Group meeting and colouring pencils

A massive thanks to our Oxford participants for giving up their Tuesday evening to talk about bacteria! In the first of a series of meetings scheduled for the next eight months, we met to talk about good germs and bad germs, where they might live in kitchens, and how ‘metagenomic sequencing’ might help us visualise their abundance and diversity.

What is ‘metagenomic sequencing’? It’s a technique for finding out what bacteria are present in a sample by ‘reading’ their DNA. Traditional methods of microbiology relied on growing bacteria in petri dishes – of the sort you might remember from school biology classes. But it turns out that many bacteria don’t grow too well in a dish. Metagenomic techniques don’t have that problem, because they don’t require live bacteria to work: just DNA. And they let you find out about the whole bacterial community in a sample, not just about single species.

Our plan with this project is to use metagenomic techniques to help people explore the bacterial communities that live around their kitchens. We are still waiting for the results from our first ‘kitchen safari’, in which our participants sampled their chopping boards, worktops, sinks, cupboard handles and kitchen floors. But the results should be with us in the next few weeks.

When the results arrive, we should be able to see which areas of our participants’ kitchens have the most bacterial diversity, and which areas the least – like showing where the microbial equivalent of the Amazon rainforest is (chopping boards, perhaps?), and where the bacterial Saharan desert might be found (freshly cleaned worktops?). We will then be able to compare these ‘actual’ results to what our participants thought we ‘might’ find – as shown in the pictures attached. These are ‘heat maps’, coloured in by our participants to show where they expect to find the most diversity, and where the least.


Whilst we wait for that data, we are also waiting for the result of our participant vote on the next kitchen experiment. Will our group choose to explore the bacterial communities that emerge on freshly washed cutlery and plates, those on their various kitchen bins, or even the communities to be found in fermenting food? Watch this space!