Outsmart the sinister JavelWater

JavelWater’s laboratory

Alvir

HELP! Professor JavelWater has become completely insane! He is obsessed with hygiene and thinks that lack of cleanliness is the reason all germs exist! He wants me to finish his invention: a machine that will destroy ALL germs living on Earth!!!



JavelWater

This is why he has locked me in this cage. To be freed, I must convince Professor JavelWater that his wish is deadly for ALL living beings because his machine will not only kill germs … I must act quickly and I will never be able to do it if I am stuck here. I have to be able to prove to him that germs are very important for us, that they are not only harmful!!! Oh, if only I could access the files in my office and my laboratory experiments … By searching carefully, I could certainly also find proof elsewhere…


Instructions

To play, you must begin by choosing a hypothesis. Then, try and find clues that will allow you to prove that your hypothesis is true. If you succeed, you will free Alvir. You may visit three places to find clues: Alvir’s office, Alvir’s laboratory, and the kitchenette. To help you accumulate clues, you will be asked questions in a laboratory notebook. The answers to the questions are also clues! When you believe you have enough clues, return to JavelWater’s laboratory and question him. Hurry, Alvir needs you!


Choice of hypotheses

What would happen if we destroyed all microorganisms living on Earth? Choose a hypothesis. A) " We would destroy all forms of life on Earth. " B) " We would never be sick again. " Now, validate your hypothesis with clues found in the different rooms. Good luck!


Alvir’s laboratory

Aquarium

Aquarium

Some aquatic microorganisms are known as " useful decomposers " because they decompose — or, if you prefer, digest — dead fish, insects, algae, and aquatic plants, as well as fertilizers, garbage, and pollutants. Plants can then use these small bits of material, such as nitrogen, as a source of food. In other words, microorganisms clean water while feeding themselves! They are at the bottom of the aquatic food chain because they are a source of food for fish.

AlgaeZoomZoom
© Éric Déziel, INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier

Flower pot

Flower pot

Some microorganisms that live in soil are known as " micro-recyclers " because they decompose — or, if you prefer, digest — dead animals, birds, and insects, as well as fertilizers, garbage, and pollutants. Plants can then use these small bits of material, such as nitrogen, as a source of food. The microorganisms clean the soil while recycling! They are at the bottom of the earth’s food chain because plants are a source of food for animals and humans.


GerminationZoomZoom
© Armand-Frappier Museum
Microorganisms are found at the roots.ZoomZoom
© Armand-Frappier Museum
Cycles of carbon and nitrogenZoomZoom
© Armand-Frappier Museum

Microorganisms in soil play an important role in maintaining life on earth because they recycle nitrogen (N) and carbon (C). These two elements exist in air in the form of gases. They also exist in all living beings, animals, and plants. Among other things, they are used to manufacture proteins. Proteins are found in saliva, blood and muscles, in plants, insects, fish, etc. Plants, animals, and several types of microorganisms work together to capture the nitrogen and carbon from air and to recycle these elements from living beings that die, transforming them and making them available again to living beings. These are what we call element cycles, as illustrated in the diagram.


Test tubes filled with contaminated soil

Éprouvettes remplies de sol contaminé

Yum yum! For some microorganisms living in soil, petroleum residues, such as gasoline, are a source of food. The use of microorganisms to clean soil is known as " biorestoration ".

Inhaling or ingesting petroleum-derived pollutants is a potential health risk. Furthermore, if they are released into the environment, they cause pollution that must be eliminated quickly, before the products reach a waterway, for example. In this case, soil microorganisms are called to the rescue to digest the pollutants. Soil is piled onto a large black cloth, aerated, and the microorganisms simply eat the pollutants! The bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an example of a petroleum-eating microorganism. In time, the soil will become clean again.


Collecting a small quantity of soilZoomZoom
© Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima
BiopileZoomZoom
© Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima
Pseudomonas aeruginosaZoomZoom
© Richard Villemur, INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier

Microscope

Microscope

Microorganisms are as diversified as the animals we know. They can be grouped into 5 families:

1) viruses
2) bacteria
3) fungi (moulds and yeasts)
4) algae
5) protozoa.

