Latest Activities

Marvelous mud microbes!

posted Aug 30, 2010, 12:46 AM by Beth Orcutt

Greetings microbe adopters! As the scientists start the final week of Expedition 327, we (sadly) bring this edition of the Adopt A Microbe project to the last activity. Luckily, though, this activity will keep you entertained with delightful microbes for a few weeks…and maybe by then a new Adopt A Microbe project will have started :) 

Out here on the Juan de Fuca, the final CORK experiment of Expedition 327 has been installed at the seafloor. For the final week of the expedition, the scientists will be up to their elbows (maybe even up to their eyeballs!) in sticky mud from a new site that we affectionately call “Grizzly Bare”. Grizzly Bare is a ‘bare’ hill of rock poking out of the mud at the seafloor. The scientists think this is a place in the ocean where seawater is being pulled into the oceanic crust, part of the process of hydrothermal circulation (remember that hot water superhighway we mentioned earlier?). The scientists plan to poke some holes in the mud around this little rocky hill to test if their hypothesis is correct. 

As you might imagine, the microbiologists on the ship are very excited to be collecting mud (and maybe some buried rocks) from the bottom of the ocean – think of all of the microbes they might find! In honor of all of the mud microbes, for this week’s activity, we will all set up experiments to examine mud microbes. The plan for this week is to set-up world-renowned ‘Winogradsky Columns”! 

What is a Winogradsky Column, you wonder? Well, it is an experiment named after a clever guy - Mr. Sergei Winogradsky – who was interested in studying soil microbes about a century ago. He came up with the slick idea of incubating soil and mud with some yummy carbon and sulfur sources to see how the microbes would respond. What results after a few weeks of incubation is a beautiful mixed community of microbes living together, including pretty purple, green, and white bacteria. 

In the experiment, mud from the banks of a stream, river or lake is mixed with some shredded newspaper (the carbon source, in the form of cellulose) and the yolks of hard-boiled eggs (the sulfur source – which is why rotten eggs smell so bad) and then placed in a tall and skinny container with a little bit of water on top. Over time, the microbes will eat up a lot of the oxygen in the mud, and the bottom of the container will become “anoxic” or oxygen free. Since the top of the container is open, oxygen can still seep into the upper parts of the container. Depending on their need for oxygen and the other food in the mud, different microbes will begin to dominate different depths in the container. You will be able to see this separation over time (3-6 weeks) as the microbes start to grow really thick into bands of different colors. 

Ready to get started growing your own mud microbes?! 

Things you will need: 
2 empty plastic water bottles, half-liter size 
a bucket or bowl to collect mud into 
a hand-shovel or large spoon to scoop mud with 
plastic wrap 
rubber band 
the yolk of a hard boiled egg 
a handful of shredded newspaper 
a well-lit spot where you can leave the container for a few weeks (but not in direct sunlight) 

Step 1: 
First, watch this great 5-minute video made by NASA Quest that will give you an overview of setting up your own Winogradksy column.  

Step 2: 
Take the bucket, spoon/shovel and one of the plastic bottles to the bank of a nearby stream, river or lake. Taking care not to fall into the water or get stuck in the mud, scoop up a few handfuls of mud into your bucket. Try to avoid mud with lots of roots or rocks. 

Step 3: 
Fill up one of the plastic bottles with water from the stream, river or lake. Close up the bottle and bring it and the mud bucket back home. 

Step 4: 
Cut the sloped top off of the other empty water bottle, so that you end up with a tall and skinny open container. You can invert the cut-off top as a funnel for filling the container, if you want. 

Step 5: 
Add a handful or so of the shredded newspaper and the yolk of a hard-boiled egg to your mud bucket and mix it up with the spoon. You want the mud to have the consistency of a milkshake, so if you need more water, use the water you collected (but don’t use it all, you will need a little bit for the end). 

Step 6: 
Carefully add the mud mixture to the container, tapping it on a flat surface to squish out any trapped air bubbles. Fill the container two-thirds to three-quarters of the way up. 

Step 7: 
Pour a little bit of the water on top of the mud in the container, leaving about half an inch or space between the water and the top of the container. 

Step 8: 
Place a piece of plastic wrap over the container top and hold it in place with a rubber band. 

