Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Quest: Weisselia koreensis

The human mind is marvelously adaptable.

If you found yourself needing to remember hundreds of seven-digit numbers, your brain would rapidly reconfigure to efficiently memorize those strings of information.

If you are a chemist and need to memorize chemical names...ditto.

Sally was an actress in a small town. More than once, she had been called on short notice to stand-in for an actor or actress who had dropped out.

Memorization of long strings of dialog are what actors and actresses do.  Sally proved as apt of a student in memorizing Dr. Soo's notes as Dr. Soo had ever taught.

Dr. Soo’s approach had been dirt simple. Embed Ebola genetic material in bacteria so it would present on the bacteria’s cell walls where the body’s immune system would see it.

The body would produce antibodies keyed to those viral snips.

Due to time constraints, Dr Soo created two strains of Weisselia koreensis bacteria. It was far simpler and quicker to produce one strain that presented the candy-cane hook and another that presented the knot on top.

Furthermore, Dr Soo had embedded DNA that coded the modified bacteria to glow bright green and aqua (respectively) under black light. That way, when the culture became contaminated with “wild” bacteria, a diluted solution could be plated on a Petri dish and the colonies of modified bacteria identified and moved to nutrient solution.

“The other thing that is novel about this vaccine is how it is administered” Dr Soo cautioned them.

“And how is that?” Steve asked.

“I chose the methods described by Velichko, Tsai and Hallquist*” Dr Soo said, as if that meant something to Steve.

“Which is...” Steve asked.

“The nostrils of the patient are swabbed with the vaccine. The vaccine must contain at least one million bacteria per ml.” Dr Soo said.

“The vaccine is administered every two weeks until the patient shows a strong immune response...swollen lymph nodes...after it is administered. Usually, it takes four swabbings.” Dr Soo said.

Steve was confused. “You mean you don’t inject it?”

“No” Dr Soo said. I was thinking about my home country. Without trade, it is very poor. I was trying to think of methods that would be safe and easy, even in a country where sterile medical equipment is rare.”

Sally was looking through her notes.

“The only thing you haven’t covered is how to grow the bacteria” Sally said.

Once again, Dr. Soo realized that her students were not graduate students in microbiology. “My bad. I thought you would recognize Weisselia koreensis. That is the main bacteria in Kimchi.”

Before Steve and Sally left, Dr Soo gave them a recipe for kimchi.

“Just for the record, you can leave out the red pepper when you make the vaccine...but you absolutely have to add the garlic because it has nutrients the bacteria needs.” Dr. Soo said.

Dan Bae gave Steve and Sally seeds for Korean cabbage. “I don’t know how well American cabbage will work for kimchi” he said. “I know Korean cabbage is easy to grow so there is no point in not using it.”

The final thing Dr. Soo gave them were the two vials containing the two cultures.

“Do we need to worry about this freezing?” Sally asked.

“Nope. Kimchi bacteria loves cold. That, and I added extra salt. Kimchi bacteria likes salt.” Dr Soo said. There was so much to share about making kimchi and not enough time to share it.

Sally cut a length of bootlace off the spool Steve had in the back of the wagon. Bootlaces were a steady seller.

Steve melted and shaped the ends. Sally tied into a generous lanyard and strung both of the unbreakable, polycarbonate vials on it. Then she slipped it over her head to wear as a necklace. She did not wear it next to her skin, mindful of Dr. Soo’s claim that kimchi bacteria liked cold. On the other hand, it was damned cold and she didn’t want them to freeze, either.

She slipped it between her base layer and her first sweater.

Steve didn’t want to drop down to Ottumwa to drop off the final fruit cake.

Sally insisted.

Steve argued that they would have to swing wide around Des Moines to avoid the city and that would add time.

Sally still insisted. “We promised.”

Sally won the day.

The travel was significantly warmer. Traveling southeast, they were walking toward the sun and the wind was from their right, rear quarter.

Meals were much faster as Dr. Soo had gifted them with rice and a pressure cooker.

The truce between Sally and Steve held for two days, and then their relationship went into the ditch.

They were five miles north of downtown Ottumwa when the blizzard hit.

*Velichko and Tsai are real, medical scientists who studied Cholera but they never published their paper on swabbing nasal passages with vaccine.  The names are too excellent to not use.



  1. You almost lost me at kimchi. I'd allow my nose to be swabbed with kimchi if the alternative was death by Ebola.

  2. That is why Soo mentions the red pepper can be left out. Also, pH can be adjusted toward neutral.

    Folks used to think medicine couldn't work unless it tasted nasty. The nastier the medicine, the more powerful.

  3. I discovered kimchi in Los Angeles, where I lived about a mile from Koreatown. Delicious, and it sure makes beer taste good.


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