September 29, 2022

As the Hogs prepare for a top 20 showdown with the Tide, I was drawn to an article in my local newspaper about research done by the University of Alabama on bacteria and the origin of life.  This highlighted a professor who specialized in the “esoteric field of biomineralization”.  Alberto Perez-Huerta discovered a way to use a Local Electro Atom Probe (LEAP) to analyze a specific mineral in ancient rock that could only have been generated by a living bacterial organism.   Rock samples from about 3.5 billion years ago are known to bear a particular crystal that is only 60-80 nanometers in size, but no one could determine if the crystals were geologically formed or biologically formed.  Crystals formed by bacteria leave traces of organic components (carbon and nitrogen) that show they are biological.  Using a LEAP, he looked inside the crystals and found those made from bacteria have traces of organic compounds while crystals formed in the lab by non-biological processes did not.  This research lays a foundation for other scientists to build more accurate theories about early life.

When I looked online, I found bacteria (singular bacterium) are ubiquitous, mostly free-living organisms often consisting of one biological cell lacking a nucleus or membrane-bound organelles.  They are typically a few micrometers in length and were among the first life forms to appear on Earth.  Bacteria inhabit soil, water, acidic hot springs, radioactive waste, and the deep biosphere of Earth’s crust.  Bacteria are vital in many stages of the nutrient cycle by recycling nutrients, including decomposition of dead bodies.  Bacteria live in symbiotic and parasitic relationships with plants and animals and humans carry millions of bacteria.  Most are in the gut, but others are on the skin.  Most of the bacteria in and on the human body are harmless or rendered harmless by the immune system, and many are beneficial, particularly the ones in the gut.  Several species of bacteria are pathogenic and cause infectious diseases, including cholera, syphilis, anthrax, leprosy, tuberculosis, tetanus, and bubonic plague.  The most common fatal bacterial diseases are respiratory infections.

Antibiotics have been used against virulent strains of bacteria since ancient times.  Ancient notes on the beneficial effects of a topical application of moldy bread are found in Egypt, Nubia, China, Serbia, Greece, and Rome.  The first person to directly document the use of molds to treat infections was John Parkinson during the early 17th century.  Antibiotics revolutionized medicine in the 20th century.  Alexander Fleming discovered modern day penicillin in 1928 and widespread use proved beneficial during wartime.  However, the effectiveness and easy access to antibiotics have also led to their overuse and some bacteria have evolved a resistance to them.  The World Health Organization has classified antimicrobial resistance as a widespread “serious threat [that] is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country”.  Global deaths attributable to antimicrobial resistance numbered 1.27 million in 2019.

THOUGHTS:  There has been extensive use of antibiotics in animal husbandry despite legislation limiting its use.  In the US, the question of emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains due to use of antibiotics in livestock was raised by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as far back as 1977.  The antibiotics used against bacteria in food animals are producing resistant bacteria, and both the antibiotics and resistant bacteria are passed through human consumption.  Abuse of the latest cure frequently leads to creation of its own pathogen.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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