This Week in Microbiology

With Vincent Racaniello, Elio Schaechter, Michael Schmidt, Michele Swanson and Christina Kellogg

Episode 178: Corals are sexy with Christina Kellogg

Aired June 14, 2018

Vincent: This Week in Microbiology is brought to you by the American Society for Microbiology at


Michael: Hello, ASM!

(audience cheer)

Vincent: Alright, good job. From the American Society of Microbiology, this is TWIM, This Week in Microbiology. This is episode 178 and today is June 10, 2018. I’m Vincent Racaniello and you are listening to the podcast that explores unseen life on Earth. Today we are recording at ASM Microbe in Atlanta, Georgia and joining me today are all three TWIM co hosts. All the way over there on the right, Michael Schmidt.

Michael: Hello everyone!

Vincent: Welcome.

Michael: Thank you!

Vincent: Michele Swanson.

Michele: Hello, wonderful to see you all here!

Vincent: And Elio Schaechter.

Elio: Well, hello, everybody!

Vincent: How about a big hand for the crew? (applause)

Elio: We can use all the hands we can get.

Vincent: We have a special guest today who is at this meeting presenting and we are going to talk to her about her work. She is from the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center, Christina Kellogg, welcome to TWIM.

Christina: Thanks Vincent, happy to be here!

Vincent: Happy to have you. Before we start, I have two things to tell you. First of all, I am 10 people away on Twitter from 13,000 can we please–?

Christina: (laughs)

Vincent: I said this yesterday at TWIV and I didn’t make it, so @profvrr at twitter. Follow me! Let’s see if the microbes can get it up over the 13,000 mark where the virologists did not. By the end of the show, I want to be there. Secondly, if you ask a question, you will get a swine flu plushie. We have five of these to toss out, so think of your questions as Christina talks. I’m sure she will give you lots of fodder for questions. And then of course we have here…

All: Oooh.

Vincent: Cool TWIM shirts, which we are going to throw out. Not now, I’m not telling you when. So those of you who leave, you’re losing out. You gotta wait to stand, I know it’s hard to stand up in the back but we’ll throw them out at some point. Christina, let’s talk about you first a little bit, your background and training. Where are you from?

Christina: So I grew up on a charter boat in the Virgin Islands, which might have a tiny bit to do with why I ended up as a marine scientist.

Vincent: You grew up on a boat.

Christina: Yes.

Vincent: From age 0.

Christina: From age 3. My parents were those people who decided to take a year’s leave of absence, buy a boat even though they didn’t know how to sail, and just run away and then never came back.

Vincent: And you sailed around, what parts of the oceans did you sail around on?

Christina: We started from Maryland, went down the intercoastal waterway, went as far down island as St. Martin, St. Barts, and then came back to the US Virgin Islands which is just below Puerto Rico because it was US and they wouldn’t need work permits to be there.

Michele: Did you have brothers or sisters?

Christina: Nope, just me.

Elio: Some people are home schooled, some people are boat schooled.

Vincent: (laughs)

Christina: And in fact, I was, 1stthrough 8thgrade, I was home schooled.

Vincent: So how many years of your life did you spend on this boat?

Christina: We didn’t move ashore until I was 17, so right before I went away to college.

Vincent: Wow. That’s amazing. So you’re okay on boats, you’re used to the tilting and all that?

Christina: Yes, I do well when I go out to sea.

Vincent: And now you spend some time on boats for your work, right?
Christina: Yes, smaller boats for coastal work and large ships for blue water work.

Vincent: So then you went to college, so obviously you had to get off the boat, right? Is that the first time, you said 17, was that when you–?

Christina: My senior year I was actually living ashore.

Vincent: Where did you go to college?

Elio: Was that a big shock?

Christina: No, it was actually incredible freedom because you could just walk out the dorm and go somewhere, you didn’t have to get a dinghy and permission to go ashore.

Vincent: A dinghy.

Michael: A dinghy.

Vincent: So your parents had control over you, right?

Christina: Yes.

Vincent: They didn’t give you the key to the dinghy.

Christina: That’s exactly right.

Vincent: Wow. Okay, so at some point you went to college, where did you end up going?

Christina: So I did my undergraduate work at Georgetown University.

Vincent: Why did you pick that?

Christina: I had gone on a number of tours during my junior year and my grandparents lived very close to DC, so it was one of my target areas, and my parents were really hoping I would go to the naval academy because it would be free, but I was kind of freaked out at the idea of getting up at 5 in the morning and having to get a bunch of vaccinations and possibly having to have short hair, so I wasn’t having it. And we went on this tour at Georgetown and just loved the buildings and the fact that it felt like a small campus even though it was in the middle of the big city.

Vincent: Did you have boat withdrawal?

Christina: No.

Vincent: Alright. What did you major in at Georgetown?

Christina: Biology.

Vincent: And is that something that came from being on a boat and seeing the oceans around you, this interest in biology?

Christina: To a degree, but what really catalyzed it was a phenomenal marine biology teacher my senior year of high school. His name was Mark and he took us on field trips which previously had never happened in this little island school that I went to and it really showed us the connections between ecosystems, from mangroves to seagrass to coral reefs. And so in fact as a junior I had applied to colleges based on my plan to go into business administration, and so my senior year I had to evaluate my acceptances based on which schools also had a good biology program because that was what I was going to pivot to.

Vincent: Cool. And obviously this had to be influenced by seeing the ocean all the time, right?

Christina: Definitely.

Vincent: Alright.

Elio: I’m very quiet.

Michael: You are? But not on TWIM!

Elio: I disguise it.

Michael: And here we are on TWIM!

Vincent: I remind you, it’s TWIM. So at the end of college, what did you do?

Christina: I literally rolled straight from college into graduate school at the University of South Florida because I was determined to go directly to a PhD without stopping to get a masters.

Vincent: So you knew that from the beginning of college, right? And what was that PhD in?

Christina: Biological oceanography, really specializing in molecular microbiology.

Vincent: So what kind of experiments did you go out on boats again?

Christina: Yes.

Vincent: (laughs)

Christina: That started my second career in boats. We were doing a lot of work on bacteriophage and host systems in the ocean. So we would go out and filter large amounts of water and then plate and use molecular surveys to try and find out what the viruses were, and I was looking at genetic diversity between viruses that all infected the same host.

Michele: Did your parents kind of pull up alongside the boat?

Vincent: (laughs)

Christina: Usually in different locations, I didn’t actually start getting to do work back in the Virgin Islands until I was at USGS, but now I occasionally combine field work and family. (laughs)

Michael: So your parents are still on the boat?

Christina: They are not still on the boat but they still are on the Virgin Islands. So they had an exciting year last year (laughs)

Michael: Oh, I’m sure.

Vincent: So you really did a PhD in virology, didn’t you?

Christina: Technically, yes.

Michael: It had to come in.

Vincent: It’s a wonderful field, lovely.

Elio: If he says so himself.

Vincent: (laughs) Okay. And you got a PhD, then what, what’s next?

