When people ask me what I do for a living and I say "marine microbiologist", the usual assumption is that I play with whales all day long. I'd quite like that myself, however, I work on the things at the other end of the size scale, photosynthetic microbes, that can only be observed under the microscope. Inevitably that sounds less exciting to many people but in reality it is probably one of the most exciting research fields to be in this decade!... So, I have to find ways of explaining how great and important my work is. I could go in the details that cyanobacteria produce more than 50% of the oxygen in our atmosphere, that is to say that every second breath we take is sponsored by my little friends, but I found a way more important reason than that.
A few years back Nestle banned the blue Smarties (another popular and older version of m&m’s) due to health concerns from the artificial colorant needed for its confection. Even though Australia might have gone against other countries and kept the production going (True blue Aussie Smarties won't die off), I was in the UK at the time and this was dramatic!! There were even campaigns launched and facebook pages setup to “save the blue Smarties!”
And then cyanobacteria came to the rescue! The blue Smarties was back, this time coloured with a natural pigment (phycocyanin) extracted from these little bugs. Although a lot of the media referred to Spirulina as seaweed, I won't take much offence to the fact they are not, and keep spreading the word that: cyanobacteria saved the blue Smarties!!!
A few of my colourful marine cyanobacteria and a (soon to be empty) pack of choccies containing "safe" blue Smarties.