Step 9: 
Now your Winogradksy column is ready to start incubating. Store it somewhere in a well-lit room, but not in direct sunlight. Check on your column every week or so for 3-6 weeks to see what develops. If you want, take pictures of your column every week and send the results by email (we’ll keep checking our email even though the Adopt A Microbe project of Expedition 327 is ending). 

We hope that you have tons of fun watching your mud microbes grow over the next few weeks! We have had tons of fun hosting the Adopt A Microbe project and interacting with you all – thanks for adopting some microbes! There will be a few more updates and stories from Mario the Marinobacter on the website over the next few days before Expedition 327 ends, so stay tuned! 

In case you are curious about the different microbes that start growing in your Winogradsky Column, check out this great website that gives lots of details. 

And now, we have some questions for you, dear microbe adopters. If you have a few minutes to spare, we would really appreciate it if you could fill out our online survey about your experience with the Adopt A Microbe project. If you fill out the survey, you’ll be entered into a contest for spiffy prizes! 

Many thanks!

Yeast Farts!

posted Aug 28, 2010, 1:45 AM by Beth Orcutt

Greetings microbe lovers! Our apologies for the delay in posting the results of your yeast fart experiments – the scientists on Expedition 327 were all very busy yesterday with a one-of-a-kind 24-hour-long experiment injecting tracers into the oceanic crust to study how the fluids (and microbes!) are moving around beneath the seafloor. Now we are preparing to install our second CORK observatory into the seafloor of the Juan de Fuca Ridge flank – wish us luck! 

We hope that you enjoyed telling all of your friends about how you were growing yeast to smell their ‘farts’! I can assure you that we’ve had fun on the JR giggling about it. We ran out of balloons after the balloon microbe activity (and we can’t run down to the corner store to get some more!), so we had to improvise and use some gloves as our ‘balloons’ to catch the gas made by our yeast. We tried growing the yeast on simple sugar, lemon juice and some apricot jelly – the jelly experiment definitely made the most gas. 

The folks over at NASSA thought big with this experiment – check out their set-up! 

Not only that – they also made some structural models to show how the sugar molecules, like glucose, were being broken down by the yeast to make carbon dioxide and ethanol – very nice! 

Even though Fred’s bottles melted a little bit, it looks like the yeast were pretty productive in making some gas. 

Fred asked an interesting question, too – he wondered if there is an easy way to tell how much of the balloon’s volume was due to the heated air inside the balloon expanding versus the gas produced by the yeast? Probably the easiest way to check would be to set up a similar experiment including everything but the yeast. In that set-up (which a scientist would refer to as a ‘control’ experiment), any inflation of the balloon should only be due to air expansion and maybe the creation of water vapor. 

That’s all for this week. Please check back in on Monday for the final adoption activity of the Adopt A Microbe project for this expedition!

7th Activity: Fartin' Microbes

posted Aug 23, 2010, 3:44 AM by Beth Orcutt

Greetings, microbe adopters! We hope that you all had a great weekend, and that you are enjoying the start of a new school year. Our research cruise has another two weeks to go before we head back to Victoria, Canada. The scientists are very busy preparing for another CORK installation and more sediment and rock coring. 

This week’s adoption activity is all about fartin’ microbes! Before you turn up your nose, have no fear – while some of the following information will explain to you the science of gas production, there is no human farting required in making this activity work!! 

First, a little background - When some microbes eat sugars and other organic material, they generate different gases as waste products. These gases can include carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane, gaseous alcohols like ethanol and methanol, hydrogen sulfide and other sulfurous compounds (which smell like rotten eggs), and gaseous fatty acids like acetic acid (what vinegar smells like), formic acid (the stuff that makes ant bites sting), and butyric acid (really stinky stuff that kind of smells like throw-up – yuck!). In humans and other animals, the gases that your gut microbes make from eating up sugars contribute to the gas released in flatulence (a.k.a. farts, although the majority of fart gas is actually swallowed air, or, in the case of soda drinkers, the swallowed fizzy carbon dioxide bubbles). Contrary to popular belief, the methane gas in farts is odorless! Most of the smelliness of farts actually comes from the gaseous sulfur compounds that are generated from food digestion. Some foods, like cauliflower, eggs and meat have more sulfur compounds in them, so they lead to stinkier farts. 