Christina: I loved doing marine virology but it was a little off-putting to me that in all that time my family had no idea what I was doing. When I would try to explain about genetic diversity of viruses in the ocean it was just not helping. So I came out of my PhD with this great idea that I wanted to do something more applied and that I probably wanted to go into industry so I could make obscene amounts of money, because that seemed like a really great plan. And so I actually got an NIH funded post doc to look at antifungal drug development at Gerogetown Mercy Medical Center in collaboration with a couple drug companies, and that sounded great. I mean how applied is that, what do you do? I’m trying to find new drugs. Boom. Everybody gets it.

And I actually made an important discovery in doing that that I really didn’t like it, because there was no field work. I didn’t go out of the lab anymore, samples came to me, I worked on them, I also couldn’t go to meetings and talk about what I found because a lot of it was proprietary and I missed being able to share what I do with people. And I just, I was missing some of that excitement, and so I jumped at the chance when a Mendenhall fellowship became open, it was the first year they had that program at the USGS to one move back to St. Pete where I had done my graduate work and to be able to combine what I had done about viruses and bacteria and now fungi into environmental science again.

Elio: And you give up on making a ton of money.

Christina: I didn’t give up on the ton of money. I discovered that being happy and really being passionate about my job was more important than having obscene amounts of money.

Elio: Wow.


Michele: Could you tell us a little bit more about the portfolio of the USGS?

Christina: So it’s bigger than most people think. Many people when they hear USGS think of maps because for a long time USGS was famous as the people who made maps. They also think of geology and cataloging, the mineral resources of the USGS.  And while that is still true, there are a ridiculous amount of other science in USGS. There’s a whole mission area that looks at water in terms of water use, stream gauging, the water quality of streams, and other water sources. There’s an entire biological division, mostly now focused on ecosystems, but that look at things like wildlife disease or movement of diseases between ecosystems, looking at different animals and their distribution like manatees. So there’s an incredible amount of diversity within the USGS. So most people immediately see where I am from and start talking to me as a geologist and I have to stop them because I am not and have never been, it’s all microbiology.

Michele: And I’m sure there’s not one building where all that happens, but there’s stations all around the country, or?

Christina: Correct, the headquarters of USGS is in Reston, Virginia, but there are multiple field centers in pretty much every state in the US.

Michael: So in the USGS portfolio, do you also have custody of groundwater?

Christina: There is a lot of groundwater work.

Michael: And aquifers? Because that is one of the big issues as we move forward, especially out West, is the aquifers, and the depletion of the aquifers.

Christina: Yes, and in particular I know there is a large group in South Florida that looks at injecting back into aquifers as an idea of trying to keep them but if you are injecting water, what are you putting down there that might affect the natural communities, the microbial communities if you suddenly added oxygen or nutrients that they haven’t seen in a very long time, what could change?

Michael: That’s a big, it gives a whole new meaning to the word ecology.

Vincent: In case you are wondering, USGS…

Christina: Is the United States Geological Survey.

Vincent: I bet some of you didn’t know that. I had to look it up a long time ago.

Christina: A lot of people tend to quickly read the four letter acronym and confuse us with the Coast Guard. You’d be amazed how often that happens, especially when I’m at sea.

Vincent: Would you rather be in the coast guard?

Christina: No. (laughs)

Michael: So before we move on to your current work, what was the principal finding of your dissertation?

Christina: We were surprised to find that when I had isolated these bacteriophage from multiple geographic places, so Tampa Bay, which is on the Gulf coast of Florida, the Florida keys, and Hawaii because we happened to have a trip out there for something else, that they were all very genetically close to each other, and in fact that the Hawaii and Tampa Bay were more closely related than the one in Tampa Bay and the Florida Keys, which meant there really was this population that was sort of circumglobal of that virus.

Michael: So I’m gonna be your mother now. How did this happen? I mean, the ocean is big, is it natural selection driving to uniformity?

Christina: It could be that or it could honestly kind of what I thought might help it along was the fact that there are cruise ships and other ships that are in the Keys that are in Tampa Bay that are in Hawaii, ballast water can move things quickly across vast distances and might help keep that genetic uniqueness even though you’ve traveled a long way.

Michael: So is ballast water really a four letter word?

Christina: I don’t know. (laughs)

Michael: That’s always open for debate.

Vincent: That’s a good title for someday. I’ve been on many committees with Christina and allow me to recall a comment you made at one of them. You said, you had to switch from regular to caffeinated coffee.

Christina: No, I think what you’re thinking of is that in 1994 I switched to decaf for other people’s safety.

Vincent: Right.


Vincent: What kind of safety?

Christina: The intent, see, with which I approach everything from grocery shopping to my sciences is apparently at a higher level than many people are prepared to deal with and so taking caffeine out I hope to at least give a little bit of buffer so that people had a fighting chance.

Michael: Because you can scare people.

Christina: Yes, in fact I have been told I am scary.

Michele: I also only drink decaf because I get a little bit too much of a smart ass if I have.


Michael: We would never say that about you.

Michele: I didn’t need help with that, either.

Vincent: Let’s look a little coral, okay. You do a lot of work on coral. So let’s start with just some general basic stuff about corals, because I don’t know much, and maybe I bet a lot of people here don’t know. So what is a coral?

Christina: I was gonna say, I don’t know how much I know about corals because I pretty much just view them as the landscape for the microbes I’m interested in, but I’ll do my best.

Vincent: That’s okay (laughter)

Christina: So corals are animals that are colonial animals, and some of them make calcium carbonate skeletons, those harder stony corals. Others tend to have more proteinaceous or softer skeletons and look more like sea fans. And the tropical corals most people think of also have symbiotic algal buddies, but the bulk of the corals I study which live in the deeper ocean are in complete darkness and they don’t have algal symbionts.

Vincent: Complete darkness so no photosynthesis can happen. Okay. So what are the different components, you have the actual coral itself, the animal that makes the coral, what else is in there? It’s called the holobiont or the whole thing is–?

Christina: The coral animal is that, the holobiont is the coral animal plus everything else, so bacteria archaea viruses fungi and algae if it’s in a sunlit environment.

Michael: What do they eat if they’re in the dark? What are they consuming as their carbon energy source?

Christina: So the ones that live in the dark, they are capture feeding. So they are hustling, grabbing and consuming either small fragments of marine snow or some of them can take up dissolved organic carbon. But they’re having to do it themselves, although I suspect that as a result the non photosynthetic microbes are doing more duty helping them cycle nutrients and giving them access to different carbon sources.

Michael: And so as planet Earth is getting a little bit different, dare we say warmer, which could get you in trouble, what is actually going on with these poor animals that are sort of stuck? Are they beginning to starve or are they beginning to change?

Christina: So it depends on which corals you are talking about. So from my perspective, the cold water corals which I tend to call deep sea just because I usually get them from the deep sea, but it’s really the temperature that determines where they are. Most of them want to be between 4 and 10 degrees Celsius, so about the inside of your refrigerator. And so you can find some of them within scuba diving depths in the right places, so in Alaska, fjords, Norway, Chile. So these fjords might be the future diving hotspots because these corals, there is way more species of cold water corals than there are tropical corals, and in fact tropical corals are sort of like the weird cousins that shacked up with these algae and then got very picky. They don’t want to be too hot, they don’t want to be too cold, it made them kind of fragile in comparison to these other species.

