Ants & ANTibiotics; Illuminating Protein Function by Imaging Colorful Single Molecules; The Pitfalls of Not Being Scientific About Science Communication

“Wednesday Nite @ The Lab” Public Science Talks

Wednesdays at 7pm CT

Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center, 425 Henry Mall, Madison WI, 


Zoom at


Stream at


For 15 February 2023

Hi WN@TL Fans,

When my daughter saw the title for this week’s talk on “Ants and ANTibiotics” she asked, “What do ants have to do with antibiotics?”


Making unforeseen connections, from the behavioral to the biochemical, from the ecological to the evolutionary, between what at first glance are unconnected things, is a miracle of the empirical.

Strickland Gillilan’s four-syllable poem entitled “Lines on the ANTiquity of Microbes” nutshells it:  “Adam had’em.”   And long before Adam, so too did the ants.  Leaf-cutter ants in particular enlighten us with their constellation of bacteria and fungi, and the interplay of the beneficent and the maleficent in their colonies and in their underground gardens. To trace out and to track down the microbes that live on and in the ant, and the ants that live off of the microbes, has become among the most gorgeously & intricately woven stories in biology, with threads of insights born of intuition and tested through ingenuity.

Over the years, with the help of a leaf-cutter ant colony on exhibit, the story has also been one of the most vividly told examples of research pursued both in the field and in the lab that has changed how we parse the many layers of life.


On February 22 we celebrate the start of the 18th year of Wednesday Nite @ The Lab as a weekly series with Caitlin Calhoun of Bacteriology speaking on “Ants and ANTibiotics.”

Description:  Since 2009, the Leaf Cutter Ant Display has been an iconic attraction for public visitors to The Microbe Place located on the first floor of the Microbial Sciences Building for over a decade. Join us as we learn how the ants got there and where they’re going, and how they are integral in the search for new antibiotics as well as the fight against resistance to old antibiotics.

Bio:  Caitlin Calhoun researches the ecology and evolution of insects and their associated microbial symbionts.  She received her BS in Biological Sciences and Conservation and Environmental Science at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  During her undergrad she worked as a freshwater microbiologist isolating and culturing actinobacteria, as well as studying point source pollution affecting Lake Michigan. 

After college she went to work in private industry as a food microbiologist, where she discovered she missed nature, and fieldwork. She was offered a position with the Department of Natural Resources in Madison, where her knowledge of freshwater ecology allowed her to run the EPA regulated National Lakes Assessment for the State of Wisconsin. For two field seasons she assessed over 250 lake’s shoreline habitat and water quality. 

Research Interests:  The evolution of antibiotic resistance in pathogens and other emerging infectious diseases represents a major health issue both within the United States and around the world. As a result, the discovery of novel therapeutics to treat infectious diseases has taken on an unprecedented urgency. Our recent work has identified a rich, diverse, and largely untapped source of novel small molecules with therapeutic potential: Actinobacteria associated with terrestrial symbiotic systems. Our goal for this project is to collect a variety of insects from a diversity of locations within the United States and isolate their associated microbes. Once isolated, we can further analyze these strains to look for production of antimicrobial compounds.

Caitlin’s research revolves around the isolated microorganisms. Using bioassay methodology each isolate is tested against a variety of environmental and human associated bacterial and fungal pathogens. From here the isolates are graded on a quantitative scale for pathogenic inhibition. Isolates with greater inhibition bioassay activity are prioritized to move on to further testing.

Caitlin joined the Currie Lab in 2014 after realizing the lab combined two of her favorite things field and lab work. When she isn’t working Caitlin enjoys hiking with her dog Fen, climbing, and nature photography.

Explore More:

Historical Context: From the National Science Foundation, 2010:


We welcome meteorological spring on March 1 with Karli Lipinski of Chemistry and Biochemistry and her talk on “Illuminating Protein Function by Imaging Colorful Single Molecules.”

Fluorescence microscopy has become a tool not only of biologists looking at cells but also of biochemists looking in to reactions, and even more remarkably, into individual molecules.

Explore More:


Hope to see you soon—in person, by YouTube livestream or  by Zoom —at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.

Tom ZinnenBiotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H

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WN@TL begins at 7:00pm Central.

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UW-Madison:  5.9 million owners, one pretty good public land-grant teaching, research and extension university. 

Visit UW-Madison’s science outreach portal at for information on the people, places & programs on campus that welcome you to come experience science as exploring the unknown, all year round. 

Here are the components of the WN@TL User’s Guide

1. The live WN@TL seminar, every Wednesday night, 50 times a year, at 7pm CT in Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center and on Zoom at 

2. The WN@TL YouTube channel

3. WN@TL on the University Place broadcast channel of PBS Wisconsin 


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In partnership with

Wisconsin Alumni Association | UW-Madison Biotechnology Center

Division of Extension | PBS Wisconsin | UW Science Alliance



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