What does this have to do with the microbes from the deep dark ocean that you have adopted?!? Well, in a similar style to the microbes in your guts, some microbes living in the deep dark ocean also generate gas. For instance, the adopted microbes Methanococcus and Methanopyrus both generate methane gas, and Desulfovibrio makes stinky hydrogen sulfide gas from all of the sulfate that it eats. We like to think of this gas production as “microbe farts” :) 

During our research expedition, some of the scientists have deployed special gas samplers down into the ocean crust to analyze which kinds of gas are found down there, and how concentrated the gases are. You can learn all about those samplers in the recent Giant Microbe Video about OsmoSamplers. While a lot of the gases in the hard oceanic crust are produced during the hydrothermal interaction of the fluids and the rocks, some of the gases might also come from fartin’ microbes! By analyzing those gas samples, the scientists will hopefully get a better idea of which types of microbes are living down in the oceanic crust by the types of gases that are generated. It’s kind of similar to someone guessing what you ate for dinner by the smell of your farts! 

As promised, though, this week’s activity isn’t about your farts. Instead, we will use some hardy yeast microbes to examine gas production. Yeast – the stuff that you need for making bread and other fermented products – are actually microscopic eukaryotes. They are different from the microbes you have adopted, which are all bacteria or archaea, because they actually have a cell nucleus like animal and plant cells. Because of their tiny size, we’ll consider them to be honorary “microbes” for this activity :) 

The purpose of this week’s activity is to examine the amount and type of gas that yeast makes when it grows on different sugars. 

What you’ll need: 
  • measuring spoons (1/8 teaspoon, 1 teaspoon) 
  • about 1 teaspoon of dry yeast (you can find this in the baking section of the grocery store) 
  • about 1 tablespoon of sugar 
  • a small vessel with a narrow mouth for holding about 2 teaspoons worth of liquid – common things you might have around the house that would work include empty travel-size lotion or shampoo bottles 
  • A few balloons 
  • A few rubber bands 
  • Some electrical tape 
  • Some water 
  • A marker 
  • An oven set to 120-160 degrees Fahrenheit, and a baking dish 


1) Check that your balloon will fit around the opening of your small vessel. 

2) Inside your small vessel, mix 1/8 teaspoon of sugar with 2 teaspoons of water. Then add 1/8 teaspoon of dry yeast. Mix well. 

    a. Variation: Instead of adding simple sugar water to your vessel, you could also try filling a vessel with fruit juice. 

3) Carefully attach the balloon to the top of the vessel, trying to keep the balloon as air-free as possible. Use a rubber band to hold the balloon tightly in place, then wrap some electrical tape around the base of the balloon to attach it tightly to the bottle. This will help any gas from leaking out. 

4) Place your balloon and bottle into the baking dish and place it all in the oven. The yeast become activated once they warm up to about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. As the yeast spring into action and begin eating the sugar, they will start to generate carbon dioxide and other gases – and the balloon should slowly start to fill up. 

5) After 2 hours, check on your balloon – has it started to fill up yet? Gently shake up the bottle to remix the yeast. 

6) Take a picture of your balloon on the bottle. 

7) After 2 more hours have gone by, check on your balloon again – does it seem any bigger now? 

8) Carefully remove the balloon from the vessel and then gently squish out some of the gas trapped inside to do a smell test. Record what you think it smells like. If you used different sugars/juices – how do the smells compare? 

9) Please send an email by Thursday, 26 August, 2010 with a picture of your yeast balloon and a few sentences about what your yeast farts smelled like and if there was any differences in smell depending on which sugars were used.

Giant Microbes!

posted Aug 20, 2010, 8:46 AM by Beth Orcutt   [ updated Aug 20, 2010, 10:34 PM ]

Greetings from the Pacific Ocean, microbe adopters! SAM is very excited to have some more giant microbe buddies to hang out with on the ship, made by some of the scientists and outreach officers on the JR. And a big round of applause for you for the stunning giant microbes featured in your photos!

Fred sent in a nice shot of the Alcanivorax borkumensis microbes that he made (above), and PuppyBeard97 made some excellent Methanopyrus microbes! 

And our friends over in the NASSA captured some great shots of their microbes Chris and Pat having fun in the outdoors.