Michael: They’re the Goldilocks ones.

Christina: They are.

Elio: So the coral reefs we think about when scuba diving, those are the particular kind, right?

Christina: Yes.

Vincent: And the shallow ones are not the ones you work on, is that right?

Christina: I’ve done a little bit of work on shallow ones but the bulk of my work has been deep sea.

Vincent: Elio?

Elio: The deep sea ones also make reefs?

Christina: It depends. Most people do say they make reefs because part of the definition of reefs is sort of an obstruction to shipping, they don’t because of depth, but a lot of them do make sort of coral gardens if it’s soft or the stony corals will make large branching mounds of three dimensional structure that then fish and other vertebrates come to so it is the same concept of biodiversity as you would see in a reef.

Elio: Are they as beautiful as the other corals?

Christina: They are. I have some pictures of some of the reefs in the Aleutian Islands and you wouldn’t know if I didn’t tell you that this picture with all of these orange and pink and purple sea fans and sponges and just invertebrates everywhere, if I didn’t tell you where I was looking out the window of a submersible, you would think maybe you were diving in the Caiman Islands.

Vincent: Ever been diving, Elio? You ever dive?

Elio: Me? Are you kidding?


Michael: Well you live in San Diego.

Christina: The water’s cold out there.

Elio: I don’t’ wanna put my life in jeopardy.

Michael: That’s true.

Vincent: Does every ocean have coral of some kind in it?

Christina: Yes.

Vincent: Even the very very cold ones way down?

Christina: Even polar, there are soft corals that people have looked at.

Vincent: And what’s the relationship between the corals and the fish, you just mentioned they eat off of it, is that it, what else, do they do anything else?

Christina: Definitely the corals create habitat for the fish, so a lot of these deep sea coral ecosystems are nurseries for even some commercial species of fish like orange roughy. I don’t know, someone was asking me to do, you know, is there more connection between them, do the fish do something that benefits the corals? And I hadn’t really thought about it, but it is certainly possible because like I said especially with these branching species where some of the fish actually burrow deep in there, maybe they eat some encrusting worms and invertebrates that otherwise would hamper coral growth like there could be various types of symbioses at that level.

Vincent: Do we know in geological time when corals started on Earth?

Christina: So I looked it up because I thought you might ask this even though I deal in microbiology time scales so twenty minutes to an hour so I had to go look. According to the Googles, corals were first started being in the fossil record in the Cambrian but they didn’t really take off until a little bit later in the Ordovician.

Vincent: Okay.

Elio: How many millions of years ago is that?

Christina: 400 to 500.

Elio: A lot of things happened in that time, right? Land submerged.

Vincent: And today, how long will the coral last, how many years? A year, two years, a thousand?

Christina: Depends on where it is, what it’s putting up with, but for example there was a black coral that I collected in the gulf of Mexico on a research cruise which my USGS colleague Nancy Prouty aged, and it was over two thousand years old.

Vincent: Two thousand years old. Older than Elio.


Elio: Hardly anybody is.

Michael: If you think about it, we think of terrestrial species and what you immediately think of is the California redwoods being some of the longest lived biological entities, but corals, if it’s just 2000 years old and it was a generic coral, wasn’t one of those magnificent trees, just sitting there. I mean, it’s longer than humans probably been around.

Vincent: So are there problems with old corals at this time? Are they endangered? Tell us a little about that.

Christina: So one thing, when people ask me in general, it’s like, are there going to be corals in 20 years? My answer is always yes. They just might not be the corals you’re thinking of. So certainly shallow water tropical corals are having lots of problems between bleaching events and nutrient pollution, they are really, there are a lot of both global and local stressors that hit most of them. The deep sea corals are still fortunate in that they are buffered. They are usually some distance off of shore and then adapt. So that is giving them some level of protection. Also, being in the deep sea, the temperature variability isn’t there yet.

Vincent: Got it. So the bleaching happens when the algae leave? And what causes that to happen?

Christina: Usually temperature. Also sometimes just the amount of light, but normally temperature.

Vincent: So again, those are the corals most people think of. The shallow water ones that are having issues, but the deep sea are better off, but no one can really see those and they don’t make fancy pictures and so forth, so.

Christina: There have been more and more, I would say probably in the last ten years, there’s been a big not out of sight or out of mind anymore to make people realize they are there, but yes. It is not as easy to go encounter them as it is the tropical reefs.

Vincent: The deep sea coral needs some PR, some good PR, right?

Christina: I’m working on it (laughs)

Vincent: You’re working on it, yes you are, that’s why you’re here.

Michele: I’m eager to hear about how you see those deep corals, but I think that you’re gonna get to that.

Vincent: What she does with them.

Michele: How she gets to see them.

Vincent: We’re gonna get there. I have a few more questions. What would happen if all the shallow corals were destroyed? What would be the effect?

Michael: There’d be no more Charleston.

Vincent: Ah, Michael, you’d have to come to New York.

Michael: I’d have to come, well there may not be New York?

Vincent: Why wouldn’t there be?

Michael: They’re controlling sea level, I mean, barrier islands serve a very very important feature.

Vincent: Is he right?

Christina: He is right, I mean that is one of the reasons the US geological survey is interested in coral reefs is as a storm buffer because it is incredibly important.

Vincent: Now what about your deep sea corals? If they all went away, what would happen?

Christina: I can’t even imagine how many, it would be so many cascading effects. Like I said, one thing they are nurseries for a lot of commercial fish and so I think there would be a big chunk of food source that would vanish. In terms of biodiversity, they are hotspots of biodiversity in the deep ocean. I can’t even predict what the effects of just removing that would be.

Vincent: So in general, what can we do to prevent the degradation of all corals?

Elio: Vote.

Michael: Vote?

Vincent: Vote.

Christina: Well, deep sea corals I think are somewhat easier in that the main threats to them right now are us, so not trawl fishing, so going back to lines as opposed to trawls which tend to be these huge nets with metal that gets dragged along the bottom and can in an hour obliterate thousands of years of corals that will not come back in our lifetime. Phasing out trawl fishing, being more careful with oil and gas exploration, in fact a lot of my work is funded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management because we go out and survey where are these coral ecosystems and characterize them to determine how unique they are so then BOEM can decide how much of a buffer they need to put around these ecosystems when they are leasing blocks for undersea exploration of oil and gas.

Michael: So in the gulf of Mexico, there are these constant oil seeps, so do the deep sea corals like oil?

Christina: I don’t know that they like oil. They don’t necessarily seem to–

Michael: Can they use it?

Christina: It doesn’t seem so. So interestingly, when I have done some bacterial surveys, there were a lot of bacteria associated with the coral microbiome that certainly have the potential to degrade oil. However, when I did metagenomics and looked to see is there functional genes that show this is actually happening, I didn’t find any, and other people who have looked at stable isotopes to see if they could see a signature being incorporated in the coral from hydrocarbons also didn’t find any. So I think if anything they don’t use it as a carbon source. Maybe they have a reserve to detoxify if they get too much.

