Posts Tagged Fireflies

The science of Rudolf’s glowing nose! Siouxsie Wiles Dec 24

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Rudolf by Latharion

Rudolf by Latharion

This festive season AUT University Prof’s Steve Pointing and Allan Blackman released a marvelous little video explaining the science behind some of the unanswered mysteries of Christmas. How does Santa get to all those houses unseen in one night? And how does he get down the chimney? I’ve been sent the video so many times as they also cover the science that could explain Rudolf’s red nose. Bioluminescence of course!

Except…. they get it a little bit wrong. So I talked to the fantastic Rebecca Watson from Skepchick and explained the real science behind Rudolf’s red nose. Enjoy!

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PS Slight correction… while we are being pedantic, in the video I say that GFP is excited by UV light. This is true for wild-type GFP but there are also lots of variants now so it’s probably the case that the GFP-expressing animals are made with a modified GFP that is excited by blue light rather than UV.

PPS If you like Rebecca’s video, you can support her to make more on Patreon, and if you can think of other science stories you would like explaining like this then let us know!

Fireflies at the 6th Annual Imagine Science Film Festival! Siouxsie Wiles Sep 30

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I’m really excited to announce that my fireflies and NASA animation will be appearing at the 6th Imagine Science Film Festival, being held in New York , October 11th-18th. Sponsored by Google, and the journals Science and Nature, according to it’s website, the festival aims to:

“transform the way science and scientists are portrayed in mainstream media, while emphasizing the importance of storytelling, narrative structure, and visual communication”

The full line up for the festival is here. I was very excited to see the listing for mine!

And for those who won’t be making it to New York, I can’t show you all the films but can show you mine :)

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Monday Micro – World TB Day Siouxsie Wiles Mar 25

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Yesterday, the 24th of March, was World TB Day which aims to build awareness for tuberculosis, a lung disease which kills about 2 million people around the world each year. That’s 3 people a minute. Why the 24th March? This was the day, in 1882, that Dr Robert Koch* announced he had discovered the bacterium that causes TB, Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

TB, or consumption as it was known, had long been thought to be a hereditary disease. In 1869, French physician Jean-Antoine Villemin showed the disease was infectious. He injected rabbits with material taken from people who had died of TB. Not surprisingly, the rabbits became ill. Thirteen years later, Robert Koch, purified the microorganism responsible, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1905.

But despite it being over 100 years since M. tuberculosis was discovered, we are a long way from eradicating TB, hence World TB Day. The Global Fund, supported by the Gates Foundation and others, have put together this nice infographic highlighting some facts and figures.


M. tuberculosis is one of the organisms my lab at the University of Auckland are busy working on. If you want to know what we are doing, here’s the little animation I made with graphic artist Luke Harris and his team to show how we are using fireflies to make TB research faster and more humane.

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*Koch is best known to microbiologists for what we now refer to as Koch’s Postulates, four criteria he stated needed to be proven to establish a causal relationship between an microorganism and a particular disease. These are:

1. That the microorganism is found in all cases of the disease examined, while absent in healthy organisms
2. That the microorganism be isolated from a diseased host and grown in a pure culture
3. That the microorganism should be capable of producing the original infection when introduced into a healthy host, even after several generations in culture
4. That the microorganism is retrievable from an inoculated/experimental host and cultured again.

As with everything though, it turns out that there are exceptions to every rule, and we now know many microorganisms that fail one or more of Koch’s Postulates but are still clearly the cause of a particular disease. For example, many nasty microorganisms can be carried asymptomatically by healthy people (including Vibrio cholerae, the agent responsible for cholera), while there are a number of microorganisms which we are unable to culture in the laboratory (including Mycobacterium leprae, the agent responsible for leprosy, which can only be grown in the footpad of a mouse, or a nine-banded armadillo).

Monday Micro Siouxsie Wiles Dec 03

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Welcome back to Monday Micro. Last week’s Monday was lacking in microbiology factoids as I was at the New Zealand Microbiology Society‘s annual meeting*. This year it was at the University of Otago in Dunedin. Highlights for me were keynotes by Rob Knight (microbiomes and Next Gen Sequencing), Eric Ruben (TB) and Steven Wilhelm (cyanobacterial blooms). Tweets of some of the talks are here.

Highlights for me:

Finding that lots of people flush public toilets with their feet, that cyanobacteria are a bad food source “like ordering pizza and only eating the box”** and that “we are all accidents of history”***.

Moving on, Round 3 of the SciFund Challenge is in full swing so if you fancy supporting some microbiology projects Amy Truitt wants so study butterflies and their sexually transmitted diseases, Will Helenbrook is studying the effects of infectious diseases on Mantled howler monkeys and Andy MacDonald is working on Lyme disease.

* The slides for my talk (Fireflies and superbugs: when science and nature collide) are up on slideshare. I started my talk with my Meet the Lampyridae animation….

** Steven Wilhelm
*** Unknown kilted MC of conference dinner :)

The Innovate TB contest Siouxsie Wiles Jun 14

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The Stop TB Partnership and Working Group on New TB Drugs are currently running the Innovate TB Contest where people where asked to submit their videos showing how innovations are revolutionising tuberculosis (TB) prevention, treatment and advocacy. Submissions are now closed and the public have just a couple of days left to vote. The three videos with the most votes will then be evaluated on their overall message, relevance to the theme, and creativity by an expert panel of TB stakeholders.

My firefly animation, Meet the Lamypridae, which shows how bioluminescence is being used to speed up TB drug discovery, is currently sat in 5th place. Please help it get into to top three by clicking on the link to the video and voting by clicking on the Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn buttons underneath it.

Thanks for your help!

From fireflies to space invaders Siouxsie Wiles Feb 14

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Following on from the animation we made showing how fireflies are helping fight superbugs, Luke Harris and I have collaborated on another video. This one links fireflies and NASA. Enjoy!

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From fireflies to superbugs…. Siouxsie Wiles Dec 08


I’ve spent the last few months working with a fantastic Australian animator, Luke Harris, and his team to tell the story of what I do and why in under 3 minutes. So if you want to find out a little more about the amazing beetle that is the firefly and how it is helping scientists battle against some of the world’s nastiest microbes then take a look.

Update 10/12/11: I was recently interviewed for Radio New Zealand’s weekly science show Our Changing World which aired on 8/12/11 so a longer explanation of my research without the amazing graphics can be found here.

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