Semi-Living Garbage Bag

I promise I will get to explaining the meaning of this post’s title, but first some updates on my research. The microbiologist I have recently collaborated with mentioned to me once that part of his research involves testing how sound frequencies affect microbial growth (as in, exposing bacteria and yeast to different vibrations may encourage or discourage growth). This intrigued me as I had heard before that humming/singing can improve the gut-brain connection, and I wondered if it is possible that the vibrations of our voices influence or own microbiomes.


In scouring the internet for any published material that might speak to this idea, I came across two interesting articles. The first is an experiment that tested the effect of audible sound in the form of Indian classical music on microbial growth and the production of some metabolites. All except one of the species involved were found to proliferate under the effect of the music.


I was unable to find any article that mentioned the voice’s effect on the microbiome, but in searching for one I found this article describing ideas about the gut-brain axis over the course of the past several centuries. For instance, nineteenth-century doctors ascribed much more importance to the gut in diagnosing illness then did later doctors. The notion that a person’s health could be closely linked to their digestion was popular amongst the public at this time, as can be seen in the success of a little book call Memoirs of a Stomach, published in 1875. The story is exactly what it sounds like: a narrative from the point of view of the author’s stomach (read it online here). Historical analysis seems to suggest that medical ideology swing between the extremes of viewing the body in a holistic versus reductionistic way. In the nineteenth century, it was more holistic (doctors believed the gut the be interrelated with the functioning of the whole body), while twentieth century doctors began to be more reductionistic in their thinking. Now we seem to be swinging back to a more holistic viewpoint. This means that while microbiome research is “new,” the idea that gut health is critical to overall health is merely resurfacing.


Now for the story behind the title of this post. I recently thought I would dry out a large sheet of SCOBY on a plastic garbage bag, and it did not go over well. The SCOBY, which I had believed to be fairly mature, turned out to be much thinner than I expected and as a result more fragile. This meant that when it melded itself completely to the garbage bag, I had no hope of removing it. It made for a rather interesting display – the biological material one with the non-biological material – so I decided to take some pictures in order to document it:

However, since I currently cannot think of a use for such an oddity, I decided to rehydrate the SCOBY and try again.

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