Here’s a picture of SAM with Mario the Marinobacter (in red), Ginny the Generic Microbe (in yellow), and a plush version of the JR

I don’t know if this little guy made by Michelle has a name – I’ll call him Geoffococcus wheatii

And who needs a Giant microbe when you could make a Ginormous microbe? Check out these monstrous microbes – that’s Thiomargarita on the left and Mariprofundus on the right – made by the fabulous Katie

If you have had a chance to send in photos of your microbes yet – no need to worry. Just send us a photo whenever you are ready. 

Coming soon – more videos of the exciting science and engineering happening on Expedition 327, and of course, the next microbe adoption activity posted on Monday. Have a great weekend!

6th Activity Announced: Make A Giant Microbe

posted Aug 16, 2010, 1:47 PM by Beth Orcutt   [ updated Aug 16, 2010, 4:01 PM ]

Howdy microbe adopters! Sorry for the delay in today’s posting – we were up late last night installing the first CORK, and then there was a kite flying contest on the helicopter landing pad (pictures soon!). 

Here's SAM with some of the CORK specialists getting the CORK ready

Have you been wanting your own cute and cuddly Giant Microbe like SAM to keep you company? Well, your wait is over – this week’s activity is to make your very own giant plush microbe

Our good friend and amazing seamstress Katie Inderbitzen has prepared some fabric patterns for us to make our own spherical and bean shaped fabric microbes. You can use these as templates for making your own giant microbes, or feel free to make a giant microbe in the shape of your choosing. Be as creative as you want in your choice of fabric and styling! Eyes, tails, mouths, and other bits of flare are all welcome. 

Download the following files for directions and patterns for making your own fabric microbes. You might need to make a run to the craft store to get fabric and stuffing. 

Photo courtesy of Katie Inderbitzen

Photo courtesy of Katie Inderbitzen

Take a picture of your microbe and send it to us by Thursday, 19 August 2010. We’ll post your photos, along with the ones we make, on Friday. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Growin' Microbes

posted Aug 13, 2010, 12:07 PM by Beth Orcutt   [ updated Aug 13, 2010, 4:41 PM ]

Howdy microbe lovers, and greetings from the sunny Pacific Ocean. We hope that you all had fun trying to grow some real microbes this week. SAM and friends had a great time working the outreach and education officers sailing on Expedition 327 to grow some microbes on the ship. Starting on Tuesday, everyone set up one culturing plate. Some people tried to grow microbes that they scraped off of their teeth, while others explored the ship to find some other unusual environments to test – what kind of microbes live on the buttons of the copy machine, or on the phone receiver, or in the bathroom, or in the hard hats we have to wear for protection, or on the tables in the laboratory? 

Here’s SAM posing with the culture plates on Tuesday. 

The plates were incubated in the lab for a few days and ta-da – lots of stuff had grown on some of the plates! While the plates that had been inoculated with teeth scraping and from a swab in the bathroom had lots of little red colonies of bacteria growing on them, the laboratory table swipe didn’t have any visible colonies. But the most microbe (and mold!) filled plate was inoculated with a swipe from the buttons on the copy machine! Yum! 

Here’s a close-up of SAM with the microbes and mold that were collected from the copy machine buttons. 

As an added bonus for the outreach officers sailing on Expedition 327, microbiologist Beth Orcutt showed them how scientists prepare samples of microbes to view them under a microscope. Everyone was curious – what would the microbes in the little red plate colonies look like?! One of the red colonies from the bathroom inoculated plate was picked, filtered onto a special membrane, dyed, and then placed on a glass slide for viewing on the microscope. Here’s a picture of what they saw. 

Each one of the little spheres is about 1 micrometer in diameter (that’s one thousandth of a millimeter). The sample was magnified one thousand times on the microscope so that we could see it, and the cells appear green because of the dye that we used. 

That’s all for today, folks. Remember to check back in on Monday for the next adoption activity, when we’ll get back to some arts and crafts projects.

This just in - some awesome looking colonies of microbes from NASSA!  They did a comparison of teeth microbes - one from a regular human tooth, one from a tooth with braces, and one from a cat's mouth.  Check out the slimy colonies from the cat's tooth sample!!  Maybe the cat should start brushing its teeth :)

Thanks for sending in your photos!