Michael: Cool.

Vincent: I have one more question before we move on and if you have coral questions get them ready, please. Is there a lot of research into corals going on? So the USGS obviously but do other organizations do it?

Christina: Certainly NOAH does a great deal of coral research, both in shallow and deep sea ecosystems.

Vincent: Okay. Any questions on coral before?

Elio: Let me say something, first of all there is a fantastic book that was written called Coral Reefs in the Microbial Seas and the author is right here. He’s not paying attention but there he is.

Christina: He’s trying to hide in the crowd but we all know who he is.

Elio: Forest Rohwer. I do have a question, a microbiological question, for you, though. I am very taken by the studies that show the effect of bacteria on the development of animal creatures like tubeworms. Bacteria necessary for the larvae development of tubeworms and other things. Is there something like it in corals?

Christina: I would say yes, from studies that have been done in tropical environments as well as elsewhere, the microbial composition of biofilms on the bottom definitely determine where corals decide to settle and then metamorphose from mobile larvae into the sedentary adult corals, and certainly they don’t develop as normally if they don’t have their microbiome.

Vincent: Any coral questions? We got one behind you. Oh, he’s got to turn it on.

Asker: Hello. So what is the maximum depth that the coral can survive? You mentioned ocean depth, so what is the maximum depth that it can survive?

Christina: So not so much coral reef but species of corals, there are cold water corals that live as deep as thousands of meters deep.

Vincent: I already said that to her! Send it back, send it back!

Elio: Throw it back!

Vincent: Here, give it to someone else here who is gonna ask a question. It’s very dangerous here, I’m sorry. We have a question here, right. Oh, do you got one? Yes, sorry.

Asker: What’s the effect of the plastic bags and the plastic that accumulates in the ocean on deep sea corals versus the shallow corals?

Christina: So you would think that because deep sea corals in general are further off shore and much deeper that you wouldn’t see these same impacts and I would argue they are probably cumulatively probably less, but we do on almost every trip that we go out using an ROV, we always do see trash including plastic bags. I actually once saw in the middle of a bunch of tube worms at 9,000 feet deep in the gulf of Mexico, there was a Budweiser beer can wedged right in the middle of the bush.

Elio: Oh my.

Christina: So our trash definitely does make it out even to very very deep ocean waters.

Vincent: What’s an ROV?

Christina: A remotely operated vehicle.

Michael: I have one of those.

Vincent: Was there another question? You’re done? Yes, there you go.

Asker: Thank you. I have a quick question. How did these larvae locate the biofilms, how do they locate them when swimming in the ocean?

Christina: I don’t know, I have to assume that there is chemical cues that the bacteria in the biofilm are putting off that the larvae recognize and triangulate to try to get to them.

Michael: Gives a whole new meaning to the word quorum sensing, or words quorum sensing.

Christina: She’s been trying since we started.

Vincent: Yes. Microphone?

Asker: Thank you. I was wondering whether or not it’s possible–

Elio: Hold it closer.

Asker: Oh sorry. Whether it’s possible to culture corals, if you were taking samples from the deep sea, is it possible to recreate conditions on the surface such that you could grow them or study them in an artificial environment?

Christina: So I know a lot of people have been trying to see if they could create a coral tissue culture with varying amounts of success. People have managed to maintain some coldwater coral species in aquariums to do mesocosm type studies, and then people have also started using exceptasia which are these tiny little hydra as a coral model just because it’s easier to keep them in tanks and you can get genetically identical ones, you can standardize what you are working on.

Vincent: One more, yeah.

Asker: If I’m not mistaken, I think I read recently that Australia has just invested some money to try to remediate some of the damage that has happened in the Great Barrier Reef. How realistic are the prospects of trying to rebuild such a complex ecosystem like that?

Christina: I think it is less about rebuilding than it is that if we don’t get in there and do something then there aren’t any. We have to take some steps especially to try to mediate local stressors which I think we have more control over versus global stressors, but they can’t take all of it all at once.

Vincent: Sorry. It’s under the chair there. Alright. You know, I gotta say, look at this, they’re still here. Yesterday at TWIV they left after ten minutes.

Christina: I told you corals were sexy.


Vincent: Did you?

Christina: Yes, several times.

Michael: You just didn’t listen.

Vincent: I didn’t listen, I guess.

Michael: Because it didn’t have virus in it.

Vincent: Viruses are sexy, too! And you worked on them!

Christina: I did. And there are viruses in corals, so it’s double duty.

Vincent: And you work on those as well?

Christina: No, because it has taken me a while to convince the USGS that bacteria and corals are important and it will probably take me another decade to work up to viruses that infect bacteria in corals are important.

Vincent: Okay. So let’s talk a little bit about your research.

Elio: Wait a minute, hold on.

Vincent: Yes, sir.

Elio: Are there any coral viruses, genuine coral viruses?

Christina: I think there are but Becky Vega Thurber is the one that is leading the charge in figuring out who those are and identifying them for us.

Vincent: So the actual coral animal, you want to know if there’s a virus of that, okay.

Christina: Surely there is, right? If there’s an animal or if there’s anything, any living entity, there’s a virus for it.

Vincent: Yeah. And the algae as well, there are viruses of those, right.

Christina: Yes.

Vincent: Okay. So let’s talk about your research. First of all, you say you are looking at the microbial associates of tropical and cold water corals and their surrounding habitat, that is from your website. So if it’s not right, it’s your fault, I guess.


Michael: Of course.

Vincent: What is your group, what is it composed of, how big is it and what are the different kinds of people that are in it?

Christina: So I really need to work on diversity. Right now my group is three people, myself, another PhD technician, and recently graduated undergraduate. We are all white women under 5’3” so I understand that I desperately need to work on my diversity.

Vincent: I’m not sure the height matters.

Christina: Well, it does because my last masters student was 6 feet tall and she put everything on the high shelves and all of us keep having to get on step stools to get to our equipment.


Vincent: That’s a good reason.

Michael: And it’s easier to fit in submersibles if you’re smaller.

Christina: Actually it is, it’s like being a jockey. Being petite is a plus.

Elio: How much of that do you do, submersible work?

Christina: I’ve done more than ten submersible dives in two different submersibles and we mostly transitioned to using remotely operated vehicles just because you can operate them longer thanks to the tether to the ship and get more objectives done. But in August I’m going on a research cruise with the submersible Alvin, which I haven’t been in yet and I’m really excited.

Michele: Could you tell us more about these submersibles? I only have a vague idea. How big are they, how long are you out there?

Michael: Do they have windows?

Christina: Yes, they have windows. So the first submersible I ever went in was called the delta, and it literally looks like the little yellow submarine that you see on the Beatles poster, and there’s room for two people. So the scientist is laying in the fetal position on their side looking out a porthole, and if this is the scientist, I’m going to show you, the pilot is sitting above you.


Christina: Which made me a little nervous because it was clear to me the only opening is above him so if something goes wrong I’m not getting out because he is between me and the door. I much prefer the Johnson Sea Link which had a really big acrylic bubble and it was like being open because you had 180 degrees of visibility. And in that case, the scientist and the pilot are in the front in the bubble and there’s a second separate compartment in the back which has portholes that also has sort of a backup pilot and a second scientist.

