Fun with Bacteria: From Acne to Bioreactors

by Kathryn on November 20, 2015

I spent a good portion of August and September learning about bacteria. I wound up writing three articles all with a similar theme: bacteria are good for us… except when they go bad.

The first article came out November 3 on Science News for Students: Slime Cities. It’s all about biofilms. I’d covered this topic once before, for Odyssey. But this article goes much more in depth. It covers how biofilms can cause tooth decay, increase antibiotic resistance, and rust metal. Then it talks about what scientists are doing to try to fight back. I had fun with the idea of a “city” full of bacteria, and extended the metaphor throughout the article.


While researching this article, I started learning that some scientists are trying to build biofilms to act as miniature factories to produce chemicals. I thought this topic deserved its own separate article, and my editor agreed. That story, Pollution Munchers, will be out soon. It focuses mostly on how biofilms can help people by cleaning up waste and producing things we need.

(Edit: This story is out now. The title got changed to: Microbes Mine Treasure from Waste.)

Finally, I had been assigned what I thought was a totally separate topic: acne. But as I researched this story, I realized that acne is all about bacteria, too! P. Acnes is the name of a bacterium that lives on your skin (all skin, both healthy and pimply). Sometimes this bacterium is good for your skin, but other times it goes bad and helps cause breakouts. This story is out now: The Truth About Zits. The editor also suggested breaking out two sections of the article into their own sidebars — so I wound up with the top three content pieces in the website’s January 23rd newsletter!

Acne articles


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