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Scientists Breed Bacteria

INTRICATE STUDY - Dr. Joseph R. Merkel, marine biologist for the College of Charleston, works with microscopic organisms in a portion of the recently created laboratory at Fort Johnson. (Staff Photo by Gibbs).

By Jim Pullen, Evening Post, October 23, 1956

At Marine Laboratory

Dr. MerkelBacteria – harmful and otherwise – are now being cultivated at the former government quarantine center at Fort Johnson. The controlled production of the microscopic organism is being carried on by Dr. Joseph R. Merkel, marine biologist for the College of Charleston. Minute marine life is being studied to determine what compounds they attack, what they can decompose and how their work fits in with survival of other ocean life. The ultimate purpose of the study, according to Dr. Merkel is a complete course in marine biology for college students at the College of Charleston. Immediate plans, however, call for a course in bacteriology, probably next semester. A general class of instruction on marine biology was held last year at the Fort Johnson laboratory, but little remodeling of the facility had been accomplished at the time.

Now, however, floors have been tiled, walls painted and practically all of the laboratory furniture and equipment, set aside by the college for the project, are in place. Half of the old quarantine hospital has been furnished for use as the laboratory. “The only thing that is holding us up or preventing our expanding still further,” Dr. Merkel said, “is lack of funds.” With money that was available, however, much has been accomplished. A main laboratory, a research laboratory, a student laboratory, a sterile room, a library, an instrument room and an incubator and wash room are near completion. Planned is an aquarium and a partition to divide the students laboratory to accommodate more pupils. Facilities, except for a sufficient number of microscopes, are already available for 15 students.

“We want to attract visiting researchers here, too,” Dr. Merkel said. He explained that while emphasis will be on microbiology, work must be carried on to include larger plants and animals of the sea. This, he said, will rest almost entirely on visiting professors and research people. “Already,” he said, “we have a reservation for next summer from a man at the New Jersey Agricultural Experimental Station and a graduate student.” For use by visiting researchers as well as by students, one of the most important rooms is the sterile room.

In studying a tiny organism, the air must be perfectly still and the walls must be scrubbed down to prevent pollution. “Otherwise,” Dr. Merkel explained, “other organisms from the air would collect on the one being studied and you don’t know what you have.” In the sterile room, closed cases containing the bacteria are opened and the microscopic plants or animals are scraped from the substance in which they grow. Sometimes, Dr. Merkel said, it is more desirable to grow the tiny marine life in liquid. From either the liquid or jelly like media, the organisms have to be spread thin enough so that they will not pile on top of each other. The laboratory, however, takes up a very small portion of the 39 acres owned by the College of Charleston at Fort Johnson. Dr. Merkel said there is a plan to use some of the area for faculty housing.