Michael: Did you learn the wonder of plexiglass and review your physics about pressure and implosion and all those other things?

Christina: So it’s funny you say that. The first time I was going out, I don’t know why but I assumed that they wouldn’t let me go down in this, surely you give them a sort of take out order of ‘here, I want these samples’, and then someone goes and gets it. And when they told me I was going my husband and I watched some videos and there was one with one of the Russian submersibles where there was like a pinhole prick and literally the water pressure coming through it sort of sliced people in half. And that made him a little anxious about it. But as soon as we got in, because the view, any concerns that I had were just gone. I was so, being able to see things and knowing I was seeing an environment that no one had ever looked at before, and then of course there’s not just my objectives but a bunch of other people’s, there’s always a bunch of stuff to do, and you usually only have about four hours of battery time because you are not attached to the ship to go out and get this all done and get back.

Michael: So last year at this meeting on TWIV, you had an astronaut. So this year we have an aquanaut.

Vincent: You read my mind, Michael.

Michael: Yes.

Vincent: How did you do that?

Michael: Ah, you know, we’ve been hanging around for a while.

Vincent: That’s right. So what’s the deepest that you go?

Christina: The deepest I have been so far is 2,700 feet.

Vincent: Okay. Does it get warm inside this vehicle?

Christina: No actually, there is just enough air conditioning to keep the electronics cool, but because it’s very cold outside you usually end up in sweatshirts to stay warm during the duration of the dive.

Vincent: What’s the temperature of the water down there?

Christina: Four to ten degrees Celsius.

Vincent: As you said, you are trending towards remotely operated vehicles, so you’ll be doing less and less of this sort of activity?

Christina: It’s basically availability. So there is many more remotely operated vehicles available for use than there are submersibles and so it’s all about timing, winding up the ship and the asset, either a sub or ROV to work when everybody is available.

Michele: So just to clarify, a remotely operated vehicle you would stay on the ship and then just use a keyboard to tell it what to do?

Christina: Yes, so there’s a tether that comes back to the ship, so you always have to be sure you don’t get that wrapped around something, and pretty much we are sitting in almost a container. So there’s a pilot and then navigator and then scientist and there is all these big screens. And so everyone is watching live what the cameras on the ROV are seeing to direct it where to move and how to sample.

Michael: So when you go to Denny’s, you are really good at getting the prizes out of the…

Christina: No, no, the pilots do that and some of them are incredible. I mean, they could play cards with these manipulators. It’s incredible the skills they developed.

Vincent: So these are all owned by the US government, correct? Or are they leased, or?

Christina: No, so I’m trying to think, so Alvin is from Wood’s Hole and I think some of the ROVs we have used were University of Connecticut and no, usually they are university or consortium assets.

Michael: Probably funded by the national science foundation or one of the other granting agencies.

Vincent: Now, you take these wonderful trips down, by the way, do you have movies or videos of it?

Christina: Yes.

Vincent: On your website, or where can we see it?

Christina: Not on the website, if I dug through it’s mostly on small digital tapes, but you’re right. I should dig out some of the ones because yes, especially early on, because I was just a total geek.  The camera is on an arm and at the end of a dive I would turn it around so it could see me inside the sphere going like this so I probably should fish some of those out.

Vincent: Deep sea selfies.

Christina: Yes!

Michael: So just like in drones where every drone manufactured today is 4K video, have your remote accessible devices gone to 4K video?

Christina: I think they have and especially since a lot of the NOA cruises like on the Oceanus explorer are doing livestreams, and so they literally, what’s being captured by the video camera is being transmitted over satellite. So I’m sitting in my office watching it and I’m seeing it in real time just like the people on the ship.

Michael: Wow.

Vincent: That’s cool. What are you looking for when you go down in these ships?

Christina: Usually on these cruises, because it is so incredibly expensive, I mean so for a blue water research cruise with either an ROV or a submersible, you’re looking at at least $50,000 a day. So there’s normally between ten and twenty principle investigators each with multiple objectives on this cruise. So for each dive there is priorities and so you are trying to juggle, alright, yes, I’m looking for coral samples so I’m looking for this species and this species but we also need to try and grab a couple invertebrate crabs for that person and then if we have time at the end we are gonna run a transect so someone can do biodiversity assays later and so you always have a list of all the things you are trying to achieve.

Vincent: What’s a transect?

Christina: Starting at point A and with the camera going to point B at a specific speed so that someone later can watch the video and look at identify as many things as possible on the way.

Vincent: Okay. So you take samples of corals themselves, right? And water down there as well? Or not.

Christina: Sometimes water samples, yes.

Elio: Is there a sampling gadget to collect the water, I imagine?  And to collect a solid?

Christina: Yes. Sometimes they actually have bottles on the outside of the ROV so they’re bottles that the ends are open and then when you fire them, the ends snap closed and you capture the water inside. Some of them have suction and they’ll actually suck the water up into a container.

Elio: The size of the water sample can be anything, but the size of a solid is limited by the tentacle?

Christina: More limited by the size of the containers and by the amount of containers you can carry. So for each dive, depending on what your objective is, you set up these little work spaces in front of the sub with containers that are right for whatever it is you are collecting.

Elio: Give us an idea of sizes.

Christina: So the coral samples I usually collect are going to be maybe about the size of my finger or a little more, and that’s usually enough tissue for me to do microbiology and ot also then share a colleague that does population genetics and another colleague that does reproduction, so we get multiple data information out of each piece that we collect.

Elio: How do you snap the piece off the coral?

Christina: Different techniques. Sometimes if the guy is really good with that manipulator arm, it’s sort of like a claw and so you can just grab and snap. Other times we found that it is better to take the suction and sort of snap it off with the end but with the suction hold it and then bring it over and drop it in. So we developed a couple techniques.

Elio: It’s not easy.

Christina: It’s not. It looks easy because they make it look easy, like ballet dancers, but it’s very difficult.

Vincent: I feel like–

Elio: How many samples of coral would you typically get in once trip?

Christina: For me, because I’m according to my colleagues the primadonna because I want each coral in an individual container not touching anything else for contamination, maybe 10, whereas my colleague that does population genetics and therefore doesn’t have a problem like maybe stacking more than one, she’ll sometimes try and get 30 or 50.

Vincent: I feel like these field studies will require us to ask you because I wouldn’t ask someone how do you pipette small volumes of liquid in the laboratory, right? But because you do something that is unique we don’t know it at all, so we ask you these details that I find it really fascinating. So you have to plan out each excursion very carefully.

Christina: Yes, so before we go in the field, so again that cruise that is in august, everybody has already submitted, here’s my priorities in order of the most important thing, the next, the next, how many samples of what and how, because again going out you have your perfect situation where the weather is glorious and you get all the dives you had planned, and that rarely actually happens. You have to know that okay, we may have twelve dives but then bad weather could reduce that or a problem with the ship or a problem with the asset could delay us. And so if we lose dives, how do we shuffle everybody’s objectives to still try and get the maximum we can out of that cruise?

