Saved by The MetaGenomics of Dirt

Below are some annotated bits from an article in Wired that describe the early successes in the battle to find weapons against the increasingly numerous and increasingly virulent microbes that are resistant to all known antibiotics.

We worry about the Russians or the Chinese or the North Koreans or Dr Strangeloves in power around the world, when all along, if the human population suffers the Malthusian reduction many fear, it will most likely come from invaders far too small to see.

HOW DIRT COULD SAVE HUMANITY FROM AN INFECTIOUS APOCALYPSE

The culprit, pan-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae, is not the only superbug overpowering humanity’s defenses; it is part of a family known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae. The carpabenems are drugs of last resort, and the CDC considers organisms that evade these antibiotics to be nightmare bacteria.

So it’s difficult to envision a future that resembles the pre-antibiotic past—an era of untreatable staph, strep, tuberculosis, leprosy, pneumonia, cholera, diphtheria, scarlet and puerperal fevers, dysentery, typhoid, meningitis, gas gangrene, and gonorrhea.

But that’s the future we are headed for.

This is not the coming plague. It’s already upon us, and it spells the end of medicine as we know it.

That’s why Brady and others turned to metagenomics—the study of all the genetic information extracted from a given environment.

Brady came to realize that he did not need to trek to some pristine or remote ecosystem to explore the world’s biodiversity. The requisite material for building new drugs could be found much closer to home.

The more we use antibiotics, the less effective they become; the more selective pressures we apply, the more likely resistant strains will emerge.

Think about this the next time you stand quietly in the park or in the forest or meadow near your house. Reach down and gather a teaspoon full of everyday soil in your palm, and realize there are likely to be some 3000 different microbes nestled in the hollow of your hand.

Here is enough genetic information to solve many of humanity’s problems–if only we ask the right questions. And move with sufficient speed to do the work in advance of the inevitable and urgent need.

Water Matters: Kids Care

I suppose I have been conditioned to expect disappointment when facing the recently-uncommon opportunity to speak to college-aged students.

On more than one occasion, the apathy and disrespect of classes at “real colleges” has left me saddened and discouraged, knowing that at least these groups of young people will not be the ones to pick up the torch in the struggle to save what is left of our planet.

So I was pleasantly surprised last night to find 20 students from the University of Delaware engaged, sincerely interested, respectful and mature.

The topic for their spring break was “water issues in the Blue Ridge of Virginia” and they elected to spend their time at this task–not for the credit or to avoid dysfunctional families or any of the other reasons I have heard for NOT going to the beach with the rest of their classmates in March. These students came to learn, and I have not had any other group of students–including at Radford University or Virginia Tech where I have guest-lectured–as attentive and appreciative.

You can find the link to the Prezi program (slide show thingy) along with links to some of the topics contained therein, at this MilaNote page.

 

Water: the Medium of Life

When we explore other planets and wonder if life could have existed there, it is not carbon or silicon or even amino acids we look for at first. We look for water.

Without it, so far as we know, life is not possible. This is not to say that biotic entities cannot survive in dormancy for long periods–hundreds of years or longer–in a dehydrated state. Tardigrades are champs at this.

But for the most part, access to water is the limiting factor for land creatures and all aquatic–salt or fresh–plants and animals.

Closer to home, it turns out that forests are pretty good at finding available water, even from fissures underground. And given Floyd County’s fractured rock, the fact that this can be a source of survival water during times of drought gives a bit of comfort. [click image for source article/ Berkeley News. ]

I will be meeting with some spring-breaking students from U of Del next week at Apple Ridge here in FloydCo to have a discussion about water in the Blue Ridge, and this is one of the things we will talk about.

And given my current need to stay focused and not get too sidetracked, if and when I blog, it will generally be from stuff I already have on hand related to what I am working on at the time. So fire me.

 

A New Pest. And an Old One

Spotted Lantern Fly now in Virginia.

“A potentially very serious pest of grapes, peaches, hops, and a variety of other crops, the spotted lanternfly (SLF), Lycorma delicatula, was detected in Frederick County, Virginia, on Jan. 10, 2018.”

