May COVID-19 help us make peace with bacteria
Bacteria is the smallest living organism on Earth and it is also the biggest (great corail reef).
It is also the oldest living organism on Earth. “Let’s collapse the planet’s entire history into a single calendar year. Right now, as you’re reading this page, it is the 31st of December, just before the stroke of midnight (…) Humans have only existed for the 30 minutes or fewer. (…) Flowers and mammals evolved earlier in December. (…) For most of the tale, microbes were the only living things on Earth. From March to October in our imaginary calendar, they had the sole run of the planet.”(..)“As palaeontologist Andrew Knoll once said, “Animals might be evolution’s icing, but bacteria are really the cake.” ― Ed Yong, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
There are as many bacteria as there are human cells in the body.
“When Orson Welles said “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone”, he was mistaken. Even when we are alone, we are never alone. We exist in symbiosis – a wonderful term that refers to different organisms living together. Some animals are colonised by microbes while they are still unfertilized eggs; others pick up their first partners at the moment of birth. We then proceed through our lives in their presence. When we eat, so do they. When we travel, they come along. When we die, they consume us. Every one of us is a zoo in our own right – a colony enclosed within a single body. A mutli-species collective. An entire world.” ― Ed Yong, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
How Bacteria Rule Over Your Body – The Microbiome – Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell : https://youtu.be/VzPD009qTN4
The principle of symbiosis is that neither of the two (human & bacteria) can survive alone. Bacteria are integral parts of the human body functions. We all know very well about digestion. We understood recently how they train our immune system and trigger neurotransmitters in our brain through the vagal nerve. They are also necessary to keep our blood vessels (endothelium) healthy and sealed. If bacteria stop doing this, you die within 24 hours.
Circulating Metabolites Originating from Gut Microbiota Control Endothelial Cell Function – PMC: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6864778/
“These changes are all fundamentally Darwinian. This point is worth repeating: taking any fast or instant evolutionary shifts as a refutation of the slow, gradual changes we associate with Darwin’s vision is a fatal mistake because these quick shifts are still powered by gradualism. The woodrats might have been able to resist creosote by picking up the right bacteria, but those strains had to evolve the ability to break the insecticide on their own. Form their perspective, evolution proceeded through the usual stepwise way; from the host’s perspective, everything happened in a flash. That is the power of symbiosis: it allows gradual mutations in microbes to produce instant mutations in hosts. We can let bacteria do the slow work for us, and then quickly change ourselves by associating with them. And if these alliances are beneficial enough, they can spread with blinding speed.” ― Ed Yong, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
Bacteria can be a powerful ally because they can use Darwinian evolution on the scale of days instead of millions of years for humans. By breeding and hosting them, humans can acquire new abilities like digesting new food or fighting new viruses or breath more CO2.
Endothelial cell infection and endotheliitis in COVID-19 – The Lancet: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30937-5/fulltext
However, bacteria are fragile. They don’t store energy, they don’t have an immune system and are easily wiped by chemicals.
Most of the viruses are deadly to bacteria, not humans. Depending on what you eat, you feed or starve certain bacteria in your body. A diverse diet means a diverse microbiome. If we want to use them as allies we must consider to stop systematic disinfection that mostly kill useful microbes.
“It’s the start of a new era, when people are finally ready to embrace the microbial world.
When I walked through San Diego Zoo with Rob Knight at the start of this book, I was struck by how different everything seemed with microbes in mind. Every visitor, keeper, and animal looked like a world on legs – a mobile ecosystem that interacted with others, largely oblivious to their inner multitudes.
When I drive through Chicago with Jack Gilbert, I experience the same dizzying shift in perspective. I see the city’s microbial underbelly – the rich seam of life that coats it, and moves through it on gusts of wind and currents of water and mobile bags of flesh. I see friends shaking hands, saying’ “how do you do”, and exchanging living organisms. I see people walking down the street, ejecting clouds of themselves in their wake. I see the decisions through which we have inadvertently shaped the microbial world around us: the choice to build with concrete versus brick, the opening of a window, and the daily schedule to which a janitor now mops the floor. And I see, in the driver’s seat, a guy who notices those rivers of microscopic life and is enthralled rather than repelled by them. He knows that microbes are mostly not to be feared or destroyed, but to be cherished, admired, and studied.” ― Ed Yong, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life