Jul 14

The Microbiology Teacher: Getting ready for the new semester

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It’s July 14th.

Academic year starts September 1st.

So this Microbiology Teacher needs to get ready for the new semester. It is, after all, the semester for Basic Microbiology, a required class for all students at the Department. With around 80 students coming in this semester, it’s going to be chaotic.

Last year was pretty chaotic because it was a transition phase in the curriculum. Two semesters in a row pretty much burned me out.

But that’s over, and now looking forward to a new batch of students (I think). The semester will be short, and I have to leave at the end of the semester (my partner won’t be happy for sure), so I’ll need some strategies to deal with this. Have to cut some stuff.

Also need to deal with the delivery of the course. Students nowadays have such a short attention span and get easily bored (as witnessed by my evaluation, hah!). So will have to come up with new ways of delivery. Maybe through this blog?

Sebentar lagi, tahun akademik 2008/2009 akan dimulai. Berarti, kuliah mikrobiologi akan start lagi. Perlu suntikan semangat baru, karena tahun lalu sempat mengalami kejenuhan (terlihat dari EDOM saya). Perlu strategi baru, perlu buku baru (walau dengan kecepatan informasi, buku kurang banyak berguna…)

Apr 08

The controversy on Enterobacter sakazakii contamination continues. The National Agency For Drug and Food Control has carried out testing for Enterobacter sakazakii on 96 baby formula samples. You can read the information on their website. The news is good.

However, the news probably came too late. In mid March, a Jakarta citizen filed a lawsuit against IPB, NA-DFC and the government (Ministry of Health) stating that the brand names of baby formula should be exposed saying that it is against the law to withhold information about the samples. It’s in all newspapers, here is one link while here is another

Now this is wrong. I believe it’s against research ethics to divulge any brands during a research. A researcher is not required to mention the names of the research objects. I must emphasize again that the objective of the research was not to check the quality of the baby formula but to obtain Enterobacter isolates. There is a difference. I hope the courts can see the issue clearly and not force the researchers to expose the research samples. It is unethical

Of course, the general public is not aware of these research objectives and we cannot expect them to understand. We cannot blame them for feeling unsafe about all these contaminated products.

But we can blame the media for misrepresenting the issue and the government for mishandling the issue. Questioning a researcher’s credibility and integrity is the easiest way, and after reserving judgement about the Minister of Health, I now will stop being diplomatic and state this honestly. The Minister of Health is not capable and competent in dealing with national health issues. These issues go beyond the minister’s competence in Medicine (which I am not questioning). In my opinion, the best thing for the Minister to do right now is to resign the post.

And the media continues to spread the twisted issue of contaminated milk which I think is really not helping the issue of food safety in general.

Finally, the public themselves should be more aware and jump to conclusions regarding food safety. After all, we are a community who don’t think too much about eating in questionable places on the side of the road… With proper precautions, we won’t have to worry too much about Enterobacter sakazakii.

Mar 11

This semester I am teaching the elective course (kuliah pilihan) Environmental Microbiology (BIO 41730). The course deals with microbes in the natural environment.

We often think of microbes in the laboratory environment, the “pure culture” concept, meaning that we usually work with only one microbial culture in a “pure” form, not mixed with other microbial cultures.

In nature, microbes exist together with other organisms as part of an ecosystem. The abiotic factors determine They occupy a niche in the ecosystem, mostly as decomposers of organic matter or they could also be producers.

It is safe to say that microbes can be found everywhere: on the ground, in the water and even in the air we breathe. However, when we speak of a microbe’s natural habitats, it is slightly different. The atmosphere is not a natural habitat for microbes.

More and more research in microbial diversity nowadays come up with a variety of microbial habitats. What makes it more interesting is that exploration of microbial habitats are not limited to the terrestrial and aquatic habitats inhabited by other living organisms, they now go and beyond what is considered a “usual” environment. It does seem like “the sky is the limit” for microbial habitats. To date, microbes have been found to survive in habitats like volcano craters, hot water springs, hydrothermal vents and  arctic glaciers. Some extreme views are even entertaining the thought that maybe, just maybe, microbes can be found on other planets than the Earth, i.e, the planet Mars.

So is it possible that the microbes on earth have ‘relatives’ on other planets?