It’s host plant for hatching its eggs and hosting its young: Ailanthus–Tree of Heaven. A match made in, well…

In Pennsylvania…

“The red and black spotted lanternflies are native to China and feed on sap, essentially sucking plants dry. They go after grapes, but researchers have seen them invading apple trees as well. In December, Pennsylvania state officials quarantined Christmas tree growers in 13 counties to prevent the insect eggs from traveling to other states.”

We are likely to hear more–a lot more–about insect issues as winters get milder and natural cycles become disrupted by unpredictable patterns of temperature and rainfall: climate chaos.

Toxic Economic Assumptions Drive Climate Chaos

You and I can replace our light bulbs and shop local and recycle and reuse and even conserve energy and natural resources like a champ.

But if we don’t change the drivers that churn Earth matter into profit as fast as possible (the Growth Economy/Consumption Machine model) — and in so doing,  consider corporate shareholders’ well-being ahead of ecosystems and forests and coral reefs and human communities like yours and mine…

Then it’s game over. We have almost used up all the time we have, and have not laid the axe to the root of the tree.

Do good. Recycle. Conserve. Shop local.

But unless we revolt against the Consumption Machine in much less than a generation, it will consume the consumers. What a perverse end to the story, don’t you think?

 

SustainFloyd Offers the Personal Climate Pledge

SustainFloyd’s Personal Climate Pledge asks YOU to be intentional about what you eat, drive, wear and throw away. I post it here for the couple of Fragments readers who might stop by.

Some of you have seen/heard this on Facebook from WVTF starting yesterday.

Robbie Harris put together a piece showcasing the Personal Climate Pledge created and now offered to all from SustainFloyd.

The hope is that this can be re-created in tiny to large communities across the country for true grassroots change in what I call our “personal ecology.”

The ultimate goal for me would be that we would stand against business-as-usual economics where GDP measures the health of our state in the world. People and planet must be at least equal priorities to profit.

All the goals of the climate pledge swim against the current of using up faster, spending more, consuming more, traveling more and eating thousand-food-mile groceries.

That is what I hope people with the Pledge magnet on their refrigerators will reflect on every time they do the “right thing” in their own homes. In the end, we have to make these principles the new order in our relationship with the natural world.

► You can help by sharing this post or the link to the WVTF spot on the Pledge.

Take It to the Limit One More Time

Planet Earth has always operated within limits–almost like an organism. But too there have been “accidents” that overwhelmed natural processes and created eons of disorder.

Runaway climate shifts of the past carried the land or sea beyond a state where life-as-usual could go on. Volcanoes erupted, continents smashed together, or a stray meteorite created a “nuclear winter” that set the state of living things back a few hundred million years.

But for the most part, long stable periods on Earth have been adequate to allow species to diverge and disperse, biomes like coral reefs and prairie and tundra to develop and forests to reach climax stability–what we would call OLD GROWTH forests today. It is almost non-existent in our times.

And for the first time in Earth’s history, we are thinking about the fact that our one species can perturb conditions in the air, soil and water sufficient to push natural resilience to and past the breaking point. And so there is growing talk about Planetary Boundaries.

Of note in the diagram, the light green is AGRICULTURE’s part in pushing the limits. Note for how many of these 9 boundaries land-care (the literal meaning of agri-culture) is a contributor.

We must change the way we wage war on the landscape, and begin to think intentionally about how we relate to and contribute to the well-being or dis-ease of the land. Margaret Meade said it well:

We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment.

And yet in our arrogance and ignorance we act as if we can push the limits–beyond the breaking point; beyond tolerance; beyond carrying capacity. Somehow our engineers and technological wizards will find a way, just in the nick of time, to cheat the odds so that we do not become yet another once-great civilization on the dust heap of environmental failures that have gone before us.

I will be looking a this soon–on February 11 at 2pm at the Floyd library. Topic will be “Living in Our Forests: From Ice Age to Anthropocene. Barbara Pleasant and Jane Cundiff will also have boots-on-the-ground information to share, along with this thirty-thousand-foot view of things.

This bit of it just bubbled up as I was looking back at my notes. Morning pages, you know.

More on Planetary Boundaries at Wikipedia.