A virus needs another living being in order to reproduce. Some, such as the influenza virus, can make us sick.

Some bacteria are very useful, such as the lactobacilla that produce yogurt.

Some yeasts, such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and moulds such as Penicillium roqueforti, are used to manufacture bread and cheese.

Finally, algae such as Pyrocystis lunula, and protozoa in water such as Giardia lamblia are excellent micro-recyclers !

Microorganisms cannot be seen with the naked eye. A microscope is used to see and photograph them.

Influenza virusZoomZoom
© Robert Alain, SME, INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier
Lactobacilla on a filter.ZoomZoom
© Miloslav Kalab, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa
Saccharomyces cerevisiaeZoomZoom
© Lallemand

Penicillium roquefortiZoomZoom
© Dennis Kunkel Microscopy, Inc.
Giardia lambliaZoomZoom
© Joel Mancuso
Pyrocystis lunulaZoomZoom
© David Morse, University of Montreal

Petri dish

Petri dish

One way to observe live microorganisms is to put them on agar gel. This solid gel, similar to Jell-O®, is placed in a dish with a cover, called a " Petri dish ". The gel provides food for the microorganisms. Sugar and even gasoline can be added to the gel. It will sometimes change color, depending on what it contains. The gel provides food for the microorganisms. Sugar and even gasoline can be added to the gel. It will sometimes change color, depending on what it contains.

With the right food, and providing they are at the right temperature, microorganisms will reproduce very rapidly. Some microorganisms like heat while others prefer the cold. After 24 to 48 hours, colonies will appear on the gel’s surface. Colonies are often circles whose shape, odor, color, and texture are characteristic of a particular microorganism.

Petri dishesZoomZoom
© Armand-Frappier Museum

Beaker of ice

Beaker of ice

Microorganisms live everywhere! All types of cells such as algae, diatoms, and bacteria colonize the frozen Arctic and Antarctic seas. Polaromonas vacuolata is an example of a bacterium that lives at 4 °C, the temperature inside a refrigerator. At 12 °C, this bacterium finds the temperature too hot and dies. These bacteria that live at cold temperatures are of great interest to laundry detergent manufacturers, for example. Why? Because they produce substances, enzymes, that clean better in cold water. We therefore save energy by putting the microorganisms to work!

Polaromonas vacuolataZoomZoom
© Roar Irgens, John Gosink and James T. Staley

Beaker of boiling water

Beaker of boiling water

In the 1960s, a team of scientists (such as Alvir Champrobacter!) from an American university discovered a bacterium that lives in hot water. It is called Thermus aquaticus. This bacterium really likes extreme conditions, since it lives in thermal waters where the temperature is above 70 °C. As a comparison, consider that when you do not have a fever, your body temperature is 37°C.

Thermus aquaticusZoomZoom
© Diane Montpetit

Vortex mixer

Vortex mixer

The vortex mixer is a laboratory device that is used to rapidly shake mixtures of liquids or of solids and liquids. By touching the rubber part of the device with the tube containing the mixture to be shaken, the mixer starts to vibrate very rapidly, creating a swirl in the liquid. This swirl is known as a vortex, which is how the device got its name.

Example of a vortex mixer.ZoomZoom
© Armand-Frappier Museum

File: Biological treatment of water

File: Biological treatment of water

When we treat water to make it safe to drink, a part of the process can consist of cleaning using a special filter containing microorganisms. The microorganisms feed on the garbage present in the water. This filter is known as a " biological " filter, because the microorganisms inhabit the filter naturally. The microorganisms do not contaminate the water, but remain fixed to the filter.

The water filtration plant in Auteuil (Québec) cleans waste water before it is returned to the river. Shale, a type of rock, is used as a filter. In 1984, the water treatment plant in Ste-Rose (Québec) became the first such plant in North America to use biological filtration on a charcoal filter.

