Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Meet My Posse

We are very amused.

We here at Murrmurrs, Inc. are not employing the "royal we," rumored to have begun when King Henry II deigned to speak on behalf of God and himself. We here at Murrmurrs, Inc. have no idea what's on God's mind at any given moment.

We use the "bacterial we."

The thousand or so species of bacteria that are sharing my skin envelope have elected me to speak on their behalf. We all get along pretty well most of the time. It's kind of a party in here. I, for one, am tickled to learn more about them (or "us," as I am beginning to prefer). It's only been recently that scientists have attempted to determine how many kinds of bacteria we are harboring, by examining samples from 250 very healthy individuals. Bacteria thrive in our cavities and crevices, and scientists selected fifteen specific areas to swab for organisms: behind the ear, in the elbow-fold, the throat, various parts of the digestive tract, and so on. Female volunteers provided an additional three swabbing points in a moist personal cavity which we will ask you, in the interest of delicacy, to imagine. Okay? It comes back into play later.

The Bacterial Whee!
They found that not only are humans hosting upwards of a thousand species of bacteria on and in their person, but that each human has a unique set--a bacterial signature, if you will. It is more accurate to think of oneself less as an individual than as an assemblage of life-forms all living together, like a coral, or a college dorm. The microbiome, as the assemblage is called, is different for everyone. And the so-called dangerous bacteria are also present in all of us. If we don't get sick, it's because of peer pressure from the other bacteria. This is one reason that antibacterial soaps and antibiotics may cause more harm than good. It's like bombing the bejeezus out of a country. You take out all the bad guys and (oopers!) the orphanages and schools and your odd village and the occasional wedding party, and after years and years, in spite of all the trouble you've gone to in order to deliver freedom, everyone is still pissy.

Studies show that the average adult carries 2-5 pounds of bacteria, and could benefit from a slimming outfit. The vast majority of the microbes live in the gut, and they are partying down. They do nothing but eat and reproduce and amuse themselves by shooting the loop-de-loop intestinal tract and out. The standard turd, in fact, is nearly one-half bacteria by weight, which is one of two good reasons to avoid eating it, neither of which makes sense to a Labrador retriever.

The unique bacterial signatures we carry may be responsible for the state of our health and immune systems, and explain why some people are prone to colitis (say) and others are not. My particular set has rendered me impervious to digestive upset and the flu, but totally slacks off in the throatular region. Nevertheless, I would say that the entire crew is doing a bang-up job, and I've already started up some new crevices for them, chiefly in the back fat folds, should they wish to expand operations.

We start to accumulate the characters in our individual microbiomes at birth, when we pick up our starter set in the final act of sliding out of our mothers (see above). This is one drawback of being born by Caesarian section, and suggests that, from the point of view of its immune system, the newborn in these cases might want to gain immediate exposure to its mother in an area she may not be interested in sharing at the time. I'd ask first, anyway.

This field of study is quite new and suggests many avenues for further research. "We're still scratching the surface," says Stanford epidemiologist Dr. Julie Parsonnet. I think she may be thinking of fungi.

70 comments:

  1. Yet another wonderful post from your ever fertile mind. Just at the moment my immune system is attacking me. It sees off intruders really well so. for example, my many cat or garden scratches do not get infected, but then becomes bored (there is nothing to do here any more) and attacks me. Which is a bit sad. It is winning, but the collateral damage is high.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Which is winning? The immune system? The intruders? Or you? May I send you some bacteria? (Comes in its own package, deliveries daily.)

      Delete
    2. The immune system is winning hands down. It has as I said protected me from cat scratch infectioon and is now working on taking out my thyroid. Bacteria gratefully accepted to give it something else to work on.

      Delete
  2. From long-named Child above "fertile mind" says it all regarding your amusing and learned post. I have long believed that eating dirt as a child has helped me reach this ripe old age.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, you know what you need to be full of to have a fertile mind, don't you?

      Delete
    2. You do know that a good probiotic is--in fact--dirt: http://drcarolyndean.com/2011/06/take-soil-based-probiotics-and-eat-dirt/

      Delete
  3. What? Back to 1492 (so to speak), and colonizing things in America? Who would have thought it possible?

    I hope every body has a good time considering its signature.

    ReplyDelete
  4. We, too, subscribe to the theory that being too clean isn't healthy. We've even expanded that 3 second floor plop to at least a minute... or whenever you happen to find that morsel that got away. Bill saves choice crumbs in his beard... he says they're for later. Great Post!.. especially loved the litter box diner ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We expanded the 3 second rule a long time ago, but mostly because you get more food that way. Mmm.

      Delete
  5. The sixth graders I used to teach were obsessed with antibacterial EVERYTHING. My dad always said, "You eat a peck of dirt before you die."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope it isn't RIGHT before you die.