Michele: So I’m really interested in how this team of intense scientists worked that out on the fly. Is there one person that’s in charge of coordinating it?

Christina: There is, there is always a chief scientist who has to be the final arbitrator and so yes, there is group discussions but in the end there has to be one person who makes the decision and communicates with the ship’s crew so it’s not chaos.

Michael: For those of you listening at home, Vincent pointed to Chris as the chief scientist.

Vincent: I would say you make all the decisions.

Christina: No, I’m rarely the chief scientist on these giant investigative cruises.

Vincent: You should, I think you have the perfect personality to be coordinating everything and making sure things happen. I think this suits you very well, right?

Christina: Funny you say that. In high school I took one of those aptitude tests and one of the top scores for me was drill sergeant.


Vincent: Well, I could sort of see that.

Michael: It’s a job description of all good PI’s.

Vincent: That’s right. And finally, how many times a year do you do this, this sampling?

Christina: Typically on my projects tend to be four or five year cycles and so usually the first two years will be the collection years and so during collection years we will usually go to sea once for two to three weeks.

Vincent: Okay. So now, when you bring these samples back to the lab and everyone then can do things, you have water, you have animals of various sorts, what are you looking for?

Christina: So pretty much we yank all the DNA out and then start interrogating it for whatever we are looking for.

Vincent: We yank all the DNA out, that’s great. And you sequence it.

Christina: Yes.

Vincent: So that’s what drives your program mainly, metagenomics, right?

Christina: Amplicon and metagenomics, so yes. Figuring out who is there and then what they are doing.

Vincent: So what are you finding, for example? What do you sample the animals the coral animals themselves, what do you find?

Christina: So pretty much we find out who is in there first, so many of these deep sea coral species have never been looked at for microbiology and so to me, it’s critically important to go out and catalog these baseline microbiomes of who is there because they haven’t been as impacted as tropical corals and to me, having that baseline, it one just for biodiversity interests, but also if something happens, if there is an oil spill or a sedimentation event, how would you know what to remediate back to if you didn’t know what the system looked like when it was unperturbed? And so having that information or also being able to use changes in the microbiome to notice sublethal effects on these corals, because right now both tropical or deep sea, your metrics tend to be the corals alive or the corals dead. And mortality is not a very sensitive indicator and so using the microbiome, if you know what it looks like when it is functional and you suddenly see dramatic shifts towards certain other taxa it could clue you in that something is changing before the coral actually looks sick or drops dead.

Michael: How complex are they? Are they like our gut, where there is thousand to ten thousand species?

Christina: Yes, for bacteria, absolutely. And like I said, we are just starting with metagenomics to get at the archaea, the fungi, the viruses, the other components, but bacteria is definitely complex.

Elio: Now all of this is culture independent, right?

Christina: It is. I have done a little bit of culture work, it’s just…

Elio: Tell us about it.

Christina: It’s difficult because you never know what media is the right media. But in fact, there has been one particular sequence that is consistently coming up in many of my deep sea corals and so I am going to take a shot at trying to culture it out on these cruises by using selective media.

Michael: Do you have to use high pressure in order to get the organisms to grow since they’re growing at depth, at 2,5000 atmospheres?

Christina: There are probably some where it matters but the majority not so much. So again, if there is air somewhere like in fish swim bladders, you don’t do well when you get brought up to the surface, but the corals don’t mind. So the corals, the crabs, worms, there’s plenty of things to bring up from the deep sea with no pressure…

Michael: Effects.

Christina: Effects. And so the bacteria as well, why would they care. (laughs)

Michael: That’s true.

Vincent: You mentioned dead corals. Do you sometimes get samples and they’re visibly dead and you didn’t know that when they were collected?

Christina: No, normally they are very much alive when they come up.

Vincent: They’re all alive, they’re never dead.

Christina: Well, they’d be already dead when we collected them, so…

Vincent: So you would know that.

Christina: Right, I would know that before we picked them up.

Vincent: In terms of the bacterial members or species or whatever level, are there any surprises or is it all pretty much what you would expect?

Christina: Well again, with each one, so, each coral that we look at has a different microbiome and so, you know, since I’m usually the first time someone has looked at that microbiome it’s all new. I mean, I never know what combination we’re gonna see in each coral’s microbiome because each one tends to be different.

Michele: And how stable are they? Do you go back to the same site three months later and then the profile is still the same?

Christina: Typically not. There is not a lot of temporal studies in the deep sea just because it is so expensive and so you don’t usually get a lot of opportunities to go back to the same place more than once. Early on, we did go to at least one site several times and so I did have some level of temporal and it did seem relatively stable, but again, small sample numbers.

Vincent: Can you tell us some kinds of bacteria that you find?

Christina: So even in cold water corals, you still do find Fibrios, and so they’re not just pathogens, they are part of the natural microbiome of corals. Actinobacteria, which are known as an interest for bio prospecting, you definitely find those. So a lot of proteobacteria, but then actinobacteria and then some other things that are scientific names that I don’t even try and pronounce correctly because I’ve never even heard someone else say them, but as we do more and more molecular work you start seeing these groups pop up but usually only the family level because we don’t know what they are well enough to get lower than that.

Vincent: And you mentioned, every coral is different. So how many different kinds of corals are there?

Christina: I know there’s more species of cold water corals than tropical but I don’t know how many. Hundreds.

Vincent: Okay.

Michael: One of the things that everyone after last evening’s talk from the assistant director of the CDC, do these microbes associate with the coral make antimicrobials?

Christina: Yes.

Michael: So have we begun to mine the antimicrobials and are they addressing the usual suspects for targets, like DNA, RNA synthesis, protein synthesis, etc.

Christina: So in the, I would say early 2000s harbor branch was the center for that. So Shirley Pomponi mostly targeting sponges and some other invertebrates but a little bit of the corals had a huge program looking exactly at that, culturing things and scanning them to try and find out what they could impact. I’ve cultured some things early on and in fact had small collaborative agreements with companies that then wanted to grow up whatever I had in culture from this environment and test them against many things, so not only just for antimicrobial drugs but could they be derived enzymes, all kinds of things. What could they use them for?

Elio: Now on the surface corals are subject to a lot of diseases, that’s why they are in trouble, and bacteria count for a lot of them. How about the deep ones, do they have diseases?

Christina: So far, no one has observed a disease in a deep sea coral. There has been a couple of what I would call shallow water cold water corals, again within scuba diving depths, and there has been one or two reports of diseases at that level. But again, they are subject to temperature fluctuations. The true deep sea corals no one has seen one but again the ocean is vast. It could be happening unless we dropped down and happened to be looking at that one, we wouldn’t see it.

Elio: That’s the good news, I guess.

Christina: So far so good, yes. Like I said, I think that distance and depth buffers them from a lot of our mess. (laughs)

Vincent: You mentioned wanting to look at–

Elio: Or end up in the depth of the sea, or not.

Vincent: Yes, we will. You wanted to see the changes over time in the microbiome. So that means you have to sample for long periods of time to compare, because right now you don’t have any archival samples to look at compared to what you’re getting now, correct?