Filamentous bacteriaZoomZoom
© Water treatment plant in Ste-Rose
Shale filterZoomZoom
© Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima
Biological water treatment plant in Ste-Rose.ZoomZoom
© Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima

File: Biological treatment of gases

File: Biological treatment of gases

Gasoline is used to power automobiles. When a spill occurs, it pollutes the soil and the air. This pollution represents a health risk. When this happens, we call microorganisms to the rescue. A biofilter can be used to clean the air. This special filter contains a type of sponge inhabited by a large quantity of microorganisms able to digest the gaseous pollutants circulating within the sponge. The sponge consists of compost, peat, and contaminated soil. While the decontamination is taking place, the air is verified for the presence of remaining gaseous pollutants. When the air exits the biofilter, it is clean again!

PumpsZoomZoom
© Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima

Question 1 : What do we call microorganisms that live in soil and what do they do?

Question 2 : What do we call microorganisms that live in soil and what do they do?

Question 3 : What is the name of the process of cleaning soil using microorganisms?


Alvir’s office

Bessie the cow

Bessie the cow

Cows feed on grass that contains a sugar, cellulose. This sugar contains energy. The cow can digest the grass and recover the energy it contains because its stomach contains microorganisms (bacteria, protozoa, and fungi) able to break up the cellulose into very small pieces. Endodinium simplex is an example of this type of microorganism. The cow can then use the small pieces of sugar to move, to moo, and to graze! Contrary to cows, humans cannot eat grass to recover energy because our stomach is not adapted to this food.

Endodinium simplexZoomZoom
© GAILLARD-MARTINIE Brigitte / INRA

File: Insulin

File: Insulin

Insulin is a hormone. Insulin helps sugar to be properly digested and transformed into energy for the body’s cells. To stay alive, diabetics must inject themselves with insulin several times a day because their bodies have difficulty manufacturing the hormone. Where does this insulin come from?

In the past, insulin from animals was used. Because the number of diabetics is increasing constantly, scientists have found another way to produce insulin in large quantities. They have succeeded in transforming microorganisms to allow them to manufacture human insulin. The microorganisms are " GMOs, " genetically modified organisms.

Take a good look at the diagram. It shows how microorganisms produce human insulin. Information for manufacturing the insulin is taken from the gene obtained from the blood of a healthy person. The gene is inserted into the microorganism. Using special nutrients, the microorganism multiplies and when they are very plentiful, they begin to produce insulin, believing that it is important for them. When the microorganisms have finished eating, the insulin they have produced is removed and bottled. As for the microorganisms, they are thrown into a garbage can that destroys them.


Production of human insulin by microorganisms.ZoomZoom
© Armand-Frappier Museum

File: Diabetes

File: Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease caused by the body's inability, to produce insulin, either partiallly or totally or to it's difficulty in responding to insulin. Many diabetics need only to watch their diet but some of them must also and inject themselves with insulin.

Before injecting themselves, diabetics must determine the quantity of sugar in their blood. To do this, they take a blood sample by pricking the end of a finger with a lancing device. The drop of blood is deposited on the plastic strip that is inserted into the glucometer. The numbers that indicate the quantity of sugar in the blood appear on the screen of the glucometer. If there is too much sugar in the blood the person will inject insulin. If there is too little, the person will eat a small quantity of sugar. If the quantity is normal, the person can pursue his or her activities.

A lancing device and a glucometerZoomZoom
© Armand-Frappier Museum

Wireless phone

Wireless phone

Hello, this message is for Ms Alvir Champrobacter. This is Dr. Joseph Icureyou’s secretary. I am calling to confirm your appointment with the doctor today at 7:00 PM for a follow-up of your antibiotic treatment. Please bring your vial of penicillin with you. Thanks and have a good day.


Medication vial

Medication vial

Bacteria sometimes make us sick. Do you know a way to help our defense system, the immune system, to fight bacterial infections? Antibiotics are the answer.

Bacterial infections can be fought more effectively with antibiotics that are the products of other microorganisms, fungi.

This was discovered by chance by the British microbiologist Alexander Fleming in 1927. In one experiment, he noticed that a fungus called Penicillium had contaminated the bacteria colonies. This fungus produced a substance that was toxic for the bacteria. He called this substance " penicillin ".