      Delete
    2. My friend's grandmother always said people ate "seven pounds of dirt a year."

      Delete
  6. I am with you on this one! Very interesting, very funny.

    Well DOne!!

    If throatular was not a word it is now. I will find a way to use it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have no shame about whomping up a word when I need one.

      Delete
  7. Very amusing, as always. Only you could cultivate a post about bacteria.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My grandma's name was Petri. No, wait, it was Petra. Never mind.

      Delete
  8. I have always felt that we all carry our own variety of symbiosis. And we learn what does and does not make us sick. (I reject the flu shot every year, and have not had flu for at least forty years.)

    In college once I went to a microbiology class one day when I had a horrific cold. We did nose swabs that day and incubated them. At the next class, we observed our samples. There was almost nothing in my petri dish, except a tiny culture that turned out to be a benign form of diphtheria.

    Said the teacher, "I thought you were sick."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You were sick. With a virus. Which does not reproduce in petri dishes.

      Delete
  9. When I was a tot, moms used to have "Measles parties" for their daughters to expose them to measles and get over it before puberty. Maybe we should occasionally have bacteria parties. "I won't be in for work next week. I have to build up my resistance to Tuberculosis."

    And where should we hold these parties? How about the local swimming pool? We could also get exposed to ringworm, athlete's foot, and jungle fungus while we're at it. Whatever doesn't kill you,makes you stronger.

    A science teacher I know calls his students, "My little bioswales."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've heard of that. I don't think we had them though. If we did, we called them "fourth grade."

      Delete
  10. All those bacteria living on and in us ... in definitely reshapes how we define ourselves. Instead of thinking of ourselves as discreet human beings alone, maybe we should conceive of ourselves as collective entities made up of millions of microbes, all living together in an organic sea.

    Wait ... I just had a realization ... each one of us is a Great Link! (Brownie points to anyone who gets the DS9 reference.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting tidbit about me: I have never seen Star Trek. Or Star Wars.

      Delete
    2. You say that like it's a good thing.

      Delete
    3. Changlings!

      Delete
    4. Oops. Changelings.

      Delete
    5. "I've got elves that chingle changle chingle..."

      Delete
  11. Great post, ma'am... (again! You seem determined to make the rest of the blogosphere look like pikers in comparison... like the teacher's pet, acing every exam and ruining the curve for everyone else... dammit!)

    I'm one of those who believes we need to end racism by mixing all the gene pools into one great 'soup du jour' that makes us all the same basic coloration. Sort of like washing colors and whites together on purpose so that everything 'matches' when you're choosing attire for the day. Certainly worked for me when I was single and did my own laundry...
    Perhaps we should have bacterial parties wherein we all share bodily fluids, mash-up our wet bits, smear this and that upon one another, and see to it that all of our systems have a dose or taste of everyone else's. That way we'd either hasten the slate-wiping pandemic that puts us all to rest forever, or we'd become super-immune beings capable of slapping the piss out of any rogue virus that stumbles into our cage match systems.
    Or maybe not. After I read "The Hot Zone" I refused to leave the house for days and tried to order a full-body condom suit on the internet.
    Love your blog and ought to stop by here more often.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ooh! Mashing-up wet bits parties! I remember those! I don't think we were aiming for bacteria specifically, though. And I think I might have picked up something I didn't want.

      Delete
    2. Tell me when you hold that party, Squatlo!

      Delete
  12. Well that explains why some people can live in a garbage dump. They have industrial strength bacteria.

    And yes bacteria, viruses, fungi and mold are right up my alley.

    (okay you make the joke there's the set up) :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't. I just can't. It's all teed up for me and I can't take a swing. I couldn't pull wings off flies, either.

      Delete
  13. Actually our gut bacteria help us in many ways. There are studies to see if they can help us lose wait, some indication that they may help us live longer with high cholesterol, and some studies that they help regulate our immune systems. Gut bacteria also produce enzymes and vitamins that we need.

    When I raised dogs, I had to give bacteria designed for piglets to puppies if the mother had to have an antibiotic. Otherwise they failed to thrive.

    Gut bacteria also produce enzymes and vitamins that we need.

    There must be many different mutualistic roles that bacteria play. We give them food and shelter and they give back.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm stuck on the puppies' prophylactic piglet posse.

      Delete
    2. Maybe our approach with antibiotics is all wrong. We should invite the Tuffy bacteria over for a rumble with the ones making us ill. There's an image for you, gansta bacteria.

      Delete
  14. Awk! Have you been looking over my shoulder again? I just read this article online the other day. It's about what causes Autism. Guess what they think the culprit is?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/opinion/sunday/immune-disorders-and-autism.html?pagewanted=all

    Elaine M.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You mean, what they think the culprit is this week?

