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July 4th: Science in Gambier

July 4, 2012

Independence Day in Gambier. My microbiology students here for the summer were told to celebrate the holiday, although one plans to start “overnight cultures,” and I’m plotting the punch list for our next publication. Recently in San Francisco, at the ASM meeting, Keith Martinez (blue shirt) explained acid-stressed biofilms to a rapt audience. Dan Riggins ’12 also received rapt attention for oxygen-starved E. coli. While ourĀ E. coli work received less attention than the Higgs boson, it’s a lot closer to home.

So who really runs our bodies, anyway–our nuclear cells, or our gene-packed bacteria? According to Scientific American, it may be the latter. As a speaker explained at ASM, microbes probably invented plants and animals as nice environments to inhabit.

2 Comments
  1. heteromeles permalink
    July 5, 2012 8:15 pm

    Ummm, wrong metaphor. I realize that microbiologists like to get snippy (so do both mycologists and botanists–zoologists can be annoying with their smugly superior attitudes and general ignorance). That said, evolution is not a directed-invention enterprise. As my basic botany teacher put it, it’s entirely possible to teach the development of truly 3-dimensional bodies as a series of failures in cell division (basically, cells fail to separate after dividing, resulting in chains, then they lose polarity of division, resulting in sheets and ultimately blobs). I really prefer the lucky accident story to “microbes invented animals.”

    As for the interaction between microbes and humans, it’s a 2-way street. We’ll never know all the microbes on our bodies (unless we get to the point where we can do personal microbiomes can be analyzed faster than they can mutate), but we can certainly drastically change our microbiomes through lifestyle choices. Slathering oneself in triclosan, dirt, or coconut oil for example, will dramatically change our skin biota, as can something as simple as changing the frequency with which we shower. Similarly, of course, bacteria have profound effects on our health, attitudes, even our social interactions. We’re inextricably linked, and I suspect that those of us who like soap operas will find more fun exploring the idiosyncratic complexities of human-microbe interactions, rather than trying to shoehorn them into simple, exclusive categories.

  2. paws4thot permalink
    July 6, 2012 6:02 am

    Given that at least one CERN press release starts soemthing like “We think we may have found a Higgs boson”, I’ve proposed that the particle they’s actually found is probably a Schroedinger Boson! ;-)

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