Vial of dehydrated penicillinZoomZoom
© Armand-Frappier Museum

Question 4 : What is the name of the substance, manufactured by microorganisms, that diabetics must inject themselves with regularly?

Question 5 : What is the name of the substance, manufactured by fungi, that the doctor prescribes to fight a bacterial infection?


Kitchenette

Radio

Radio

News of the hour: The famous Dr. Alvir Champrobacter was kidnapped this morning by the sinister Professor JavelWater. He is keeping her prisoner in an unknown location. Anyone having any clues concerning the disappearance of Dr. Champrobacter is asked to communicate with the radio station without delay. And now back to our regular programming.


Soap dispenser

Soap dispenser

Microorganisms are naturally present on the skin and in certain parts of the human body, such as the intestines. Skin is a barrier that prevents microorganisms from entering the body. An injury becomes an entry point for the microorganisms that can cause an infection. Washing your hands regularly is a good way to prevent infections.

When they are well controlled, because of good hygiene, for example, and there is a balance among the microorganisms, they are generally harmless and will not endanger your health. They afford a certain protection by their simple presence, preventing microorganisms that make us sick, or pathogens, from " gaining ground ".

Of all the organs in the human body, the large intestine is the one that contains the largest number of microorganisms. It contains billions of them! These microorganisms have a very specific job to do: finish digesting the food that we eat so that the nutritive elements can enter our bodies to nourish them.

HygieneZoomZoom
© Armand-Frappier Museum

Poster

Poster

Although the majority of microorganisms are not pathogenic, some of them can make us sick if they succeed in getting in where they don’t belong!

For example, after using the toilet, it is important to wash our hands to prevent microorganisms that normally inhabit the intestines from transferring to the mouth! It is also important to wash our hands before eating to protect ourselves, but also when we have a cold, to protect others.

Warm water and a little soap are very efficient in eliminating undesirable microorganisms. Wet, rub, rinse, and in the time it takes to sing " Happy Birthday, " you’re done! How about you; have you washed your hands?

SkinZoomZoom
© Armand-Frappier Museum

Cheese sandwich

Cheese sandwich

To make bread, the baker must mix flour, water, and salt, but he must also add an ingredient that allows the dough to rise. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is the yeast usually used for this purpose. The Egyptians from Antiquity are thought to have been the first people to produce bread. In those days, two types of bread were prepared: flat bread similar to Mexican tortillas, and fluffy bread, the ancestor of the bread we eat today. The ingredient that allowed the dough to rise was called leaven and it is still sometimes used today. Leaven is made up of flour, yeasts and lactic bacteria. By multiplying, the microorganisms produce the gas that will cause the dough to rise; the Egyptians, however, did not realize this.

As for cheese making, it consists of three steps: curdling, draining and ripening. Curdling often implies lactic bacteria, and bacteria, moulds, and even yeasts generally carry out the ripening. This is why microorganisms are considered indispensable in cheese making.

Crusted bread.ZoomZoom
© Ian Button
Mozzarella cheese.ZoomZoom
© Photo courtesy PDPhoto.org

Bread yeasts

Bread yeasts

Bread is produced by yeasts that feed on the maltose (sugar) contained in flour. The yeasts transform the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, CO2, which allows the bread to rise. This process is called  alcoholic fermentation ". To make bread:
a) Mix all the ingredients: the flour, the water, the salt, and the yeast.
b) Knead the dough to put all the ingredients into contact with one another.
c) Let the dough rest to allow the yeasts to multiply and to let the bread rise before baking.
d) Cook the dough to kill the yeasts and evaporate the alcohol.
e) Bon appétit!


Saccharomyces cerevisiaeZoomZoom
© Lallemand

Camembert

Camembert

Cheese is manufactured in several steps. First, the rennet, the lactic bacteria, or both curdle the milk. This first step produces a curd that is more or less firm. Draining is used to remove the liquid. Ripening is the final step that gives the cheese its characteristics.

The microorganisms used during the different steps convert the lactose, the sugar present in milk, to lactic acid. This process is called " lactic fermentation ".