Mar 09

We interrupt microbiology teaching for this report: I was driving just outside campus when the car in front of me suddenly hit the brakes. Luckily I managed to brake in time. I was so annoyed but then I saw the passengers of the car look to their right so I followed the direction of their gazes and saw this beautiful biawak run up the small hill formed by the tracks. No wonder the traffic stopped.

It was about 1,5 meters long not too big. But it was impressive to watch.

However, that leads to the question. Why did the Biawak cross the road?

Answer: because its habitat on campus is being cleared for more campus development 🙁 Not to come down too hard on the rector, because UI’s conservation area is already marked. The area that’s being cleared is the ‘entrepreneuring area’. It’s said to become a gasoline/petrol station.

Hmmm… if only the biawak stayed in the conservation area, it would still be on campus.

Feb 28

Recent research from a neighboring university has again brought attention to the issue of food product contamination, specifically in this case, baby formula. At first I thought there had been an outbreak of some sorts, but it wasn’t. It was “just” a research finding.

And yet, this particular finding sent people into panic. The thought of possibly drinking contaminated milk was so terrifying people demanded that the researchers disclose the brands that were contaminated. The media immediately did their own investigating. The Minister of Health was pressured to make a statement, and make a statement she did. Unfortunately, the comment only created another controversy and did not help with the actual issue.

But what is the actual issue?

The actual title of the study was Potensi Kejadian Meningitis Pada Neonatus Akibat Infeksi Enterobacter sakazakii Yang Diisolasi Dari Makanan Dan Susu Bayi. The team from Faculty of Veterinary Medicine analyzed 22 samples of baby formula and 15 samples of baby food and found that 22,73% of the baby formula samples and 40% of the baby food samples were contaminated with Enterobacter sakazakii. Google the bacterium name and you will find 516,000 references on Enterobacter sakazakii. The bacterium is known to cause neonatal meningitis. Gurtler et al. (2005) wrote that the first cases of neonatal meningitis believed to be caused by Enterobacter sakazakii were first reported in 1961 and research on this bacteria remains active until now. Kim and Park (2007) is just one of the recent publications.

Whenever we read about these research findings, we should keep in mind the original objective of the research. Topic wise, the research carried out by Estuningsih et al. was not really new, meaning that there are already many published research on Enterobacter sakazakii. Dr. Estuningsih herself has been actively researching this for awhile. So why is it now that the findings created a widespread panic? When there have not been any reported cases of bacterial meningitis caused by E.sakazakii in Indonesia?

Blame the sensationalist Indonesian media, I think, especially since the airing a certain program on one TV station that dedicates its content to the sleazy work of food tampering of basically every edible known to man. Now, I don’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention to this research finding, absolutely not. However, I believe that the findings of Estuningsih et al. were not meant to be an investigative report on the quality of baby formula in Indonesia and the poor conditions of food safety in Indonesia. She is a researcher on E. sakazakii and the team is reporting on potential effects of a local E. sakazakii strain found in baby food and baby formula. I should also mention that the findings also mentioned the need for more research to support the findings and not a recall of certain brands of baby formula and baby food. That was not the original objective. And in my scientific opinion, the Indonesian media has somewhat twisted the original objective and turned it into a national scare. Of course, the Minister of Health’s comment was unwarranted and totally unbecoming for a professor of medicine. But, to be fair, sometimes the media likes to take comments out of context. But if I may ask Madam Minister, maybe a neutral “we are looking into it” type of comment would be more appropriate?

The governing body on food safety, The National Agency of Food and Drug Control has already issued a statement about the issue of Enterobacter sakazakii in baby formula. It may not be enough for our already semi-paranoid society which is too bad. Irrational behavior can have damaging effects in the long run. Do we want to deal with baby food manufacturers lay offs if there is a drop in productions? The socio economic aspect is often forgotten in all the uproar.

Yes, we should all be more careful and vigilant on everything that goes into our bodies. We should prepare food and drink properly, keeping the universal precautions in mind. Always boil water at 100 degrees for at least 2-3 minutes after boiling to kill vegetative bacterial cells. Awareness and education is the key, not spreading panic!

References quoted:

Gurtler JB, Kornacki JL, Beuchat LR. 2005. Enterobacter sakazakii: a coliform of increased concern to infant health. Int J Food Microbiol. 2005 Sep 25;104(1):1-34.Click here to read

Kim SH, Park JH. 2007. Thermal resistance and inactivation of Enterobacter sakazakii isolates during rehydration of powdered infant formula. J Microbiol Biotechnol. 2007 Feb;17(2):364-8.