      Delete
  15. We need a link, missy. A L-I-N-K to this study. You can't be expecting us to spend half the night on google, now can you?!

    I mean ... pretty please?

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hey Murr! You are revoltingly educational. As for:

    "The standard turd, in fact, is nearly one-half bacteria by weight, which is one of two good reasons to avoid eating it, neither of which makes sense to a Labrador retriever."

    Well, I'm still chuckling.

    Roth x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Revoltingly educational." Will you write me a blurb for my book?

      Delete
  17. And here I thought sure your post would end up talking about fecal transplants. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/13/science/13micro.html?_r=4&pagewanted=1&ref=general&src=me
    Does seem right up your alley...

    ReplyDelete
  18. I've heard that if you vaporized everything that was You, and left everything that was not You, the bacteria left would still be human-shaped.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For a while. Then, like the cartoon coyote that runs off the cliff, they would look down and that would be that.

      Delete
  19. Each human has a unique bacterial signature?

    I can already hear it... "Your honor, my client did not commit the crime, because no evidence of his unique bacterial signature was found at the crime scene."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did something I wasn't proud of once and I'm STILL blaming my bacteria for it.

      Delete
  20. I've become so enamored with my personal bacteria that I have decided to name them: Let's see, there's Aaron, Abbott, Abdul, Abner, Abner Jr., Abraham, Adam....

    ReplyDelete
  21. I think my bacteria likes to "play" with me and then laughs at my bodily reactions!

    ReplyDelete
  22. My mom, The Farmer's Daughter, said, "You have to eat a bushel of dirt before you die." I'm guessing her parents said the same. That might explain why she's reasonably healthy and mean as a snake at 87. I keep wondering if that presages my future as I've had Last Rites twice already. Sigh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My mom said the same thing, only it was "you have to eat everything on your plate before you can leave the table." Same thing.

      Delete
  23. Hilarious, Murr! You're a comic genius.
    Oh, P.S., another point in common: I've never watched Star Wars or Star Trek either. My late brother, however, was a Star Trek fanatic (had the entire series on tape, and even had a set of platinum and ruby Star Trek rings...he was a jeweler in the latter part of his life, BTW).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds like he's already been beamed up?

      Delete
  24. Oh, it could be worse. Some people get so deathly ill that they need a poo transplant.

    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/12/fecal-transplants-work/

    ReplyDelete
  25. Your use of the words "bacteria" and "college dorm" in the same post made me say, "Eeewww!"
    Picture of a lab with his head in the kitty potty...not so much. Go figure.

    I love my bacs so much, I actually cried when required to take anitbiotics after leaving them to their own devices for over thirty years. A sad day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My GOODNESS! Thirty years? I had tonsillitis so often as a kid I must have been scrubbed clean yearly. I wonder if any of the original posse survived.

      Delete
  26. Your post is timely, Murr since the American Vet Assn recently took the position of not feeding your animals raw food. It seems that humans could touch their poop and pick up some of the bacteria.
    I don't know how we've been handling all that dog doo and cat crap without wheezing and dying in the last 500 years, but it seems the goal is not to have our bacteria touch each other.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Ah, bacteria, our friend. It is getting harder every day to avoid the anti-bacterial soaps, scrubs, wipes and whatnots. I visit jails, and talk with adolescents who have been in lock-up. I am not a fan of the alcohol wipes, but after shaking hands with such clients, I try very hard to restrain myself from pulling out the Purell. I do get to a restroom and wash my hands ASAP. Really. The mind is not in sync with the science there.
    And you know that kitty poop is one of the least disgusting thing that dogs will eat.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I KNEW my weight was directly related to the *significant amount* of bacteria that I've invited to climb aboard over the years. Think of how slim I'd be if I hadn't sat on that park bench in Denver that one time!

    Your post, funny as always, is also smart. I am driven nuts by the use of hand sanitizers, etc. As I holler at my embarrassed children whenever they exit a port-a-potty, "LET YOUR NATURAL FLORA THRIVE, WEE ONES!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you can't humiliate your children in public, you're not doing it right. On the other hand, I just used a port-a-potty and I couldn't get enough hand sanitizer on me.

      Delete
  29. Ah, tootsie rolls, my dog loves those things, but can't understand why they're kept in kitty litter. What a fabulous eclectic blog.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Fantastic post - hilarious AND educational. Why wasn't school like that? I'd have learned so much more....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It has only recently occurred to me that teaching might have been a fun occupation. Of course, I'd have had to learn something to teach. They don't let you just make it up, except maybe in Texas.

      Delete