Penicillium roquefortiZoomZoom
© Dennis Kunkel Microscopy, Inc.

Yogurt

Yogurt

To make yogurt, we need lactobacilla, thermophile (that like heat) streptococci, and milk. When the milk is heated, bacteria ferment the lactose (sugar) and transform it into yogurt. The bacteria produce lactic acid, which gives yogurt its slightly acidic flavor.

These two bacteria are not the only ones present in yogurt. There may be others that will produce different tastes and textures. Flavors, fruits, honey, and nuts are added after fermentation.

Lactobacilla on a filter.ZoomZoom
© Miloslav Kalab, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa

Kefir

Kefir

Kefir is fermented milk. Bacteria and yeasts ferment the lactose (sugar) present in milk. These microorganisms, still alive in the final product, continue to produce carbon dioxide gas, CO2, causing your tongue to tingle when you drink kefir, like when you drink a carbonated beverage.

Each container of kefir contains several million microorganisms. Some of them are called " probiotic ". This means that they are good for our health because they contribute to the maintenance of a good microbial equilibrium in the digestive tract.

The diagram shows the manufacture of kefir. First, kefir grains are added in small quantity to milk to produce the mother culture. For 24 hours, the bacteria and yeasts present in the grains multiply and ferment the milk, changing its texture. The larger grains are removed and the very active mother culture is then used to inoculate a larger quantity of milk. After this second fermentation, the kefir is transferred into individual containers that will be sold at grocery stores.

Steps to making kefir.ZoomZoom
© Armand-Frappier Museum
Kefir grainsZoomZoom
© Ross McKay

Question 7 : What is the role of bacteria in the large intestine?

Question 8 : Can you name two food items that have been manufactured by microorganisms for a very long time?

Question 9 : What is yogurt made from?


Hypothesis validation

Microorganisms are living beings and the vast majority of them are useful to humans. Algae, viruses, bacteria, fungi, yeasts, moulds, and protozoa are naturally present in our environment. They live in the soil, in the water, in the air, on and in our bodies, and in the bodies of animals. They contribute to the ecological equilibrium of the planet by transforming or eliminating the garbage and pollutants that humans discharge into the environment. They are required for plant growth and therefore for herbivores who feed on plants. They serve as food for fish, and animals and humans then eat the fish.

Thus, yeasts and lactic bacteria have been used for over 2000 years to produce food for human beings and animals. Several other species of microorganisms render us great services by producing antibiotics, for example, or by contributing to the proper functioning of the digestive systems of several organisms, including humans.

Microorganisms are ancient. They have survived because of their great capacity for adaptation. They are capable of living in all sorts of environments where human beings could not live: in temperatures over 100 °C, in ice, in the absence of oxygen, etc. In fact, microorganisms are able to clean the " new environments " created by pollution. It is true that some of them make us sick, but we have a very good tool to fight them: our immune system. We should take care of our immune system instead of trying to invent a machine, no matter how perfect, that would destroy ALL microorganisms. By doing this, we would destroy life on Earth.

Answer 1 : What do we call microorganisms that live in water and what do they do?

B) Useful decomposers. They clean the water.

Answer 2 : What do we call microorganisms that live in soil and what do they do?

A) Micro-recyclers. They clean soil while recycling.

Answer 3 : What is the name of the process of cleaning soil using microorganisms?

B) Biorestoration.
 

Answer 4 : What is the name of the substance, manufactured by microorganisms, that diabetics must inject themselves with regularly?

A) Insulin.

Answer 5 : What is the name of the substance, manufactured by fungi, that the doctor prescribes to fight a bacterial infection?

B) Penicillin.

Answer 6 : What does a cow eat? Why is it able to derive energy from it?

B) It eats grass. Because of the microorganisms that live in its stomach.
 

Answer 7 : What is the role of bacteria in the large intestine?

A) These bacteria serve to digest food.

Answer 8 : Can you name two food items that have been manufactured by microorganisms for a very long time?

B) Bread and cheese.

Answer 9 : What is yogurt made from?

A) From milk and lactic bacteria.