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This week we're answering a bunch of your frequently asked questions!

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Today we’re back with another round of your questions!

We’ve got questions about microbes, questions about how James, our Master of Microscopes takes care of microbes, and questions about how we make these videos. Some of these things we’ve seen come up frequently in comments, and others are questions sent in via Twitter, Patreon, and Instagram.

So thank you to everyone who’s been commenting and asking questions, we couldn’t do any of this without your shared excitement for all things microcosmos. And every one of your comments and questions steers this channel on our journey. Question number one, we’ve been asked if there are any species of fungi that live in the aqueous environment?

And yes, there are! We featured some in our recent episode about nematode-trapping fungi, which are very fascinating and also a teensy bit creepy. There are also other fungal parasites.

These amoeba are infected with Amoebophilus simplex, a fungus that attacks certain amoeba and then grow spores out of them. These euglenids are also infected with some kind of fungus though we couldn’t tell you which kind. Moving out of the water onto the land, we’ve got a question about whether we’ve had the chance to observe motile soil microbes, and whether we’ve been able to look at species that come from more than 1 mile down in the ground.

We’ve talked a bit about soil microbes, but the fact is that the soil has an incredible diversity of life in it, and we’ve barely scratched the surface (literally). And we’d love to dig deeper so that we can see some of the organisms that live a mile or more underground. But we cannot do that ourselves, so James has been trying to get ahold of some samples from drilling companies.

So fingers crossed on that. Next question: Do organisms like Gastrotrich have gut flora? Well they almost certainly do have gut flora.

Bacteria are basically everywhere, including in the guts of microscopic animals. As for their role in gastrotrichs? It could be anything.

Our own microbiome is made up of bacteria that do everything from help us digest food to manage our immune system, and nature is full of many incredible examples of how gut flora and other forms of microbiome inform the lives of animals. So there’s probably something cool going on there. But no scientist, as far as we know, have yet investigated it.

One of the most common questions we get is how to start your own journey to the microcosmos. The easiest thing is to get some water from outside and look at it under a microscope, but of course, picking and purchasing a microscope can be overwhelming. Like any hobby, it’s probably best to start off simple and see what works for you, get some experience, and then build from there.

Also, we might be working on some things to help you narrow down your search in the future, but we can’t talk about it yet. Of course, microscopes are only one part of the microcosmos experience—the other big thing are the microbes that you’re gonna look at with them. And we’ve gotten a few questions about how to best take care of our invisible friends for the long term.

The key is to try to get samples that are on the larger size. Having a larger sample will make any environmental changes happen slower. It’s like the difference between leaving a bottle of water out in the sun versus a whole pool of water: the bottle will get warmer faster.

Now, obviously you’re not gonna be gathering a whole pool’s worth of microbes, but in general, it’s best to err on the side of larger samples so that you can provide your microbes with a steady environment. In addition, you’ll also want to try and mimic as much of their original environment as possible. So collect leaves, sediment, and aquatic plants from wherever you’re sampling to make your microbes feel at home.

We also get a ton of questions about how to identify microbes. We’ve made an episode about just this very thing, but the crux of that whole discussion is that…it’s really a thing built on a lot of internet sleuthing and practice. But with that said, our very own James Weiss will be publishing a book next year called The Hidden Beauty of the Microscopic World, to be published by Penguin Random House, which will be a picture heavy book that might help you with your identification needs.

Which is very exciting! Congratulations James! Moving on to a microscope question: what is the minimum magnification needed to see single-celled organisms?

Well, there are actually some single-celled organisms large enough to be seen without a microscope, especially if you put them in front of a strong light like this stentor culture. When it comes to using a microscope, we’ve been able to use a magnification as low as 40x to see our samples. Now it’s time to get into some behind the scenes stuff.

Several of you have been asking about whether there are any microbes that we want to show but cannot for some reason. And yes, definitely. There are so many incredible microbes out there, and while we’re fortunate that our accessible sources have so many unique things for us to find, there’s still plenty more that we want to see and that we want to show you.

Right now, we’re hoping to find a super rare ciliate called thysonomorpha, which has weird retractable tentacles. And then there’s plenty on our wishlist, a bit more of a reach. We’d love to feature archaea, which are single-celled prokaryotes distinct from bacteria.

But archaea are super tiny, even by microcosmos standards, so they’re hard for us to find right now. We’re planning to get fluorescent illumination in the future, which will let us stain for archaeans so we can see them better. Archaeans are famed for their ability to survive in some of the hottest and saltiest places on the planet, making them what we call extremophiles.

And we really, really want to be able to talk more about extremophiles because it’s incredible to learn more about how microbes are able to survive in some of the harshest environments. Unfortunately, we don’t know how to do that yet. We don’t know how to take care of them or capture them on video, and that is on our wishlist.

We also got a question wanting to know whether James has discovered something that’s not just new to him, but new to science. And it turns out he has! He found this ciliate a few months ago and couldn’t identify it, so he contacted some scientists working on this group of organisms.

