I had seen it on the web some weeks ago and I covered my ears and sang “lalala.” But now that I have it in front of me, smiling smugly from the cover of Science magazine, I cannot ignore the giant Pandoravirus and its acolytes anymore.

Electron microscopy image of teh huge virus pandora

Enhanced transmission electron microscopy image of a “Pandoravirus” particle, from the cover of Science, July 19 2013.

Gosh, maybe Patrick Forterre is right after all, and we have to rewrite the three domains and invite viruses in? Consider them alive?

Please note that I am NOT a virus expert and I do not follow the field. However I did come across Forterre’s work quite a while ago, found it fascinating, and immediately tried to forget. Put my head in the sand. Because I have been there before, facing a group of non-majors who have to take a general biology class because they have to. And they find everything about biology complicated and tiresome, and they look at their textbooks as the source of all wisdom and then one does the science thing. The days I am more pacific I purr softly “There are new developments that question some aspects of this theory,” and may leave it there. Other days I may try to transmit the enthusiasm of new discoveries in science that challenge old paradigms. But few students share the joy, especially if they just got something and then I am ruining it for them.

It is interesting how the perception of changes is different when inside or outside the field. Inside a field, one is aware of the small changes due to minor discoveries that eventually may lead to a complete reevaluation of the existing knowledge. As an outsider to the virus field, I have been seeing only bits and pieces of discoveries, which now suddenly seem to be moving in a certain direction.

So I’ll wait and see. I still remember years ago, when the idea that the microbes living on our body could do something else that just try to invade us given the chance was novel and revolutionary. I went from the casual comment of “it seems like gut microbes can influence obesity” to the current discussion of microbiomes and their importance in health and disease. Maybe in a few years, those slides with the neat 3 domains will become something very different.

This reflection is coming of course from my non-majors general bio class that started yesterday. Even during our SWI discussions last week it was obvious that non-majors require an extra dose of fun and excitement in a science class to make it somehow memorable. That’s why I decided to go for the Phelan book, for several reasons: it reads easier, it has a great companion website, it has tons of real life examples and applications, it has lots of graphing examples and illustrations, it is cheaper than the one we used before, and overall it just seems to be more fitting the modern student. I am also drawing heavily from the ideas and rubrics of the Vision and Change report, which identifies a set of core concepts and skills that should be part of the undergraduate biology education.  It is nice to have some solid guidelines for the design of coursework.

Two glass containers containing kombucha

My kombucha cultures, day 3.

The kombucha mothers, by the way, have risen to the surface of the sugary tea, not completely yet, but exposing more “body” to the air. What a relief. Following the instructions, I have been tasting the drink daily, feeling a slight tanginess invading the sweetness of the original tea. It is very pleasant, and it is amazing how quickly the pH changes day after day. It should not take many more days to get to the right balance point.

Other than that, lots of catching up to do after the SWI week. My cultures should arrive tomorrow to campus, but will have to wait until next week in the fridge as I am out of town this weekend…again. Stay tuned!

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