Winogradsky Columns example

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Winogradsky Columns

A Winogradsky column is a device, simulating an enclosed ecosystem, invented in 1881 by Sergey Winogradsky, and despite its relatively simplistic construction, it has been actively used in biology and has a great scientific and academic value. Retelling the historical background of this invention or going into details about its structure is beyond the scope of this work. Rather, this paper is concerned with unconventional or little-known uses of Winogradsky columns and attempts to explain why this device deserves attention of scientific communities.

The device originally comes in the form of a tube filled with mud, calcium sulfate, shredded newspapers, and calcium carbonate. These ingredients provide microorganism in the mud with nutrients. Once the bacteria start multiplying vigorously, they form layers of various colors; judging by a color, scientists can identify the exact type of bacteria, and their current stage of development. Besides, Winogradsky columns help researchers understand the mechanisms that bacteria use to survive and multiply. For example, in a typical Winogradsky column the top layer is always green. This happens because at the top of a column bacteria enjoy the best conditions: they have the maximum of available sunlight and unlimited supply of oxygen. Therefore, they can launch the photosynthesis process, which is accountable for the distinctive green hue of the substrate. In contrast, the bottom of the tube is normally black, since it hosts sulfate-reducing bacteria, doing chemosynthesis in the conditions of the absence of light. These bacteria use calcium sulfate and simple carbohydrates to convert them to ATP (adenosine triphosphate – an energy carrier in cells), that they need for life, and hydrogen sulfide. The by-products of these chemical reactions are responsible for the black color of the bottom layer. Therefore, Winogradsky columns are ideal tools for observing bacteria in the phases of early development and expansion; scientists then can employ their knowledge of bacterial life cycle for research, academic and other purposes.

The area of application of Winogradsky columns is truly vast. These devices can even be used in space science, and, incredibly, they may become a stepping stone towards the creation of habitable environments on other planets. Winogradsky columns are now increasingly being used to simulate microenvironments of different planets; by analyzing the behavior of different bacterial strains in extreme conditions, scientists may finally create perfect substrates, that they will use in the future for the terraforming of Mars, or of any other planet. Besides, they can help scientists identify planets that cannot host life at all, thus reducing budget spending on futile projects. A terraforming-related research involving Winogradsky columns can be miraculously fruitful: if scientist craft the right substrate for a planet, they will be unprecedentedly close to establishing the first human extraterrestrial colony, since bacteria will provide colonists with fertile soil to cultivate plants and oxygen to breathe. What is now science fiction might be turned into reality in the near future by a simple device, developed some 200 years ago.

Furthermore, Winogradsky columns can be used to accelerate the learning process …

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