There are many praiseworthy human individuals and groups out there striving to compensate for the ignorance of humans and for their destructive behaviour to others as well as to themselves. They include saviours of climate, water, elephants, humanity, snails, and whales. What an immense task! Climate does demand our first attention, so what do we also need to do about ourselves and other living things? Some say we have 30 millions species while others claim we are discovering so many more, mainly at the microscopic level, that the count is now 100 million, yet only 1% of all those created still survive.
Consider those no-nucleus Bacteria. Do we fear, exploit, fight, or help them? Perhaps, just co-exist?
Most of us do ignore the 100 trillion bacteria essential for the maintenance of our bodies - ten times more than the human cells we each have. How many of us cringe at the realization we are murderers of innocents when our dentist or doctor orders those 7 to 10 days of anti-biotics to kill those few invaders who cause infections? We still resort to mass destructions rather than drones to target only the guilty. But then a benevolent bacteria moved to a part of the body different from its niche can become a killer. As we share this planet we do need to pay them far more empathetic attention, making friends not enemies.
We complex-but-not-intelligent-enough humans have taken 3.5 billion years to evolve, being in our present form a mere 40 to a 100 thousand years, depending on where you draw the line.
This planet circled the Sun for a billion years before simple cells called Prokaryotes (Bacteria and Archaea) evolved 3.6 billions years ago. Creative and essential Viruses are worthy of a separate blog.
Arriving 200 million years later, Marine Cyanobacteria (Blue-Green Algae) were the first to use photosynthesis to produce Carbon and release Oxygen, a gas poisonous to most life of the time. It did take them about 400 million years to produce enough Oxygen to cause mass deaths and force Evolution to create oxygen-tolerant life forms. Just one of the Tipping Points that have visited us.
Then, some 251 million years ago, bacteria ended the Permian Period by causing the greatest mass extinction yet: 95% of marine and 85% of land life went extinct. Recovery took 10 million years. That is another worrisome story.
This essay gives just a sample revealing it is vital we devote more effort into understanding Bacteria.
We are now probing ever deeper beneath our feet only to find that bacteria have beaten us there. We have found them in rock 2,000 metres down and just recently 1,391 metres down in gabbroic layers that have pushed to within 70 metres of the basaltic ocean floor in the mid Atlantic where they feast on methane and benzene. While visiting mines in Manitoba I was pleased to see that biologists had been hired to study bacteria found thriving in veins in deep shafts, particularly where water had seeped down.
We humans have multiplied to an unsustainable degree even though not up to bacterial numbers. We are guilty of causing grievous harm to the environment and the current global warming is mainly our fault. While this will ensure dire consequences, it is not yet up to the changes bacteria have caused. A few micrometres in length with a wide range of shapes, from spheres to rods and spirals, Bacteria inhabit every niche on Earth, growing in soil, acidic hot springs, radioactive waste, water, and deep in the Earth's crust, as well as in the live bodies of plants and animals. There are 40 million bacterial cells in a gram of soil and a million in a millilitre of fresh water; The world supports some 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) bacteria, providing most of the world's biomass. They are vital in recycling nutrients, such as the fixation of nitrogen from the atmosphere and putrefaction. Only about half of the phyla of bacteria have species that can be grown in the laboratory.
The vast majority of the bacteria in our bodies are harmless due to the protections of our immune system, and many are beneficial. However, a few species of bacteria are pathogenic causing infectious diseases, including cholera, syphilis, anthrax, leprosy and bubonic plague. TB kills 2 million people a year. Over-use of anti-biotics evolves dangerous immune bacteria. In industry, bacteria are important in sewage treatment, the production of cheese and yogurt through fermentation, as well as in biotechnology, and the manufacture of antibiotics and other chemicals.
So, to all you humans out there: Discard all your weapons of Greed and Hate. With the major problems we have with Climate Change, Over-Population, and the like, we need to combine our energies into co-existing with our Environment, Ourselves, and our Bacteria.
Ye Olde Scribe, 23 June 2015
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