There are reports of similar species from the 1930s, but so far no description matches what he’s found. So James is working on trying to culture them and maybe do some genomic analysis, and hopefully he’ll get to write a paper and name the organism. If he gets to do that, we might even ask you all to pitch in some ideas!

Someone else asked whether we worry about getting sick from some of the things we’re working with, which is always a good question to ask because safety is an important thing to keep track of when you’ve got hundreds of containers full of microbes in your home. So James exercises caution by not handling the containers with an open wound. He also washes his hands after working with the microscope.

The real challenge is making sure his cats are staying safe because cats, you know, they’re cats. So he’s trained them to avoid his samples by blowing puffs of air on their face when they try to climb up on his table and his window sills. These are the little bits of insight you get when you watch the questions videos.

On to some more nitty gritty: after we’re done observing the organism on the slide, what do we do with them? Do we dispose of them or culture them? We don’t really try to culture everything but instead, we try to create little copies of the environment that the organisms came from.

So when we’re done checking a slide, everything either gets washed back into the sample container or into a pond aquarium. But if we do want to culture them, James uses a micropipette to select the cells one by one and transfer them onto a clean water drop. He’ll repeat this a few times to wash the cells, and then put them into some water to culture.

We get a lot of wonderful comments from you all about the music on this channel and you’ve also asked about how it’s composed. The music is made by the very talented Andrew Huang, who you can find on YouTube. Link in the description, and he said the following: “The music for Microcosmos is some of the most organic composing I’ve ever done, where I generally just set out to explore a mood as suggested by the team or based on my own viewing of the series.” I think he did a really wonderful job.

This question’s from Andrew Taylor who asked on You

Tube: “What motivated you to create this channel? Why did you branch out into the more relaxing narrative instead of continuing the high energy of your other productions? And hey, this is actually a question for me, neat! Well, at first I was motivated to make the channel after seeing some of James’ videos on YouTube and I reached out and I was like, “We should talk about these things.” But it terms of the vibe, like when you’re making something, what it’s gonna feel like, how it’s going to be experienced, that can’t just come down to like what you know how to do or what you’re good at, or what’s become expected of you, or even a particular platform like YouTube.

It has to be about what is right for the content. And when I first saw James’ videos, there was a vibe already there, and so we just sorta followed that vibe. It was also a moment when I, personally, needed some opportunities maybe to slow down a little bit sometimes.

That has only felt more necessary to me in the years since we launched. So, I was excited to make something a little more chill. And finally, from time to time we receive comments asking us about money.

Maybe asking about our Patreon, our sponsorships, or YouTube ad revenue, but the questions mostly boil down to a curiosity about how the finances of a YouTube channel work, and I love talking about that stuff. Journey to the Microcosmos is produced by a larger company, Complexly, that makes SciShow and Crash Course and Eons, and about a dozen other YouTube channels. And when we launch something new, at that company, we invest money that we made from other things to try something in the hopes that the new thing will become self-sustaining.

It will gain an audience. It will gain support. And it will be able to continue to exist.

When those things aren’t able to sustain their costs, that’s when a show gets cancelled. We can’t make shows that cost more money to produce than they make. So what do we spend money on?

Several things. Our writer, Deboki, on Matt’s editing and graphics and production, on Andrew’s music, and, of course, helping James continue his amazing work. The one thing about this that is free is the narration, which I guess I throw in for free cuz I’m the CEO of Complexly and I just really like to work on this show.

The good news is, that because this channel has the support of our Patreon patrons and advertisers, it’s now making enough money that we can think not just about how to survive, but also about how to keep making our content better. Now, a lot of these things are expensive, but particularly with microscopy, the smallest microscope parts can cost thousands of dollars, but thanks to your support, we’ve been able to upgrade to a 4K camera to produce even better looking footage, and recently, James able to get a brand new microscope so that we can share the amazingness that is DIC microscopy. Our next goal is to hit $5,000 a month on Patreon, and that’s gonna let us buy a 40x objective for the new microscope similar to the one we’ve used in our past brightfield and dark field clips.

That way we can still get the stunning footage we get with DIC microscopy, but also get a more zoomed out view of the microcosmos. So, if you’re interested in joining our amazing group of patrons, you can head over to patreon.com/journeytomicro, and together, we can change our perspective on the world. And if you can’t join our patreon, all of your support in views, comments, likes, and questions helps us figure out where to take our journey next.

So thank you for coming on this journey with us as we explore the unseen world that surrounds us. And again thank you to our Patreon patrons, all of these people here, who yes, as I have just said, are the reason that this show can continue to exist. So, if you are thankful for this show, these are the people you need to thank.

If you want to see more from our Master of Microscopes, James Weiss, check out Jam & Germs on Instagram. And if you want to see more from us, there’s always a subscribe button somewhere nearby.