5th Activity Announced

posted Aug 9, 2010, 8:20 AM by Beth Orcutt

Greetings, microbe adopters! I hope you all had a great weekend! The scientists on board Expedition 327 just finished collecting the last rock samples from their first study site – Hole 1362A. Almost 250 meters of rock were drilled and cored at this site, and the scientists are very excited about all of their new samples. They were working around the clock for a whole week to keep up with everything, and now everyone is trying to catch up on sleep before the next big activity begins.  To find out more about what people have been up to, you can check out the blogs being written by the education and outreach team on this expedition.

Are you ready for this week’s adoption activity?! The goal for this week is to grow some actual microbes! This activity will be based around the ‘Surface Microbe Experimenter Kit’ mentioned on the Adoption Details page, which can be found here: In case you didn’t get a kit, don’t worry – we’ve got a back-up experiment planned out that you can try instead (Option 2 below). A scientist interest in culturing the microbes growing on the subsurface rocks might try out very similar experiments to see what would grow. 

The goal of this week’s activity is to illustrate how microbes grow on rocks (which is what the microbiologists on Expedition 327 are interested in) by comparison to the microbes that grow on your teeth (you know, the ones your dentist warns you about for causing cavities!). Imagine your mouth for a moment (or, take a good look at your mouth in a mirror!) – that nice warm and wet environment that sometimes get dosed with sugar is a happy place for microbes to grow…now imagine the rocks in the warm water under the seafloor, full of hungry microbes…can you connect the similarities? Of course, rocks under the seafloor are made of different substances than your teeth, and the microbes are getting energy in different ways in both places, but the principle of a surface-associated lifestyle is similar. 

Can you imagine the similarities between microbes growing on the surfaces of a seafloor rock (left) with those growing on teeth?  The rock shown is a basalt collected from the Loihi Seamount off the coast of Hawaii during the FeMO 2007 expedition (photo courtesy Jason II ROV, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Option 1: 

Step 1: If you have a ‘Surface Microbe Experimenter Kit’, continue on with the directions for Option 1 – if not, skip down to Option 2 below. The kit contains a package of sterile Petri dishes, a package of custom Easygel media, a package of sterile cotton swabs, and some directions. Please read through the kit directions before continuing – this will give you a good idea about what you can do with the kit, and also point out some important safety considerations. Also, please have adult supervision when conducting the experiment :) 

Step 2: Identify a good place where you can safely store the Petri dish experiments for a few days at room temperature and away from direct sunlight. 

Step 3: To get a sample of your teeth microbes, rub one of the sterile cotton swabs inside your mouth and on your teeth. When the swab is nice and wet, open up one of the Easygel bottles and stir the swab around in the solution for a few seconds. IMPORTANT: do NOT put the swab into the Easygel BEFORE putting the swab in your mouth – that would be nasty! 

Suggestions: if you have extra plates, you might also try some other experiments. For example, what would happen if you swabbed your teeth after you just brushed them with toothpaste? Do you think that more and fewer microbes would grow on the plate after you brushed your teeth? Or, maybe you would like to try swabbing another surface – maybe your kitchen countertop, or the TV remote control, or the dirt outside... Or what about swabbing your hands before and after washing them with soap? The possibilities are endless! 

Step 4: Carefully open up one of the Petri dishes and pour the Easygel solution into it, then close the lid as quickly as possible (to prevent airborn microbes and particles from landing on your sample). Put a few pieces of tape around the closed Petri dish to keep the lid from falling off. In less than an hour, the gel solution should solidify. 

Step 5: With a marker, write down the date and time on your Petri dish, and maybe also some information about where the sample came from. It is a good idea to write on the outside edge of the dish lid, so that you can have a clear view of the middle of the plate. 

Step 6: Over the next 2-3 days, check on your plate every 12 hours or so. Have any little red dots appeared in the gel? If yes, these are colonies of microbes! Or, do you see spots that look like mold? 

Step 7: Take a picture of your Petri dish and send it to us by email by Thursday, August 12, 2010. In the email, please let us know what you swabbed and what you think about your experiment. 

Step 8: Try not to open up the Petri dish once the microbes have started to grow in there – some of them may be harmful. When you are done with the experiment, please have an adult carefully place a drop or two of bleach (or some vinegar) into the Petri dish to disinfect the plate for a few minutes, and then it can be placed into the trash. 

