A student from last semester's microbiology course sent me a link to this video, a promotional spot about Boise State University, shown during a football game.
I was delighted to hear the young woman mention that Boise State, to her, could mean "quorum sensing." Fantastic!
But then, I read the press release that mentions that spot, and its "shout out" to Microbial Goodness. I put my head in my hands:
"Quorum sensing is a system of stimulus and response correlated to population density. The Department of Chemistry uses it to study bacteria such as the West Nile virus in its research work on viral vaccines."
Oh, my. West Nile virus, of course, is emphatically not a bacterium. So I went to my good friend Google.
I believe that the promotional spot is referring to Dr. Kenneth Cornell at Boise State University. His research covers quite a bit of ground, but he does study quorum sensing in some of his research, and also is involved in working on a West Nile vaccine. Somehow, these two items became linked by the PR department?
It's common to read, in everyday media, the confusion between "bacteria" and "viruses." So it is important to push for "Microbial Literacy." This is a good example: the well-intentioned effort to promote science was laudable, but the details were incorrect.
So I urge public relations offices producing these kind of spots to check their work carefully, so that their hard work will have the intended effect: helping the public to see the value of science in their everyday lives.