Earth day!

Happy Earth Day everybody! I hope everyone takes a chance to go outside and appreciate our home planet today. I laced up my shoes and headed out this a.m. hoping to see an early morning run-rise.


Instead I was treated to typical seattle spring weather: rain.

“Well that was soggy”

I cannot hold a grudge against old Mother Nature; after all, today is her day. I’m glad I got to get outside at all, especially because the rest of my day looked something like this:

That's 300 plates...or three experiments
I’m measuring mutation rates again- you have to look at a LOT of mutants to get an accurate measurement

I thought that today it might be fun to pay tribute to our planet with a celebration of some of its most wild and wonderful destinations and denizens! So come along with me, let’s let our inner tree-huggers shine and send a love letter to Mother Earth!

Hug some tree, kiss some pelicans…all in a day’s work

Without further ado, Earth, here’s three things I like about YOU.

1) The Rocky Mountains:

I took this photo in Lake Louise, British Columbia. In July.

I grew up on the front range of the continental divide, just outside of Boulder, Colorado.

This was my backyard!

I love any and all mountains, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the Rockies. Mountains thrill my spirit and soothe my soul. Mountains are permanent while ever changing; building up from the motion of tectonic plates and wearing down by erosion from the winds and the rains. Human existence is a blip on the geologic timescale. The summit of a mountain gives you perspective on just how small you are, while making you feel on top of the entire world.

Summit of Mt. Princeton

I hate myself a little bit for being THAT blogger….but take it away, John Denver.

Sorry. Not sorry.

2) Microbial diversity:

In case it is not obvious, I am partial to bacteria.

Hey friends!
Hey friends!

I spend most of my time working with my buddy, Bacillus subtilisI love my model organism, but Bcaillus is just one genus in the astoundingly diverse panoply of prokaryotes that we share this planet with. Share might not even be the appropriate word: there are approximately 3 quintillion bacteria living on this planet [which is less than previously thought, but still a LOT]. That means that there are 10 million trillion bacteria for every single one of us.

Good thing bacteria are little, otherwise it'd get pretty crowded
Good thing bacteria are little, otherwise it’d get pretty crowded

The sheer NUMBER of bacteria is astounding; even more amazing is what these little single-celled creatures are capable of. Bacteria can grow in almost any niche you can possibly come up with. Bacteria live in geysers in yellowstone, underneath permafrost Antarctica, and at the bottom of the Dead Sea. These types of bacteria are called “extremophiles,” so named for their penchant for odd real-estate.

Extremophiles are cool, but bacteria have other talents besides living in strange places. There are bacteria that can sense magnetic fields using teeny-tiny compasses. Human beings copied everything we know about genetic engineering of plants from the bacteria Agrobacterium tumefasciens and its uncanny ability to induce crown gall tumors.

Agrobacter inserts some of its OWN genome into plants!
Hmmmmm…..maybe I’m not so stoked on this.

I’ve talked about bacteria that glow in the dark (check out that YouTube clip! Photobacter) is incredible). There are also bacteria (Pseudomonas syringe) that can instantly turn water into ice.

I haven’t even scratched the surface of the dynamic community of microbes living on and inside us. It’s a bacterial world: we just occupy some space in it.

3) Water:


Maybe I should have started with water. After all, water makes up the majority of our planet (80%), the majority of our bodies (66%), and we certainly wouldn’t be able to live without it (you can go about three days). Water is one of the things that makes life on Earth possible, and, as far as we know, liquid water is one of the features that makes Planet Earth unique and special in the universe. (The recent discovery of Kepler 186-f non-withstanding; it’s exciting to hear about another Earth-like planet in the habitable zone, but this plucky astronaut isn’t packing his suitcase just yet).

Why would I leave THIS planet?

Water is a solvent, has high surface-tension, and exists in all three phases on Earth. Most of all, water is FUN.

Hi Other-Sam! Nice demonstration of surface tension

You can ski on it when it’s frozen


You can kayak through it when it’s liquid.

Rose and I on the Middle Fork of the Salmon

Water in its gaseous phase gives us sunsets


I’m so glad that I live in Seattle, and I’m surrounded by water all of the time…even when I’m getting rained on during my runs or my commute. I always find water to be centering and soothing.

The very PICTURE of centered

The relative amount of water on the planet hasn’t changed for the past two-billion years. Let’s take care of what we’ve got OK guys?


Happy Earth Day Everybody! Take care of yourselves and the planet. Remember, it’s a small world, but you wouldn’t want to paint it!

Did you get outside today?

4 thoughts on “Earth day!

Add yours

  1. Nice heart rock. I guess you’ve told me about the ice making bacteria before, but I’m not sure I absorbed the full Ice Nine quality it brings to the table. Does it actually freeze the ice and create a thermal reaction, or is something else going on?


  2. Hey! I recognize that backyard! Every day is Earth Day here in the neighborhood. So what do you think of “antibacterial” soaps? Never mind — I think I can guess. I echo your love of water in all forms, and I especially like to play in it, on it, around it. Yay for water, and double-yay for dynamic microbes!


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