The SfAM blog promises a plethora of interesting, educational and relevant articles and commentaries from experts in the field of applied microbiology…and then there is this:
“Charlotte, could you write a piece for the new SfAM blog?”
“Of course, what topic do you have in mind?”
“…could you link Justin Bieber to the microbiota of a penguin?”
I would consider there to be two major challenges posed by this title; first, Justin Bieber. Aside from being aware he is a living person who apparently makes music, comparisons to Michael Jackson resulting I believe from a shared interest in primatology, some police mug shots I’ve seen while browsing my BBC News app and being advised during a previous trip to Toronto that he is indeed Canadian, my knowledge of the boy/man in question is rather limited. Second, penguins are found south of the equator and are unlikely to have had much exposure to Justin Bieber.
A quick search of Pubmed affirmed my initial concerns; zero search results for articles containing keywords “Bieber” and “Penguin”. I decided to move slightly outside the realm of science and conduct a Google search. This proved to be somewhat more conducive and offered a video of “Penguieber”. I wasn’t quite sure what this was, much less sure of the accuracy of the source so I decided to adopt a different approach.
What is the potential effect of Justin Bieber; forthwith known as The Bieber Effect (TBE). Given more time I would have conducted an investigation into the varying outcomes of TBE, but I opted instead to crowd source opinion of my family, friends and colleagues; in essence positivism based approach of narrative enquiry. It is worth noting that this juncture that much time and effort was required to obtain serious feedback and explain that this research was in the name of a genuine article to be published on the new blog of the oldest microbiology society in the UK.
Q1: Are you aware of Justin Bieber? Q2: What effect does Justin Bieber have on your life?
Participant Q1 Q2
1 Yes None.
2 Yes None.
3 Yes I’m ashamed to say I have started to listen and like his new songs.
4 Yes Brings to mind child exploitation, narcissism and the ridiculousness of western society.
5 Yes None.
6 Yes He upsets me, I dislike everything he represents.
7 Yes None.
8 Yes He makes me angry, he’s a jumped up little brat.
Note: Nobody reported being a “Belieber”. This particular condition may be age related.
Two points may be taken from these results; albeit representing only a small sample number TBE appeared much polarised. Either no effect was observed, or subjects reported feeling negative emotions such as shame, upset and disapproval.
Which brings me back to the original subject of this article; “could you link Justin Bieber to the microbiota of a penguin?”
I believe the results from this research indicate a possible causative link between TBE and penguin microbiota; stress. Should a penguin be exposed to TBE they would likely react in a similar way to my study subjects. The response would be apathy or antipathy. Which begs the question, what is the effect of stress on a penguin microbiota?
A number of studies on other taxa have shown stress to have a deleterious effect on gut microbiota (1) however limited studies appear to have been conducted on Sphenisciformes other than the effect of fasting and moulting (2), which are not analogous to stress.
This limited investigation into TBE and the microbiota of a penguin has highlighted two areas of potential future research:
1. What is the effect of stress on a penguin microbiota. A possible study outline could include placing a television showing Justin Bieber music videos near a penguin rookery, or alternatively placing Justin Bieber himself, which I personally believe to be the most scientifically robust approach. Biochemical assessment of stress hormones should be used to identify stressed individuals and microbiological examination of the microbiota will go some way towards identifying any causal relationship.
2. The second area for further research is on TBE and the human microbiota. It is apparent from this investigation that a significant stress response is seen in some individuals in response to Justin Bieber. It would be worthwhile to investigate this further by conducting a similar study as that proposed for investigation of TBE and penguins.
1. Tannock and Savage. Influences of Dietary and Environmental Stress on Microbial Populations in the Murine Gastrointestinal Tract. Infect. Immun. March 1974 vol. 9. no. 3 591-598
2. Dewar ML, Arnould JPY, Krause L, Trathan P, Dann P, Smith SC (2014) Influence of Fasting during Moult on the Faecal Microbiota of Penguins. PLoS ONE 9(6): e99996. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0099996
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