Option 2: If you didn’t have a chance to get one of the ‘Surface Microbe’ kits, here is another experiment you can try out. 

Step 1: You’ll need to round up a few supplies, which might require a trip to the grocery store. What you’ll need: 
  • A package of gelatin dessert powder mix (like Jell-O) 
  • a few waxed paper disposable drinking cups (like Dixie cups) 
  • clear cling wrap, like you use for wrapping your leftovers 
  • cotton swabs 
  • tape 
  • a pot and hot water for making the gelatin 
Step 2: Heat and mix the gelatin as directed on the package. When the solution is ready to be poured, place about an inch of the hot gelatin solution into a few of the plastic cups (you might want to use some scissors to make the cup shorter (1.5 inches) beforehand, to make it easier to see inside later). If you have leftover gelatin, you could always use it to make dessert! Allow the gelatin to cool and set. 

Step 3: After the gelatin has set, rub the cotton swab on your teeth to get a good sample of your teeth-associated microbes. Then rub the cotton swab around on the surface of the gelatin to transfer your teeth microbes to the gelatin surface. Also, check Option 1, Step 3 for other suggestions about where to get samples. 

Step 4: Cover the paper cup with a piece of cling wrap, and then tape the cling wrap around the cup to keep it sealed. Write the date and time on your cup. Then keep your cup somewhere inside, out of direct sunlight, some place safe where it won’t get knocked over or eaten. 

Step 5: Over the next 2-3 days, check on your gelatin surface every 12 hours or so. Have any dots appeared on the gel? If yes, these might be colonies of microbes! Or, do you see spots that look like mold? 

Step 6: Take a picture of your gelatin cup and send it to us by email by Thursday, August 12, 2010. In the email, please let us know what you swabbed and what you think about your experiment. 

Step 7: Try not to open up the gelatin cup once you have sealed it up – some of the things growing in there may be harmful. When you are done with the experiment, please have an adult carefully place a drop or two of bleach (or some vinegar) into the cup to disinfect the gelatin for a few minutes, and then it can be placed into the trash. If you have any household pets, please make sure they don’t get into the trash! 

A scientist interest in culturing the microbes growing on the subsurface rocks might try out very similar experiments to see what would grow. Is something grew, that scientist would then conduct a whole bunch of other experiments to try to figure out how the microbes get energy and carbon, and what the identities of the microbe are.

If you have any questions about these experiments, please don't hesitate to ask!

Liability disclaimer: The experiments outlined above should be safe to perform with adult supervision, but participation in the activity is completely voluntary and done at your own risk. Please read and follow the directions carefully and avoid contact with anything that grows inside your experiment, just to be on the safe side. The Adopt A Microbe project has no liability for events that may occur during the course of the experiment. The Adopt A Microbe project has no affiliation with the makers of the ‘Subsurface Microbes Experimenter Kit’ kit or proprietors of the website. 

Microbe Math Answers

posted Aug 6, 2010, 2:56 AM by Beth Orcutt

Greetings from the Pacific Ocean, microbe and math lovers! This week has seen a lot of activity on the JR, from recovery of beautiful samples of oceanic crust drilled out of the seafloor to exciting live video-conferences with students at SeaWorld Florida and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. The microbiologists and the petrologists (otherwise known as the scientists that know a lot about the different minerals in the rocks) and the physical properties scientists (they measure things like heat transfer in the rocks) having all been working around the clock to collect and describe the samples – although they also make time for the cookie breaks at 3AM, 9AM, 3PM and 9PM! Pretty soon, if everything goes according to plan, the activities will change and the scientists will begin putting together the big fancy CORK experiment

Until then, maybe you are wondering about the answers to those math problems that were posted earlier in the week? Alrighty then, here we go… 

The first question was about how many microbes can be found in the deep dark ocean water, assuming that there are roughly 50,000 microbes in each teaspoon of water and that there are 200 sextillion teaspoons of non-sunlit seawater. So, 50,000 microbes per teaspoon times 200 sextillion teaspoons equals 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (or 10 octillion or 10 raised the 28th power) microbes in the dark ocean. That’s a lot! 

