Part of the global effort to discover new antibiotics involves inventing new techniques to analyze the ones we already have. The idea is that the more we learn about how antimicrobials work at the molecular level, the easier it will be to find or synthesize novel ones.

One way to learn about how antibiotics work is to visualize their accumulation within bacterial cells. But this is no easy feat. Several imaging techniques already exist, such as monitoring fluorescence or tracking molecules using radioactive labels, but these methods suffer from various drawbacks. So, a team of researchers from Penn State University and the pharmaceutical and biotechnology giant Novartis set about inventing a new technique.


Special bacteria-killing surfaces constitute a highly active area of research and development.

Strategies to construct them vary widely. One group has infused a slippery surface with molecules that disrupt bacterial communication. Others have shown that silver nanoparticle coatings can destroy bacteria. Yet another group used black silicon to create a surface that resembled a tiny "bed of nails" (nanopillars), which physically rip bacteria apart.

That latter example, which ...

Ebola via Golding et al. (doi:10.1038/srep26516)Ebola via CG Golding et al. (doi:10.1038/srep26516)

When I told her that I wanted to major in microbiology, my best friend from childhood responded, "Are you sure you want to look in a microscope all day?"

But, as it turned out, a lot of microbiologists don't use microscopes very often. I was one of them. The reason is because a substantial proportion of modern microbiology research uses the tools of molecular biology, for which microscopes are not needed.

If my microbiology career had required the prolific use of...