Christina: Correct.

Vincent: So you don’t know if there have been any changes.

Christina: Right, no. For each time, if I’m the first person to look at a given coral’s microbiome, which in these cases I often am, I am starting the baseline wherever I am right now.

Vincent: When you look at these sequences, can you also see viral contigs there?

Christina: From metagenomics yes.

Vincent: So that’s one way to determine what the virome is of these corals, so for you are interested in that as well, right?

Christina: Sure, and form the metagenome that I presented a poster on here of the viral sequences that we got very much like tropical corals about 80 to 90% of them were bacteriophage viruses, and then there were also viral families that infect archaea and then a bunch of eukaryotic viruses that presumably are infecting the coral fungi, protists, whatever else is there.

Elio: Any herpesviridae?

Christina: Herpesviridae, I found.

Vincent: Yeah, there’s been some herpes reported before in corals, right?

Christina: Yes.

Vincent: Do we know what they infect?

Christina: The assumption is that they are infecting the coral animal.

Vincent: Poor corals.


Vincent: Did someone down there have a question? No? You’re okay? Do we have any questions about Christina’s research? Who has a question back there? We have one more swine flu left.

Asker: I was just curious about the regulation of this so you mentioned that it is really expensive to do multiple visits to the same coral but if you could, would you be allowed to sort of do an interventional study and test whether or not a little bit more iron in a particular location would have an effect on the corals or maybe increase the amount of CO2 or you know, carbonate or whatever that’s in a particular region? Or is that international law that says that you can’t actually touch any of these.

Christina: International law and or common sense. I mean, humans have a long history of going, ‘hey, let’s try adding just this thing and destabilizing everything’. So no, people would do those kinds of experiments in mesocosms. They wouldn’t be able to just go offshore and start experimenting on a large scale.

Vincent: Gonna throw out.

Elio: Got them.

Asker: Hey so I was wondering kind of about the establishment of the microbiome in the coral. You mentioned that the larvae colonize a biofilm originally. Was I understanding that correctly?

Christina: So deep sea corals, like tropical corals, there are some that are brooders that keep the larvae inside, others that are broadcast spawners. So some of the brooders do seem to vertically transmit at least some microbiomes.

Asker: Okay yeah, that’s what I was getting at.

Christina: Most of them, because it’s spawning, they’re picking up their microbiome from the environment.

Asker: Okay, cool.

Christina: I don’t know that there has been enough studies to tell us when exactly it happens. I think probably during the free swimming larval stage they get some, but I think most get established after they settle and are starting to become adults.

Asker: Okay, cool. Thank you.

Asker: Marine microbiology is notoriously a hard field to get established in. Do you have any advice for individuals looking to get into that field at all?

Christina: So something I didn’t do and have always wished I had and therefore make it a priority is undergraduate research opportunities. So when I was an undergrad I worked clerically as work study, and now I realize I could have gotten such a jump if I had really gotten to try things then and so I try to encourage people to do internships, find a lab that is doing something you are interested in and contact them and see if you can’t just get a taste of it because it really helps and like my post doc where I really thought I wanted to do X and then when I was doing it I realized I really don’t like this as much. So I think not only does it help you by giving you an edge, a book I’ve already started working in this which is great on a resume, but if you try it and then find out hey, I really don’t like this, I’ve had some people who were all gung ho and then after being in my lab went yeah, this molecular biology is tedious and boring and I hate this. And I’m like I would rather you found that out now than after you moved across the country and spent money to enroll in grad school. So try it before you buy it.

Vincent: Christina, is there anything about your research that we haven’t touched on that you would like to talk about? You can say no if you wish.

Christina: No, because I know Michele has some other exciting stuff she wants to talk about.

Michele: I actually wanted a follow up on that question. It sounds like if all your genome sequence data is now publicly available, there should be a huge database for other people to do in silico experiments, so a great opportunity for bioinformatics.

Christina: Absolutely, and yes, so the government is a huge fan of open data and so I have to make all the data publicly available and put it out there so that other people can work with it as well.

Michele: And related to that, we recently did a TWIM on drug discovery through bioinformatic pipelines, looking for particular signatures that are known to be important for developing polyketides and other molecules, so.

Christina: Super interesting, yeah.

Elio: One of the things that should be mentioned is that microbiology has become such an integrative science that every branch of microbiology speaks to every other branch. So there is no such thing as marine microbiology in isolation in this part and parcel of a much bigger scheme. Another thing is also good.

Michael: And that was one of the exciting things that came out here at this meeting, excuse me, what Sharon Peacock’s keynote talk of the first evening where she was saying you get an isolate, you sequence it, it goes into the pipeline, you go throw it in the Cloud, and then you determine what antibiotic resistance pattern it has. But at the same time, you could imagine that same concept working with these other animals. Having a Cloud pipeline that could effectively dissect some of the organisms that are affiliated with the coral and as we begin to learn from our clinical colleagues of all the cool stuff they can do with these bioinformatic pipelines, we should shamelessly co opt these activities because you can really advance the discipline.

Christina: And you were saying earlier that the deep sea corals need more PR. Well, along those lines, I am going to do some PR. So I am later this afternoon so at 3 PM in room B203, I am doing part of the Up Goer 5 session and so I will be talking about my deep sea coral research but because you can only use the 1000 most common words, those words do not include coral or ocean or bacteria or DNA, so.

Vincent: That should be interesting.

Christina: It’s going to be fun.

Vincent: Christina, what is a typical day for Christina Kellogg?

Michael: Decaf coffee.

Christina: Yes, that’s true. It depends on the time and that is one of the things I really love about my job is the variety. So some days I am sitting at the computer all day because I have data analysis, I have papers to write, I have proposals to write. But then field days so some days I might be out on a ship in blue water for up to 2 weeks doing that which is the really photogenic part of it. Sometimes I am in the lab, I still do get to go in my lab some times and do the actual bench work.

Vincent: And some times you’re at meetings like this one.

Christina: Yes!

Vincent: Do you ever wish you had done something else?

Christina: No.

Vincent: We know you didn’t want to do industry for sure, but you don’t ever wish you were in academics?

Christina: No, I laugh at how lucky I was because I didn’t know where I was going. I had this sort of concept of what the components of my dream job would be, but because at the time it was less common when I was a grad student to sort of introduce people to pathways other than standard academia, I didn’t realize that a government job really was exactly what I wanted. There is enough freedom within our mission for me to study things that interest me. There is enough internal funding, I certainly don’t have a lot but I have enough to do what I am interested in without having to spend a third or more of my time writing proposals and chasing money which I think is fantastic not to have to spend that time. And I am fortunate in that our office is on a university campus and so I have a courtesy appointment there and so I can easily have graduate students and I have undergrads that come to me from 3 or 4 local institutions, so I have the ability to interact with students, but by my choice as opposed to having to teach or having to interact. I can pull them in when I have time and really give them face time and opportunity.

Vincent: So as an employee of the US government, do you have an obligation to do some science communication to the public at all?

Christina: I don’t know that the, that my employer considers it an obligation. I certainly do.

