June 20, 2016

"Not only do bacteria outnumber humans but they outweigh us, too, by a factor of a hundred million."

"Civilization is only a tweak to their landscape. 'If Homo sapiens disappears, cities will be gone and fields will become rain forest again, but life as such will not change,' [Slava] Epstein told me. 'If microbes disappear, then everything is gone—no New York, no rain forest.'"

From a great New Yorker article by Raffi Khatchadourian called "THE UNSEEN/Millions of microbes are yet to be discovered. Will one hold the ultimate cure?"

I was listening to the audio version as I was walking today, and I gasped aloud when I heard "a factor of a hundred million." And I cried over Epstein's struggle to become a microbiologist in the Soviet Union....
Through a friend, Epstein found a job... in Kamchatka, where he manned a lone microbial-research station on the Bering Sea. He hiked. He avoided bears. And, dreaming of exile, he memorized seven thousand English words from an old dictionary, with no sense of how they fit together.
... and then, relocated to America...
... with his limited English, reëntering academia was impossible at first, and he half-considered becoming a contractor. While fixing driveways, he listened to NPR, the language flowing by in an undifferentiated stream. Over time, the words revealed themselves, until one day he realized that he was listening to the news.
And then there's the prediction of a “post-antibiotic world”...
[I]f trends continue, annual fatalities from drug-resistant microbes could exceed ten million by 2050, eclipsing those from cancer. Many key advancements in modern medicine could be reversed. As one researcher noted recently, “A lot of major surgery would be seriously threatened. I used to show students pictures of people being treated for tuberculosis in London. It was just a row of beds outside a hospital—you lived or you died.”

26 comments:

Comanche Voter said...

California and Arizona were filled with sanitoria for the "good clean air" for tuberculosis sufferers in the 1920s. I thought we had tuberculosis beat in the country after the advent of streptomycin. But new cases of tuberculosis are coming in with the stream of immigrants from the second and third world. The "White Death" of consumption or tuberculosis is coming back to America.

glenn said...

So, being born in 1939 was a really good decision on my part, right?

Laslo Spatula said...

Millions of microbes are yet to be discovered. Will one hold the ultimate cure?"

Will one cure Nasal Congestion?

Will one fight Toe Fungus?

Will one replace Viagra?

Will one make Gender-Confused Individuals come to terms with themselves?

I guess we don't need it.

Carry on, bacteria.


I am Laslo.

virgil xenophon said...

"There's a Fungus Among Us"

------------------INCUBUS

Ignorance is Bliss said...

[I]f trends continue...

They don't.

Glad we cleared that up.

wild chicken said...

Read Secondhand Time - the last of the Soviets. That'll really make you cry.

Ron said...

I'm sorry....where's the Trump connection in this story?

StephenFearby said...



Microbe pluses:

Science Daily June 16, 2016

A single species of gut bacteria can reverse autism-related social behavior in mice

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160616140723.htm

http://www.cell.com/cell/pdf/S0092-8674(16)30730-9.pdf


Microbe minuses:

J Alzheimer's Disease, April 16, 2016

Microbes and Alzheimer's Disease

"...In summary, we propose that infectious agents, including HSV1, Chlamydia pneumonia, and spirochetes, reach the CNS and remain there in latent form. These agents can undergo reactivation in the brain during aging, as the immune system declines, and during different types of stress (which similarly reactivate HSV1 in the periphery). The consequent neuronal damage— caused by direct viral action and by virus-induced inflammation— occurs recurrently, leading to (or acting as a cofactor for) progressive synaptic dysfunction, neuronal loss, and ultimately AD. Such damage includes the induction of Aβ which, initially, appears to be only a defense mechanism."

http://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad160152


YMMV




Original Mike said...

"Not only do bacteria outnumber humans but they outweigh us, too, by a factor of a hundred million."

Some of us more than others.

Michael K said...

The gut bacteria may even determine if we are fat or thin

Microorganisms precede humans in more than 400 million years and our guest flora evolved with us in order to help us face aggressor microorganisms, to help us maximize the energy that can be extracted from nutrients, and to produce essential nutrients/vitamins that we are not equipped to produce. However, our gut microbiota can be disturbed, dysbiota, and become itself a source of stress and injury. Dysbiota may adversely impact metabolism and immune responses favoring obesity and obesity-related disorders such as insulin resistance/diabetes mellitus and NAFLD.

J. Farmer said...

Look, the vast majority of human beings on the planet today either don't have the cognitive capacity to comprehend the concepts of scales involved or are too busy devoting their energy to the basic necessities of survival to ever be concerned with questions such as these. Concepts like materialism and evolutionary biology are frightening assaults to our egos. The trick to life is being able to recognize the absurdity of it all while simultaneously going along with almost all of the bullshit we tell ourselves. An inability to strike this balance on one end or the other is sure to lead to maladjustment.

Fernandinande said...