The second set of questions was about the length of scientific sample cores that are collected on the JR, and how long it would take a scientist to analyze the samples if they were on an American football field. Each core is about 9.5 meters long, which is roughly 31.2 feet. If you were to lay out cores on an American football field from one goal post to the other (100 yards between the goal lines plus 10 yard end zones on each end = 120 yards = 360 feet = 109.728 meters), then you could fit about 11 and a half cores. If you were to only put the cores between the goal lines (100 yards), then you could fit a little less than 10 (9.6) full cores end to end to stretch across the field. If it takes a scientist 10 minutes to work on 10 cm of sample, then it would take that scientist nearly 11 thousand minutes to work on cores stretched from one goal post to the other, which is almost 8 days of work! 8 days to make it from one goal post to the other! So far on this expedition, we’ve recovered nearly 21 meters of core, which is about a quarter of a football field in length (note: although we’ve drilled much more than that, only about 20% of what is drilled gets collected). 

Here's SAM in front of some of the core samples that have been recovered on this expedition.  After the microbiologists take a sample of rock directly after the core is recovered, then the remaining rocks are split in half for the petrologists to describe.

The final question set was about the amount of toilet paper that the JR has to carry, at a bare minimum, to make sure that we don’t run out. That would be bad news, since we can’t run down to the corner store to buy some more! If there are 125 people on board for 60 days, and each person uses 50 sheets per day out of rolls that have 500 sheets, then they ship needs at least 750 rolls of toilet paper. Imagine how big the closet would be to store that much toilet paper! 

SAM hiding in a box of toilet paper rolls in a supply closet on the JR.

Thanks to everyone for sending in your answers – what a smart bunch of humans you are! 

Some of you also sent in your own questions for us to answer – thanks! 

One question was about the oldest and youngest people on board the ship. The ages of people on the ship varies from expedition to expedition. On this expedition, we are lucky to have some younger adventurers with us on the education and outreach team. The youngest person is a 20 year-old college student. It’s harder to figure out who the oldest person is, since the grown-ups don’t want to admit how old they are. We’d reckon a guess that mid-late sixties would be the oldest age. 

You also asked us how people get to work on the JR. The ship’s crew (all of the drillers, the engineers, the captain and mates, and all of the other folks that help to keep the ship afloat) are all employees of TransOcean, since that company owns this vessel – they are the folks in the red coveralls that you see in some of the photos and video on this website. A federal science agency from the United States has a contract to use this ship, and that agency hires managers and technicians to help plan the nitty gritty details of each expedition to ensure that the science gets done. Many years prior to an expedition, a group of scientists will have sent in an application to the international ocean drilling program to request use of the ship for some specific adventure. When the time finally comes for that adventure to get scheduled, then scientists from all over the world can apply to IODP to be a part of the science party. Just like with each space shuttle launch with NASA, it takes a lot of planning to launch one of these expeditions, but it is definitely worth it! 

Some of you have sent in questions about how the ship manages to stay in one spot over the ocean floor while we are drilling. As you can imagine, if the ship drifted around too much, then the drilling pipe that connects the ship to the seafloor might bend or break – and that would be very bad. Well, on the underside of this ship, there is a whole series of thrusters running along each side from bow to stern. These thrusters are carefully controlled - in terms of the direction they face, the angle that they point, and the speed that the blades turn. The idea is that these thrusters help to stabilize the ship in one position, taking into account the water current, the wave conditions, the wind blowing against the ship, and our GPS coordinates. One whole section of the bridge where the captain works is devoted to the system that controls these thrusters – it is called the Dynamic Positioning room. Depending of the depth of water below the ship, the ship can move around safely within a certain radius of the drill pipe before the drill pipe would be in danger of breaking. Plus, even though the drill pipe is made of very heavy steel, there is still a little bit of flexibility in the pipe. If you’d like more details about dynamic positioning, check out this website for an overview from the Captain of the JR. 

That’s all for now. Check back in on Monday for the next microbe adoption activity!

4th Adoption Activity - Microbe Math!

posted Aug 2, 2010, 3:21 AM by Beth Orcutt

Howdy, microbe adopters! Happy August! Thanks again for sending in such entertaining microbe haiku last week. We hope you’ll have as much fun with this week’s activity. 

