Viridian Note 00226: Bug News"Bruce Sterling" <email@example.com>
Wednesday, January 31, 2001 4:44 PM
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: http://www.bomoco.com/Viridian/viridian.htm
"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.))) (...)
"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." (...)
"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
"(...) 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."
"YELLOWSTONE SEARCHED FOR CO2 EATING MICROBES
"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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