Skip to main content
Email Print Share

"Cutting Edge" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.

Scientists at the University of Utah uncover how insects domesticate bacteria after a man, who was cutting down a tree, cut his hand and then sought medical help.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

'Penetrating' science.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: outdoors, clearing brush) On a crisp October day in 2010, Indiana resident Thomas Fritz decided to cut down a dead crab apple tree. As the 71-year-old dragged away the debris, a branch penetrated the fleshy skin between his thumb and forefinger. He dressed the wound; then waited for a scheduled visit with his doctor a few days later. The wound got infected, and a cyst formed. The doc put him on antibiotics and sent a sample of the cyst to a lab.

When the lab couldn't successfully id the bacterium, it was sent to a national pathology library run by the University of Utah. Genetic sequencing solved the mystery, by showing it was a previously undiscovered bacterium--one related to bacteria that live symbiotically inside 17 species of insects. It's the first time a bacterium that forms mutually beneficial relationships with insects has been found out in the environment--a missing link.

The researchers say if we can replace the bacteria inside the insects' guts with a genetically modified strain of the related new bacteria, it could be used to interfere with diseases transmitted by those insects.

A scientific advance begun quite by accident (Sound effect: man: ouch!) at the hand of a weekend lumberjack.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.