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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bug

Legionella causes about 300 infections per year in Australia.

Legionella causes about 300 infections per year in Australia.

By Michael Taylor

The public may think of Legionella as a deadly disease, but Michael Taylor sees parallels with the structure of the universe in the slimes he examines under the microscope.

Michael Taylor has been investigating the ecology of Legionella in potting mix and human-constructed environments for his PhD, which he completed at Flinders University’s School of the Environment under the supervision of Kirstin Ross and Richard Bentham.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

When I tell people that I grow disease-ridden slime for a living, I usually get an interesting reaction. Sometimes it involves them sneaking away to wash their hands, but most often people just ask: “Why?”.

My enthusiasm often gets the better of me and I start by telling them about my research. I dive right into explaining the system I built to grow the dangerous bacteria Legionella, a one-of-a-kind set-up designed to study this organism under controlled circumstances. This device took the first high resolution images of Legionella growing in its natural environment, and found it living as both a parasite and independent of a host – a finding that challenges some long-held theories about this pathogen.

But that’s not really the best place to start, and sometimes I wonder how I ended up here myself. I didn’t start out with a passion for slime, but somewhere along the way it just happened. So usually I try to explain it like this…

No one likes the thought that through no fault of their own they could contract a disease: just by doing the weekly shopping, taking the kids to the aquarium, or going with grandma to see a flower show. On the other hand, we’ll admit that the reason we’ve been vomiting for six straight hours is because lunch consisted of left-over chicken sausages that had been fermenting in the bottom of the fridge. They should have been...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.