Microorganisms- Hidden in Plain Sight

Microorganisms are found all over the world. They can reside deep in the ocean, high in the atmosphere, the boiling waters of natural hot springs, and even the frigid grounds of the University of Virginia. For our BioGrounds research project we are focusing on the places where microorganisms are found and what the organisms are doing.

In order to simplify this microscopic survey, we are focusing in on eukaryotic organisms. A eukaryote is a classification of organism that has more than one cell with a nucleus. While humans and other tangible animals, are eukaryotes, many are also microscopic. They usually happen to be the largest type of microscopic organism and will therefore be the focus of our study for a variety of reasons. First, since they are the largest, we will not need the most high tech equipment. This will allow us to spend less time calibrating the equipment and more time searching for the hidden organisms. Second, they will be easier to identify. No one on our team has any extensive biological backgrounds which would make identifying bacteria, archaea, and prokaryotes very difficult. Instead, we will focus on a more well-known group of microorganisms, so that we can quickly identify the species. Third, we are attempting to mimic the works of Agnes Catlow, and her work Drops of Water. In this series, Catlow sketches the microorganisms she sees under the lens of a microscope. Since this book was published in the 19th century, we can assume that she saw mainly eukaryotes and possibly some of the largest protists. For these reasons, we want to focus on cataloging the micro-eukaryotic species around grounds.

Essentially our project is taking her method of capturing the existence of microorganisms and applying it to the grounds of the University of Virginia. By doing so, we hope to catalog a variety of different microorganisms in a variety of places on grounds. In order to begin our project, we need a few research tools. A light microscope, slides, pipettes, petri dishes, and collection vials will all play an important part in collecting and analyzing our data. We are also adding an artistic component to this project and for this we will all use our own preferred method of documentation, but it will most likely included water color, colored pencils, and hand drawing.

We are also trying to get a large sample of what kind of organisms live where on the University’s grounds. We have discussed collecting samples from bicycle tires, bus seats and floors, gutters, sidewalks, dirt, dining halls, and basically any other places that we can. The hope is to find as many microorganisms as possible and document them, to show what a variety we have on grounds. We also want to show that our city is teeming with life, even though we cannot always see it, reinforcing the idea that we live in a biophilic city.

Post by Laura Moran