#FEMSmicroBlog: Microbe Media


Microbes are beautiful, diverse, and astounding. They are also very small. Their tiny size makes them mostly inaccessible to anyone who is without a microscope. Having some continuous access to the microscopic world is one of the greatest privileges for microbiologists across the world, argues Joseph Shuttleworth in this new #FEMSmicroBlog entry. #MicrobiologyIsEverywhere


Microbes on Social Media

Recent calls for microbiology literacy needing to become part of the world citizen job description will have little impact if most people can’t visualise, imagine, or even empathize with microorganisms in their daily lives. Although there are initiatives like the foldscope, globally most people have still never used one.

Sadly, after perhaps a small introduction to microbes at school, the microscope does not remain a feature in ordinary life for most of humankind. So how can we get people, who do not have microscope technology at home or at work, to really take the microbial world into consideration?

So how can we get people to really take the microbial world into consideration?

A growing body of publications points to a solution. From microMOOCs on Twitter where open science courses are delivered through tweets, to Cell-fies on Instagram where amazing pictures and video microscopy bring the microbial world alive for thousands of people, social media networks provide a powerful tool for sharing the microcosm to a vast audience.

However, what I have come to believe can make these efforts effective is having really visually engaging content to share with people. We are all busy, and the internet is highly congested, and so the aesthetic quality needs to be as high as possible to really grab the attention of the passer-by online.

In our Education with Microbes session for International Microorganism Day this year, Jo Verran and I talked about some amazing initiatives from a range of microbiologists that really set the standard. Links to all these resources are available in the Education Section of the FEMS Opportunities Board.

The live chat during the Delft Microscope Hour of International Microorganism Day 2020: sometimes it’s the smallest impacts that mean the most

Later on in the day during the Delft Microscope Hour with Hunter N. Hines and Ben Libberton, we performed live video microscopy and discussed how short videos of microbes, produced using his institution’s research standard microscopes, can be used to build follower bases on Instagram that are measured in the hundreds of thousands.

Two great examples of accounts like this are Hunter’s own account: @microbialecology (136,000 followers); and @jam_and_germs (146,000 followers).


The #52Microorganisms Legacy Project

Here at FEMS, I was luckily enough to be supported to create our own contribution, the #52Microorganisms series. Across one year, I made a 1-minute video every week on a different microorganism, to share through our social media channels. At the time this series ended (February 2020), these videos had been viewed nearly 90,000 times, with the social media posts reaching over 500,000 people.

All videos are available for download and open source use.

I learned so much during this project, not just about the microorganisms (although I learned a tonne!) but also video, image, and text editing skills and ultimately about what our audience liked online.

They were most interested in magnets, alcohol, anti-microbial resistance, and tales of daring-do. The four most well viewed and shared videos were: Magnetospirillum, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Helicobacter pylori (which included the famous story of Barry Marshall drinking a broth of H. pylori to test his hypothesis that this bacterium caused stomach ulcers).

Several colleagues and contacts pointed out to me that these videos could be useful for teaching and education. So, I am happy to announce that all the video files, the editing template, and two educational activities using them, can now be freely accessed online for anyone to download and share. For those interested, I also include the data set on all the metrics we recorded on views and engagements for every video, just in case this helps you to plan your own microbe communication projects.

Here, you will find 52 videos, each around a minute in length, available to download. They provide short introductions with some added depth to a range of microbes: bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi, protists etc.:

Find the final Videos, Editing Templates, and Data via this page: 52Microorganisms Open Source Resource

For the project, I made heavy use of images and video files in the Wikimedia Commons, and so I encourage active researchers to upload any useful files they have to this database. It helps outreach and communication so much to have good quality open repositories of visual data. Remember also that many Open Access articles have licenses that allow sharing, mixing and even commercial use of visual material given that the source is properly cited.

I encourage active researchers to upload any useful files they have to Wikimedia Commons. It helps outreach and communication so much to have good quality open repositories of visual data.

I secretly hope that these examples, and their impact, can help persuade many scientists, societies, organizations, and universities to really start developing the resourcing and equipment needed for people to produce gorgeous digital content about our favourite microbes. Instead of keeping this glorious microscopy equipment locked up in the ivory tower of academia, we should encourage universities and institutions to allow digital content creators, in combination with science communicators and interested researchers, better access to it for the public communication of microbiology.

At FEMS, we have our own exciting new development in this area for the coming year. I am pleased to announce that the FEMS Team will be getting our own x2000 magnification microscope with video recording capacity and trinocular viewfinder. This viewfinder will allow us to stream video of a specimen online and to observe our slides with an analogue eyepiece simultaneously, with the need to only focus our microscope once. We can’t wait to show you more!

Starting in 2021, we will be using our new internet microscope to create next generation microbe video content for communicating and exploring the microbial world online. Perhaps then we may start to be able to share this incredible world with everyone who has a smartphone, rather than just everyone who has a microscope.

About the author of this blog

Joseph Brooks Shuttleworth is the Science Communications Officer at FEMS, where he leads on the digital and social media side of things, and manages various communications projects and volunteer teams with a content creation and SciComms focus. Previous to FEMS, he worked in science communications in London at the Science Media Centre UK, and spent time a political factchecker for Full Fact, the UK’s independent fact checking charity. His academic background is in Natural Sciences (M.A. University of Cambridge) and the History and Philosophy of Science (M.Sc. University College London), with a focus on the philosophy of computing. Originally from Oxford (UK), as a school student student he spent 3 summers interning at the William Dunn School of Pathology, where he cultivated copious E. coli colonies and a love for microbiology.

About this blog section

The section #MicrobiologyIsEverywhere for the #FEMSmicroBlog highlights the global relevance of microbiology. The section acknowledges that microbiology knows no borders, as well as the fact that microbiologists are everywhere and our FEMS network extends well beyond Europe. This blog entry type accepts contributions from excellent blogs translated into English. Regional stories with global relevance are welcomed. National or international events sponsored, organised or connected to FEMS are also covered.

Do you want to be a guest contributor?
The #FEMSmicroBlog welcomes external bloggers, writers and SciComm enthusiasts. Get in touch if you want to share your idea for a blog entry with us!

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