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Bubble Trouble

Bacteria produce chemicals that extend the life-span of bubbles they inhabit meaning more microbes are spread when it bursts

03 February 2019

Bubble Trouble

Floating up to the surface of seas, volcanoes, soup and hot chocolate - is there a more joyful sight than a popping bubble? Yet some are filled with bacteria like Escherichia coli (E.coli) and a pop launches microbes in all directions, potentially spreading infection. Zooming in on bubbles with a high-powered microscope reveals the bacteria-laden lower bubble has tell-tale bright spots. Each is a plucky microbe, climbing up the dome-like 'cap' as it readies to explode. Researchers found that E.coli produce surfactant chemicals that thin the surface of the bubble, extending its life from seconds to minutes as the bacterial payload gathers – ensuring that when it does burst, the microorganisms spread far and wide. These may be important insights for scientists trying to contain the spread of infection or learning more about airborne disease transmission.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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