The world’s biggest bacterium reaches Birmingham

Dr Tribe with the E.coli model at Aston University

The E.coli superbug has hit Birmingham – but don’t worry, this one isn’t about to make you ill. It’s a huge scientific model, certified by Guinness World Records as the largest ever. The model – ‘Bacterium E.coli magnified two million times’ - was installed at Aston University this week to show the internal structures of a bacterium without the need for a microscope.

The model was designed and built by microbiologist Dr Henry Tribe. When designing the model Dr Tribe wanted to easily give the public an idea of what a bacterium is made up of. At approximately five metres long and two metres tall, the model offers a glimpse into the inner workings of this E-coli. The side of the cell has been opened up to reveal its inner workings – DNA, proteins and other molecules – the parts that humans would normally never see.

Anyone who views the model is able to learn that this is a chemical factory one thousandth of a millimetre in size and capable of making 1850 different proteins in half an hour. Or that even smaller electric motors, running on proton motive force are capable of 1000 revolutions per minute and have driving propellers enabling the bacterium to swim. These are facts known to scientists but how many of us have any comprehension of them?

Dr Tribe believes that it is important for people to know about bacteria because they are everywhere. Every one of us is host to E.coli and to vast numbers of other bacteria, however only a very few strains of E.coli cause the deadly food poisoning associated with it.

Speaking at the unveiling of the model, Professor Julia King, Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, said: “Bringing science and technology to life for members of the public, and especially for young people, is something that we are passionate about here at Aston University. This amazing model demonstrates one way of doing this that is both engaging and fun.”

The model is currently on display to the public in the Main Reception. 

Visit the ‘Bacterium E.coli magnified two million times’ website

Words by Louise Russell
28 October 2011