BY NYA WYNN
This article will be published in The Review’s special magazine issue, set to be available on campus starting the week of April 24.
Although it’s rumored throughout the student body that the book in Mentor’s Circle is disgusting, with no real evidence to back up these claims, no one can actually prove if any of these rumors are true. The statue was constructed in 2001 to “honor recipients of UD’s Excellence in Teaching and Excellence in Advising awards with bricks bearing their names placed in the circle,” according to UDaily. However, since my arrival on campus, I have heard nothing but revolting stories about what students do on the monument, including (but not limited to) throwing up, spitting and defecating.
I decided to investigate these claims and put my biology and media communications double major to use. With the help of the microbiology lab in the Harker Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory, I performed my own research on the book. I was able to swab various parts of the book and grow the bacteria in petri dishes. I then performed a few tests to see what kind of bacteria was actually present.
After allowing the bacteria swabs to grow for about a week, I performed a gram stain on many of the bacterial colonies. Gram staining works by differentiating bacteria by the chemical and physical properties of their cell walls using crystal violet or methylene blue as the primary color. Under a Gram stain, according to Cleveland Clinic, bacteria can be sorted into two sets of colors (pink to red or purple to blue) under a special series of stains and are categorized as “gram-negative” or “gram-positive,” accordingly. A Gram stain can help diagnose harmful bacteria and give scientists an idea of what bacteria they could be working with.
After the stain, I used a microscope to hone in on what type of bacteria could be lurking on the book. Most bacteria was found in the center of the book where the “pages” meet. Additionally, a lot of what I found seemed to be non-pathogenic and not as gross as the rumors would have you believe, but there are a few concerning things that I came across.
I found some bacillus, which is mainly found in soil but is also found in decaying organic matter, dust, vegetables, water and some species that are part of the normal flora, according to Antimicrobe. There was also a good amount of various fungi growing in the petri dishes, which is also to be expected from an outdoor environment.
On top of the various environmental microbes, I did find a few that could be potentially dangerous. That being said, more testing is needed to be completely sure what each species is. This is just what I have gathered.
One species that I found was a staphylococci-like bacteria. One predominant species with a similar arrangement is Staphylococcus aureus, which is a species found in the environment and also found in the nose and on the skin of humans. Staph can cause many diseases and is considered pathogenic, but most staph infections aren’t serious.
Another mildly concerning species I may have discovered is strep. The bacteria I found was streptococcus-like and would need further testing to be able to say definitively if it was strep. Under the microscope, I could tell these were circular-shaped bacteria, growing in chains, which could mean strep. Strep infections are normally found in the nose, throat or on the skin. Strep in the human body most commonly causes strep throat, but it can also be the cause of various other infections. The presence of strep could support the rumor that people are spitting or even throwing up on the book; however, unless you’re licking the book, this isn’t a concern for most students at the university.
If not strep, it is also possible that this species growing in chains was an Enterococcus species. According to the Institute for Hygiene and Toxicology in Germany, this type of bacteria can “occur in a wide variety of environmental niches, including soil, surface waters, wastewaters and municipal water treatment plants, on plants.” But more tellingly, they can also be found “in the gastrointestinal tract of warm-blooded animals.” These types of bacterial species can be pathogenic and harmful to humans.
I think the most telling part of my research was the bacteria I didn’t find. There was little to no evidence of human secretions on the book because I was unable to identify any E.coli colonies. There was one bacterial colony that could be E.coli, but without further testing, I couldn’t say for certain. This means it is unlikely that many students are stopping for a bathroom break at the book in between classes. Remember kids, just because the book isn’t as disgusting as we thought, it still is not clean. Do not touch, I repeat, do not touch the book.