Somewhat humorously, I have noticed that the search term that most often sends one to this site during the month of December is 'microbiology gifts'. This is because of a post I wrote last December - listing silly (and some not-so-silly) gifts that might be appropriate for a microbiologist. Now, I'm a bit late this year with the 2nd edition, but perhaps it will help someone next year figure out a gift for that hard-to-buy-for-microbiologist on your list (and please, if this is me you're shopping for, do skip numbers 1-6 and go right to number 7).
1. T-shirts, buttons, mugs - you know, stuff. Over at CafePress.
3. A subscription to The Microbiological Update. Okay, this is QA-QC micro stuff, kinda boring, so don't go getting it for a microbiologist that you plan on having fun with in the future.
4. Wine (now this can be purchased for a microbiologist that you plan on having fun with) - what about a good Tuscan chianti? An affordable Argentinian malbec? What about a nice bottle of wine and a copy of Handbook of Enology: Volume 1: The Microbiology of Wine? Or what about finding when the next meeting of the International Wine Microbiology Symposium and booking a trip?
5. Now here's a good one! A Photographic Atlas for the Microbiology Laboratory. Looks like it might be nice for someone taking intro to clinical microbiology. And as for books, you could head on over to ASM Press' eStore and take a look ( there's Joklik's Microbiology: A Centenary Perspective - a collection of landmark papers over the past century, and Bacterial Pathogenomics, editor-in-chief Pallen - which focuses on how genomics has helped us understand how pathogens have evolved and their disease-causing processes).
6. What about some microbial art? Quite literally...
Escherichia coli (E. coli) was discovered in the first decade of the 20th century by the German bacteriologist Theodor Escherich (1857-1911) and according to Wikipedia “the number of individual E. coli bacteria in the faeces that one human passes in one day averages between 100 billion and 10 trillion”. It is the BacterioPoetic conviction that each of these bacteria is a piece of art more beautiful then the “Victory of Samothrace” and as such your poo hosts more art than the collections of all museums in the world put together.
Roughly around the same time Theodor Escherich was making his discovery, James Joyce was working on the sequence of books that have since become the hallmarks of modernism in literature. It is interesting to compare the impact on world culture of E. coli against the Ulysses; Joyce’s masterpiece published in 1921, of which he proclaimed it would take scholars centuries to uncover the riddles hidden therein. Little could Joyce have expected that in the end a work of biology as humble and yet as versatile as the E. coli proved to be far more elusive than the wanderings of Leopold Bloom or the simulation of Dublin in which Bloom lives on, created by a human mind of his scope. E. coli has become the workhorse of molecular biology, the time and resources spent on reverse engineering it by far exceeding the work done on the analysis of Ulysses. But whereas interpretation of Ulysses is the best way to make sure students of literature will never read again, bacteriologists can’t get enough of the E. coli: its mechanism still shaded in mystery, the wonder of its feats of adaptivity never ceasing.
Biology is conservative. The function and perhaps even the definition of creativity is to come up with novelty. In terms of burn-rate bacteria are surely more creative than, say, elephants, lemurs or even fruit flies because all these animals evolve much slower than the 3,5 hour it takes the E. coli to iterate a new generation. But bacteria are also impressive for the quality of the novelty they introduce.
Or microbial art climatology:
[...] The practice of microbial art climatology starts with immersing (a sample of) the art works (submergence) in an environment with a lot of micro-organisms (ditchwater). Micro-organisms will settle in and on the art works in great numbers and by doing so provide the key to the microbial art climatological analysis. In the end, the quality of the art work is determined by the type of organism that it attracts [...] Determination is the most essential part of the microbial art climatology. It needs to be carried out with the utmost precision. If you cannot distinguish a Ciliate from a Gastrotrich you will certainly not be able to tell a good 'hard edge' from a mediocre 'colourfield painting'. An incorrect determination can cause a lot of damage to both museum and- private collections. Eventually, it might disrupt our overall view of the course of art history. The art climatologist should assume full responsibility for his determination. [...]
7. But lets face it. Most of the microbiologist that I know don't want clothes or books or wine (wait, skip that last one) - what we want are new toys. Bigger (well, actually smaller), faster, toys with increasing resolution. As for me, I'd love a gift certificate for ~1M for a shopping spree at 454 Life Sciences. I'd probably start with the Genome Sequencer FLX System with has the capacity to generate about 100 million bases per 7.5-hour instrument run. I'd need to purchase alot of the supporting software as well. Now that would keep the lab busy - yes, I know, we can still send out, but wouldn't it be easier to just walk down the hall, or over to the next lab bench? I'd also very much like an atomic force microscope - no, no - it's not that expensive, but for a quarter of a million I could get everything that I want (I'd like to be able to examine samples in liquid - so a few accessories would be required). Oh, and a new scanning electron microscope would be nice, especially if it were coupled to EDX (like this one).
For prior and subsequent years: