Viridian Note 00226: Bug News

"Bruce Sterling" <>
Wednesday, January 31, 2001 4:44 PM

Key concepts
microbes, health, Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus permians, Lactobacillus fermentum RC-14, Big Mike the Viridian Bug

Attention Conservation Notice: How could anything too small to see be worthy of our attention? Over 1,100 words.

(((Our beloved Viridian mascot, "Big Mike," is a microbe. We Viridians have long advocated a chummy, hands-on, gutsy relationship with the single-celled. Here are three news squibs indicating why we should make these powerful creatures our friends: (a) they can live practically forever, (b) some "infections" are good for you, (c) they could eat smog inside red-hot coal plants.)))

Entries in the Reddy Kilowatt Makeover Contest:

From: amberk@Stanford.EDU* (Amber Kerr)

This contest ends March 20, 02001. Viridian Contest Archive:

New Scientist magazine by Andy Coghlan, October 18, 02000

"Eternal life

"The resurrection of a bacterium after 250 million years in salt suggests it may be immortal

"A Lazarus bacterium which thrived millions of years before dinosaurs walked the Earth has been brought back to life.

"Biologists are astonished that the 250-million-year-old bug could be revived. It suggests that if conditions are right, bacterial spores might survive indefinitely.

"John Parkes, a geomicrobiologist at the University of Bristol, comments: 'All the laws of chemistry tell you that the complex molecules in the spores should have degraded to very simple compounds such as carbon dioxide.' (((So much for the laws of chemistry. And so much for carbon dioxide.))) (...)

"Born survivor

"The born-again bacterium is unknown to science and has provisionally been named Bacillus permians, to denote the geological period from which it originates.

"'It is alive and, to the best of anyone's knowledge, there's no other organism that's been around that long,' says Russell Vreeland, the scientist who discovered the bacterium. (((Nobody's been looking for 250-million-year old organisms. They may be there in zillions. Thomas Gold, author of THE DEEP HOT BIOSPHERE, thinks that live bugs may go miles down toward the planet's core.)))) "Its nearest 'ancient' rivals are bacterial babes by comparison, just 25 to 40 million years old (New Scientist, 17 May 1997, p 7).

"Vreeland and his colleagues at West Chester University in Pennsylvania isolated the ancient bacterium from the Salado salt formation at Carlsbad, New Mexico, in an underground cavern used for storing nuclear waste. (((Unknown, primeval bacteria toasted by nuclear waste. Oh how handy.))))

"While the salt crystals were forming 250 million years ago, bacterial spores in a drop of water became trapped in a cavity in the salt == a feature known as a fluid inclusion. The layer where the crystal was found is 560 metres down a shaft leading to the repository.

"Under scrupulously sterile conditions, Vreeland liberated the spores from their hibernation and squirted them onto growth medium. The spores grew into familiar rod-shaped bacillus bacteria." (...)

New Scientist magazine

"Slap on the bugs

     "How do you prevent wounds becoming infected by dangerous superbugs? (((There wouldn't be any "dangerous superbugs" if we'd been paying proper attention at the dawn of antibiotics.))) By first adding other bugs, say researchers in Canada who have found that a cousin of the yogurt bacterium can stop the growth of harmful bugs.

     "About 1 per cent of surgical incisions become infected. If the patient's immune system is weak, or the bacteria are antibiotic-resistant superbugs, such infections can kill. ((("Is he going to pull through, doctor?" "I don't know, he's lost a lot of yogurt.")))

     "Gregor Reid, a microbiologist at the University of Western Ontario, wondered if benign bacteria might help. So he and his colleague Jeffrey Howard coated several small sheets of silicone with Staphylococcus aureus, a major cause of hospital infections. Some were also coated with a strain of the harmless bacterium Lactobacillus fermentum called RC-14. (((Reid and Howard discovered that RC-14 emits a protein that keeps rival germs from adhering to cells. The staph is not killed, but it's starved-out so badly that it can't get a grip and cause infection.)))

     "(...) In future, the protein could be applied directly to an incision, or used to coat surgical implants. Using live bacteria is also an option, Reid says."

Environmental News Service, Jan 29, 02001


     "BOZEMAN, Montana, January 29, 2001 (ENS) === Keith Cooksey, professor of microbiology at Montana State University-Bozeman, is searching the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park this winter for microbes that devour carbon dioxide.

     "Cooksey is part of a team looking for ways of lowering carbon dioxide emissions from coal fired power plants. Besides Cooksey, the team includes a mechanical engineer at Ohio University and researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The group has a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

     "While the coal fueled power industry has reduced particulate and sulfur emissions, it still produces high amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. (((And let's not forget those toxic metals.)))

     "(...) 'If you want thermotolerant, we're in a good place to look,' Cooksey said, referring to Yellowstone National Park. The park is well known for heat loving organisms that live in and around park hot springs.

     "'They must be thermotolerant because the gases from these coal-fired power plants == which are about 14 percent carbon dioxide == are hot,' Cooksey said. (...)

     Ann Deutch, research permit coordinator for Yellowstone National Park, said fewer than one percent of the park's microorganisms have been discovered and characterized. (((They know that because they counted the other 99 percent, presumably.))) As microbiologists continue to improve their ability to look, they find greater layers of complexity in the microbial community, she said. (((It goes along with the decreasing complexity in forests stricken with acid rain.)))

     "A Yellowstone microbe that could work as a CO2 scrubber would mean royalties for the park. (((Intellectual property mania spreads faster than scabies.))) Deutsch said the project also makes her glad Yellowstone National Park was set aside for future generations. (((Lots more worthwhile stuff for future generations to patent, presumably.)))

     "'When the park was created in 1872, they certainly weren't thinking of a CO2 scrubber for a coal fired power plant,' Deutch said. 'Who'd have known?'"

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