He's talking about "biomass" without using the word. They're still guestimating. I was looked this up a few weeks ago...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomass_(ecology)
"In a much-cited study from 1998 the world bacterial biomass was calculated to be 350 to 550 billions of tonnes of carbon, equal to between 60% and 100% of the carbon in plants. More recent studies of seafloor microbes have cast considerable doubt on that, one study in 2012 reduced the calculated microbial biomass on the seafloor from the original 303 billions of tonnes of C to just 4.1 billions of tonnes of C, reducing the global biomass of prokaryotes to 50 to 250 billions of tonnes of C. Further, if the average per cell biomass of prokaryotes is reduced from 86 to 14 femtograms C[7] then the global biomass of prokaryotes is reduced to 13 to 44.5 billions of tonnes of C, equal to between 2.4% and 8.1% of the carbon in plants.
...
Humans comprise about 100 million tonnes of the Earth's dry biomass, domesticated animals about 700 million tonnes, and crops about 2 billion tonnes. The most successful animal species, in terms of biomass, may well be Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba, with a fresh biomass approaching 500 million tonnes, although domestic cattle may also reach these immense figures. However, as a group, the small aquatic crustaceans called copepods may form the largest animal biomass on earth."

With the high values for bacteria: 550 billion/100 million = 5,500 times as as much mass as humans, or about 20,000 times smaller than the article claims.

T J Sawyer said...

"they outweigh us, too, by a factor of a hundred million"

That's a lot. Do they emit carbon dioxide or consume it? Or are they "carbon neutral."

Original Mike said...

"The gut bacteria may even determine if we are fat or thin"

No way, man. I'm thin because I eat a lot less than I want to and you're not taking that away from me.

Bob Boyd said...

Maybe we're just machines created by microbes for their convenience.

mockturtle said...

Most bacteria are beneficial. Even necessary for life. Overuse of antibiotics and antibacterial products is screwing things up.

Greg Hlatky said...

Do they emit carbon dioxide or consume it?

Only Republicans emit carbon dioxide.

Jim S. said...

I don't mean this as snark, but how is it that "Civilization is only a tweak to their landscape" if civilization has the awesome power to completely change the climate so that it endangers all life on earth? Either we are enormously powerful so as to effect catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, or we're just an insignificant tweak on the earth that the overall biosphere barely notices. Which is it?

HoodlumDoodlum said...

So, wait: bacteria are the backbone of society?

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Multiply this individual's suffering and repression by a couple hundred million and then laugh at dumb ol' actor Ronnie Reagan using the phrase "evil empire."
The Left is so empathetic and smart, and anyway all countries are really the same, really.

Gahrie said...

Re: antibiotics...

I have read about two different possible approaches to replace antibiotics in treating infections. The first is creating living predators that are parasites to the bacteria. the second is giving the bacteria an infection that kills them before they can kill you. (something to do with manufactured DNA). From what I have read either of these solutions would actually be better than antibiotics because they are targeted instead of affecting the host also, and because they is no possibility of becoming immune.

Then you have the further possibility of nano robots running through your blood stream zapping bacteria. This one is a little farther away, but seems entirely plausible given the state of research.

EDH said...

NIH Human Microbiome Project defines normal bacterial makeup of the body

The human body contains trillions of microorganisms — outnumbering human cells by 10 to 1. Because of their small size, however, microorganisms make up only about 1 to 3 percent of the body's mass (in a 200-pound adult, that's 2 to 6 pounds of bacteria), but play a vital role in human health.

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-human-microbiome-project-defines-normal-bacterial-makeup-body

Michael K said...

"these solutions would actually be better than antibiotics because they are targeted instead of affecting the host also, and because they is no possibility of becoming immune."

Penicillin has no effect on mammals but immune reaction is what is dangerous about penicillin. The bacteria develop penicillinase, which destroys the penicillin and the body becomes immunized against the molecule. Both are serious problems with most antibiotics.

Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria. They were being worked on when antibiotics came along and will probably get more important again as "superbugs" get more common.

Any DNA manipulation of bacteria would require an agent to transfer the DNA or RNA to the bacteria while the infection was taking place.

With increasing migration from third world hellholes, we will see more resistant infectious diseases come along. I'm not looking forward to it.

mockturtle said...

I don't mean this as snark, but how is it that "Civilization is only a tweak to their landscape" if civilization has the awesome power to completely change the climate so that it endangers all life on earth? Either we are enormously powerful so as to effect catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, or we're just an insignificant tweak on the earth that the overall biosphere barely notices. Which is it?

Bingo!

Luke Lea said...

A big reason why the total biomass on land is much larger than in the oceans, or so I have read in a geology textbook.

J. Farmer said...

@Jim S.

"Either we are enormously powerful so as to effect catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, or we're just an insignificant tweak on the earth that the overall biosphere barely notices. Which is it?"

There is no contradiction here. Just because human beings have developed technologies capable of altering the climate (nuclear weaponry being another example) doesn't change our relative position in the grand scheme of things. Even conceding the most alarmist predictions, climate change all to mean the end of the earth. While climate change may have catastrophic effects on ecosystems it cannot possess a threat to the earth itself. The earth's existence predates climate.