From MicrobeWiki, the student-edited microbiology resource


A turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) spreads its wings and faces its back to the sun in order to heat and sanitize its feathers.

Things rot. Over time, dead organic matter breaks down into smaller and smaller parts until only bits of basic chemicals remain. This process, called decomposition, does not occur spontaneously, at least not at the rate we observe here on earth. Living things do not fall apart like a house of cards in the breeze the moment their cells stop functioning. Rather, decomposition is the action of microbes which break down organic matter for energy (Rao and Yanai, 1979).
If it contains chemical energy, odds are there exists some microbe specialized in decomposing it. Everything from leaves to flesh to hair contains some chemical capable of yielding energy through a series of reactions. Some of these processes have become famous in human culture. The skeleton, grim and thin, acts as a symbol of death. The smell of rot is synonymous with disease. Withering trees provoke sadness and melancholy.
Other forms of decomposition, though less famous, are equally present and important in nature. Birds’ feathers harbor sophisticated microbial ecosystems that include parasites, mutualists, and even predators amongst one another (Shawkey et al. 2005). Among these, many attempt to feed on the feathers themselves as a source of energy. Even microbes which live in the soil and only rarely happen upon discarded feathers still possess the equipment to draw upon them as an energy source (Lucas et al. 2003). Through study of these microbes, we are able to accomplish mundane feats such as reducing the mortality of poultry farms as well as extraordinary ones such as approximating the color of dinosaur feathers.

In Nature

One of the TSA plates used in the Shawkey et al. 2003 study shows that discs treated with uropygial oil inhibit the growth of bacteria found to produce keratinase.

In Industry

A large layer of feathers and waste piles up in poultry factories, threatening to spread disease and increase mortality. Disposal of old feathers is critical to the efficiency of the factory.

In Archaeology

Include some current research in each topic, with at least one figure showing data.

Photograph of the fossilized feathers used by Moyer et al. 2014 to show the difference or lack thereof between fossilized melanosomes and fossilized biofilms.

In Conclusion

Overall paper length should be 3,000 words, with at least 3 figures.