Sat, 28 July 2007
This seems to be my week for reading articles that feature unusual feats of critters that figure in my science fiction. Scientists at University of California-Davis now think bacteria may be useful in making buildings more resistant to earthquakes - by converting crumbly, sandy soil into rock. I'm glad to see the lowly bacterium get its due.
Ever since Louis Pasteur and The Microbe Hunters and all of that stuff, the bacterium has had a bad rep. Sure, they can make us sick, but good bacteria can also help us digest our food. They don't ask for much in return, just a nice warm place to live, in our gut.
Bacteria are a lot more sophisticated then we give them credit for. After I wrote in The Consciousness Plague - my third science fiction novel, in which people start losing their memories, because antibiotics start wiping out bacteria-like organisms living in our brains, which help us think - I discovered that some bacteria actually do communicate with each other. (Hey, honey, want to meet me at John's throat tonight for a drink?) Of course, the part about bacteria enabling us to think was science fiction - I made that part up - but who knows what we might discover some day.
As for antibiotics, they're a lot like unruly cops, called in to quell a problem, and they start clubbing everybody over the head. That's why when we take antibiotics to fight an infection, or whatever, we sometimes get upset stomachs. The antibiotic-cops are not only taking out the bad but the good bacteria who help with our digestion. Those helpful symbiotic bacteria were living up to their part of the bargain, and how do we repay their efforts? We wipe them out with some kind of cillin or mycin.
Fortunately, bacteria are very prolific, regenerate quickly, and don't seem to hold a grudge. So you can get some acidophilus and they're usually happy to get to work for us again, even if we wiped out their brothers in our stomachs.
Category:Technology & Society -- posted at: 7:55pm EDT