Some of you have sent in questions asking how many microbes live in different places, or how many microbes could fit on different objects. For this week’s activity, you and your microbe will get to do a little bit of math to figure out the answers to these questions! You might want to have a good calculator, a ruler, and some scratch paper handy. Send in your answers to the questions below by Thursday, August 5, 2010, and we’ll post some of the responses on Friday. 

Question set 1: On average, one teaspoon full of deep, dark ocean water contains fifty thousand (50,000) microbes. Crazy, huh?! Ok, so the global volume of deep, dark ocean has roughly 200 sextillion teaspoons of seawater – that’s 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 teaspoons. So, roughly how many microbes are there in all of the deep, dark ocean? 

Question set 2: On the RV JOIDES Resolution, the cores that are used to collect samples of muddy sediment and hard rocks are roughly 9.5 meters long. How long is that in feet? How many cores could you fit end to end on an American football field? If a scientist can work on 10 cm of sample every 10 minutes, how long would it take a scientist to process a full football field length of core? 

Question set 3: On average, there are 125 people sailing on the RV JOIDES Resolution for each expedition. Each expedition usually lasts 60 days. Assuming that each person uses about 50 sheets of toilet paper a day, and that an average roll of toilet paper has 500 sheets, how many rolls of toilet paper does the ship have to carry to meet everyone’s needs for the expedition? 

Have any questions for us? Let us know.

Microbe Haiku!

posted Jul 30, 2010, 9:13 AM by Beth Orcutt

Greetings, microbe adopters and fans! What a great batch of haiku you have sent in about your microbes – thanks! I hope that you had as much fun writing them as we have had reading them. Without further ado, here they are! 

A haiku about Shewanella loihica: 

ancient bacteria
at the vent of Loihi 
watch an island grow 

- Lisa 

Haiku questions about Desulfovibrio

Making sulfide gas 
May I reduce pollution 
In oxygen free water? 

- Lynne 

Haiku about Mariprofundus ferrooxydans: 

see deep in dark sea 
fancy pants microbial 
trailing rust ribbons 

beautiful dancer 
ribbons flowing and growing 
grace the rusty stage 

twirling in rust lace 
curling, floating like a wave 
nature's rhythmic dance 

- Alexis 

Ode to Methanocaldococcus

My home is boiling 
I produce a gas - methane 
I look like a stick 


Marinobacter haiku: 

Oxidating Iron, I’m 

- Megan 

Aquaeolei. My microbe 
should visit the Gulf 

- Hannah, Amber and Tim 

Don’t forget about Archaeoglobus

Very Colorful 
A Microorganism 
Archaeoglobus Rocks!!! 

- KitCatBeard 

Haiku tributes to Alcanivorax borkumensis: 

Borky, oh Borky 
Who eats oil, poops CO2 
Borky, good for you! 

Pet of mine, Borky 
Gas and oil embarrass me 
while you eat well, thrive 

- Sean 

Microbes that eat oil 
Found in Southern Vietnam 
Needed in the Gulf 

- The Voyagers of SeaCamp 

A. Borkumemus 
eating oil in the Gulf 
now the oil's gone.
- Ted 

I am a microbe 
I swim and eat in oil spills 
I need oxygen 


My microbe bug’s name 
Has a huge nine syllables! 
I’ll call him Al Bork! 

- Fred 

Ocean Microbe Cells 
Iron Oxidizer 
Hired by B.P.
- Carol 

Haiku about microbes in the deep, dark ocean: 

The tiny creatures 
Way deep in the ocean 
They are so little 


student may I be 
harsh world avatar, deep sea 
simple you, save me? 

Pretty good, huh?  Again, many thanks to you all for sending in your haiku! 

Oh, almost forgot - here’s a haiku we got from DEBI

Under the ocean 
In the rock is where I live 
Mmm, yummy iron! 

That reminds me – today is a very exciting day on board the JR. The scientists are very anxious because the boreholes that the drillers have been working on are finally ready for coring. That means new rock samples will soon be collected from deep under the seafloor, and the scientists will be busy investigating them for signs of microbial life and hydrothermal reactions. In honor of this big moment, here’s a picture of SAM with a piece of oceanic crust collected during an earlier cruise to this same environment. Everyone is hopeful that we will get such nice samples during our cruise! 

Microbes in the crust, 
What are you doing down there? 
Reveal your secrets

Don't forget to check back in on Monday for the next adoption project!

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