Make Some Microbial Friends – The Health Care Blog


It’s the best story I’ve seen in days gone by: In the New York Times reported how an Italian museum cleaned its priceless sculptures of Michelangelo with an army of bacteria. As Jason Horowitz wrote, “restorers and scientists have quietly released microbes with good taste and a huge appetite on the marbles, intentionally transforming the chapel into a bacterial smorgasbord.”

And you just want to kill them all with your hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps.

The Medici Chapel of Florence was fortunate to be blessed with a mass of works by Michelangelo, but the misfortune of having had centuries of various kinds of filth built upon them. In particular, over time, the corpse of a Medici “… infiltrated into the marble of Michelangelo, say the experts of the chapel, creating deep spots, deformations in the form of buttons …”

This is, I suppose, because they tell you not to touch art.

Scientists took a battery – Serratia ficaria SH7, in case you took notes – that ate the unwanted dirt without even eating the marble underneath. Nor was it dangerous to humans and did not create spores that could go elsewhere. “It’s better for our health,” said one of the art restorers HOUR. “For the environment, it’s the artwork.”

The technique was a success, allowing sculptures to wait as long as centuries ago.

The use of such bacteria to clean the art has been around for about ten years, and not just for sculptures. Perhaps most surprising is that bacteria are not only the art of cleaning, it is as well creating it; the American Society of Microbiology hosts an annual Art Agar Competition.

If you are impressed by this, the researchers teach the bacteria to read, or at least recognize letters. That’s not all they could learn to do. “For example, the framework and algorithm in our study can be used to facilitate the conception of living therapies, such as targeted drug delivery systems based on engineered probiotic bacterial systems,” the researchers said. say.

The thing is, not only do we not know what microbes do or can do, but we only have a vague understanding of how they surround us. It’s starting to change. We have known for some time that each of us has a unique microbiome (including mycobiome!). What we didn’t realize until recently was that every urban area also has its own microbiome.

A new study He took samples from subway systems in 60 cities around the world, and found thousands of previously unknown viruses and bacteria. There was an “urban core microbiome” that almost all cities shared, but each city had its own unique microbiome.

The authors concludes:

… these data suggest that urban microbiomes should be treated ecologically distinct from both surrounding soil microbiomes and human commensal microbiomes. Although these microbiomes undoubtedly interact, they represent distinct ecological niches with different genetic profiles.

“Every city has its own ‘molecular echo’ of the microbes that define it,” he said senior author Christopher Mason, professor at Weill Cornell Medicine (WCM). “If you gave me your shoe, I could tell you with about 90% accuracy the city of the world from which you came.”

There may be, thinks Dr. Mason, as much biodiversity on a subway rail as in the rainforest (which, if you drove a few feet from the U.S., probably won’t come as a surprise). He wonders: “I think it’s a wonderful statement of how much we have left to discover about the world.”

“The amount of microbial diversity is just incomprehensibly vast,” said Erica Hartmann, a microbiologist who was not involved in the study. he said In the New York Times. “There’s so much out there that we don’t really understand, and there could be all sorts of ingenious biotechnologies and all sorts of fun chemicals that we’re not always aware of.”

Researchers have been able to identify “antimicrobial resistance genes” that indicate resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobial agents. Lead author David Danko speculated:

Can we give some kind of heads-up on what to look for? Can we track the spread of bacteria or genes that will make bacteria resistant to antibiotics in the future? Can we use this method to inform public health departments about the use of antibiotics going forward?

The team creates a “global metagenomic map” of the organisms, and plans to continue sweeping to collect more samples. A companion card he looked at the “air microbiome” of subway systems, finding a similar “geographical specificity”.

They are all around us. They are in us. We live in a microbial world. Some argue that our microbiome should be considered another organ, although it may be more accurate to see it as a colony that try to tolerate it. However you see the microbes, they don’t go away; if they had, we would have too.

The pandemic has caused us all to be afraid of the coronavirus, and to take measures to kill it. We all desperately tried Clorox wipes, stayed away from other people and their viruses, and tried things like UV sterilization. Scientists are concerned about all these efforts which can have unintended consequences. “We are beginning to understand that there is collateral damage when we get rid of good microbes, and that it has major consequences for our health,” he said. he said B. Brett Finlay, first author of a paper on the subject in PNAS.

Like Dr. Finley said James Hamblin for The Atlantic. “The microbes we carry around are involved in many of the fundamental processes of Homo sapiens. ”Brendan Bohannan, a professor at the University of Oregon, agreed, telling the New York Times: “The more we learn about our relationships with the microbial world, the clearer it is that we are connected to them and to the rest of the natural world. ”

Hamblin concluded, “The current challenge is to avoid binary thinking about microbes: They’re not just good or bad, like most people, and Purell isn’t either.”

Last year I sustinia that modern medicine reached the kind of limits that classical physics set at the beginning of the 21stst century, when quantum effects began to become known. We need a completely new approach to physics – quantum physics – to deal with them, and that has ended up revolutionizing physics and our understanding of the world.

Medicine needs this kind of “quantum” revolution, particularly in terms of understanding, accepting, and benefiting more from our coexistence with the microbial world. If we can co-opt microbes to clean art, who knows what we can “convince” them to do for our health?

Kim is a former emarketing executive at a major Blues platform, editor of the late & lamented, and now a regular contributor to THCB.

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