Vincent: Okay, because if you get certain kinds of NSF grants you have to have a communication component of the grant.

Christina: Right, and actually one of the sessions I went to here, Mark Martin and Katie Elliot did a fantastic session about communicating in creative ways your microbial world, and I got a lot of great tips out of that for the proposal I am currently writing for ship time for an outside organization, they want to know what is unique about your communication plan and that was really helpful to develop that.

Vincent: Ship time, I like that. Ship Time with Christina Kellogg.

Michael: The aquanaut.

Michele: So one of our guests asked about plastic in the ocean. Many of you may have seen the story about the whale that died in Spain and it brought to the surface what 75 pounds of plastic in its gut.

Christina: It was crazy.

Michele: So again, you do feel an obligation as a scientist to be an educator. Can you also be an advocate for conservation and green technology, or do you have to be careful about that because of your position?

Christina: Because of my position, the USGS is known for providing unbiased science, and so we are not supposed to lobby or advocate. We do our work, we provide the information, and other people make regulatory decisions. That said, I’ve been inspired by one of my undergrad students who is passionate about getting straws out of the waste stream and who went in the field with me and whipped out her stainless steel straw because she wasn’t going to have this and made me really sensitive to how many times straws are just put in glasses in front of you when people don’t even want them.

Michele: That is depressing news, but I’m reminded that there are bacteria that have been discovered that have enzymes that can break down plastics, and so maybe the microbes will take care of all the filth that we’ve generated as humans.

Christina: We could help them out by using better alternatives so they can catch up (laughs).

Vincent: So my last question is, US, what are the letters, US–

Christina: GS.

Vincent: GS, already forgot. Is this a reasonable career option for microbiology people to consider or is it too rare that they shouldn’t even think about it?

Christina: No, there is more of us hiding in the USGS than you would think. People’s titles aren’t necessarily microbiologist but they are doing microbiology, but again because microbiology as Elio pointed out is so intradisciplinary their title might be Hydrologist or Biogeochemist or something else but there is microbiology happening in our ecosystems mission area, or looking at wildlife disease or in the water mission area, looking at water quality. So it’s in a bunch of places. It might not necessarily be tagged microbiology but there are a ton of microbiologists working in different facets of USGS.

Vincent: Okay, very good. Anything else?

Elio: I wonder, what is this book doing here?

Vincent: What is that book doing there?

Elio: Yeah.

Vincent: What is it Elio, what book is it?

Elio: No idea, never heard of it.

Vincent: It’s Microbe! And two of the authors are right here!

Elio: Over here. A senior author.

Vincent: It’s a wonderful textbook of microbiology and you can buy it at the ASM bookstore here.

Elio: Cheap.

Vincent: Cheap.

Michael: Cheap. Inexpensive.

Michele: Tell us what sets this book apart, the tone that you and Fred established years ago.

Elio: Well, we thought of writing a book that developed with the principles that are behind microbiology and not just the facts. So it has a flavor of try to figure out the deeper meaning of things. I don’t know that that explains it, so. Why don’t you buy it and you’ll find out for yourself?


Michael: Shamelessly plugging.

Michele: Each chapter does start with a case that tells a microbiology story, a real life story and then we get into the science behind that.

Vincent: Alright. So you’ve been watching an episode of This Week in Microbiology. You can find it on It’s one of many different podcasts we do this week in virology, parasitism, immunology, evolution, and you can subscribe to all of them for free. You can go to your iPhone, if you have an iPhone, there is an app called podcasts on it. Just go there, open the app, search for TWIM or TWIV or TWIP or immune or TWIVO, you’ll find it. Please subscribe, the more of you who subscribe the better for us, it really helps us to have numbers to show that we are engaging people, and it’s totally free. You automatically get every episode and you will love it. And obviously you love TWIM because you’re all here. You might try the other ones as well.

Michael: Your mission is to go out and find five additional subscribers because you’re probably already subscribing, but recruit your friends, neighbors, mothers, fathers, grandparents. They’ll all love it.

Vincent: There’s a good chance that there are some non subscribers here, so we may get them. And also, if you are a subscriber already, you love what we do, consider supporting us. It allows us to travel and do more work, video work for example. You can go to There are a number of ways you can do that. You could buy a t shirt, you could do Patreon, you could give us a dollar a month and a couple of other things as well. We would appreciate it and on every show we have email from our listeners. You can send email to We will read it on the show and one of our wonderful co hosts who know all about microbiology will answer your questions. Our guest today has been Christina Kellogg, thanks so much for joining us.

Christina: Thank you, it was great to be here.

Vincent: Coral is sexy. That really needs to be the title, I guess. Coral is sexy with Christina Kellogg. Michele Swanson is at the University of Michigan and as of July, will be the president of ASM, thank you Michele!

Michael: A round of applause!


Michele: Thank you.

Vincent: Elio Schaechter.

Elio: The presidents are terrific.

Vincent: Elio Schaechter is at the wonderful blog Small Things Considered. Thank you, Elio.

Elio: My pleasure.

Vincent: Michael Schmidt is at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Michael: Thank you everyone.

Vincent: Thank you, Michael. I am Vincent Racaniello, you can find me at I want to thank the American Society for Microbiology for allowing us to do not only this but supporting us. I want to thank Ray Ortega, our producer.

Elio: Yay!

Michele: Yay!

Michael: Yay, Ray!


Vincent: Who does amazing work, and I would like to thank Ronald Jenkees for the music that you hear on TWIM. Is there anything else, am I forgetting something?

Michael: I think you gotta do something about those t shirts on the table, Vincent.

Vincent: Oh, the t shirts! Here you go Christina, toss one out to someone deserving. You have a good arm.

Michael: We need a t shirt cannon so we can hit the back.

Vincent: Whoa! You just hit Ray Ortega!

Michael: You just took out Ray!

Vincent: Michele, you want to toss one?

Michele: I sure do.

Vincent: Michele actually wants one but she can’t have one.

Michael: Send it far.

Vincent: Wow, good catch.

Michael: You could be a Michigan quarterback.

Vincent: Want to throw one?

Elio: All right.

Vincent: Got an arm, Elio?

Michael: Don’t lose your mic. Okay. Again, it goes to Ray.

Vincent: We got two more here. Are you all subscribed to TWIM?

Audience: Yeah.


Vincent: One more. This is going to be random.

Michele: Get turned around and do it backwards.


Michael: Ooh, we had a fight almost.

Vincent: Alright, folks.

Michele: For those of us who wanted a t shirt but didn’t get one, where can we get this merch?

Vincent: You can go to and you can find the t shirts and mugs and everything for all the different podcasts.

Michael: Cell phone cases! Show me your cases!

Michele: This is really cool looking.

Vincent: This is TWIV but you can get these in all the podcasts, as well. Show your love for science. I carry a virus with me all the time.

Michele: Is that URL on the website?

Vincent: It is, it is there, and if it’s not we will make sure that it’s there.

Michael: It’s there.

Vincent: Thanks for listening everyone, we will see you next time on This Week in Microbiology.

Michael: Thanks, everyone!



Content on This Week in Microbiology ( is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Transcribed by Sarah Morgan.