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.


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.

Test-tube Earth: The Anthropocene Experiment

Honeybee on Black Cohosh flower, Floyd County VA 2015

Innoculate, Feed, Wait, Observe

We are living in the midst and are each of us part of a great experiment. There is no control group laid out to co-exist on a planet where our species has NOT altered the chemistry of the atmosphere. And so we are destined to jump right to the increasingly-likely CONCLUSION: the more CO2 in the air, the lower the nutrient value of foods.

And this, as the global petri-dish population of us grows towards 8 billion and beyond. Beyond–well beyond–the carrying capacity to grow healthy bones, brains and bodies as the nutrient content of our food falls.

Quotes from The Great Nutrient Collapse, Politico / 13 Sept 2017

“Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO 2 levels keep rising,” Loladze said. “We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history―[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.”

Could carbon dioxide have an effect on human health we haven’t accounted for yet? The answer appears to be yes.”

And one consequence perhaps already seen outside our doors here in early Appalachian autumn–one caged canary in this massive one-off experiment might be the European honey bee feeding on goldenrod pollen:

“Goldenrod, a wildflower many consider a weed, is extremely important to bees. It flowers late in the season, and its pollen provides an important source of protein for bees as they head into the harshness of winter. Since goldenrod is wild and humans haven’t bred it into new strains, it hasn’t changed over time as much as, say, corn or wheat.

And the Smithsonian Institution also happens to have hundreds of samples of goldenrod, dating back to 1842, in its massive historical archive—which gave Ziska and his colleagues a chance to figure out how one plant has changed over time.

They found that the protein content of goldenrod pollen has declined by a third since the industrial revolution—and the change closely tracks with the rise in CO2. Scientists have been trying to figure out why bee populations around the world have been in decline, which threatens many crops that rely on bees for pollination.

Ziska’s paper suggested that a decline in protein prior to winter could be an additional factor making it hard for bees to survive other stressors.”

See also / The Guardian / Sept 26, 2017:

Sixth mass extinction of wildlife also threatens global food supplies |

Population Limits: Galloping Male Infertility

Bing images free to use

Surely, amidst all the rumors of war and profane word-garbage from once-high places of power, you’ve seen the recent evidence that should scream an urgent message to those who control the future of science research, chemical misuse and pollution, and environmental monitoring especially of our drinking water.

One pertinent quote from the link at the end of this post (and one link of MANY if you just poke around the least bit under “male fertility”):

“Poor sperm count is associated with overall morbidity and mortality,” the authors wrote. “A decline in sperm count might be considered as a ‘canary in the coal mine’ for male health across the lifespan. Our report of a continuing and robust decline should, therefore, trigger research into its causes, aiming for prevention.”

It is possible that within our grandchildren’s lifetime that retirees will vastly outnumber the working middle-aged who feed the “system” we call the economy. We don’t know how to live in a no-growth world.

It is possible that a new baby in the community of the near future will be front page news.

It is possible that the “population bomb” that threatens to overwhelm us, even if we solve a dozen other thorny sub-problems like climate chaos, will be defused by another two generations of sperm count “death spiral” falling so low that Malthus will remembered and his dismal vision vindicated.

This is most definitely NOT the time to eviscerate science and public health. Surely those who promote the current anti-environmental anti-science agenda are aware of the risks to their own families. How to explain this self-inflicted death wish is beyond me.

These people are, for the most part, are not evil. And they are not stupid. So what what adjectives might best describe this pernicious mindset? How will future generations, in their smaller numbers, explain the disastrous choices being made in OUR times that despoil their own?

Annotated link —  so you can at least skim my highlights of significant elements of this summary article at Environmental Health News: Are we in a male fertility death spiral?

Health Reads 30 Mar 2017

I find it much easier to browse lately than to get in touch with the poor battered Muse from yesteryear. Alas, she is requesting a DNR order and who can blame her in such times?

And so I have broad-brush Google News alerts for topics impossibly broad like HEALTH. Perusing keeps me off the streets and gives me the illusion I’m “doing something.” Just my previous ordinary writing is NOT doing something, the wife claims. So

It’s pretty interesting the variety of things that turn up in said search that I would not otherwise have run across. And from this morning’s ramble, a few of interest–at least to me. YMMV

PANDAS – Wikiwand   | No, not the cuddly black and white creatures. It is a rare disorder of children, onset following the common strep infection, that can result in OCD, tics, and other sudden-onset brain-disordered behaviors. Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections

What’s to blame for the surge in Lyme disease? | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  | Blame acorns and coyotes, this article says. Not so sure about the coyote part. (Rationale: They eat foxes and foxes eat white-footed mice. But so do coyotes present in greater numbers than the foxes they displace.)

Deadly bacterial disease spreading among dogs in Northern New Jersey |   | Leptospirosis is the name, and it rang a bell because the vet says Gandy is due her vaccine for this pathogen I’d never heard of.

Didn’t we cure “Mad Cow Disease?!?” – The William & Mary Blogs   | This offers the alarming fact that 1 in 2000 Brits has evidence in their bodies of the prions that cause Mad Cow. Latent, sleeping, potential time bombs. Would you want to know such a thing, really?

When Trees Die, People Die

Did that phrase get your attention? It should.

This was the title of an article in the Atlantic in 2013. And it is not poetic and abstract but factual and worthy of note. You will hear it referenced on Thursday night at the Floyd Country Store at the showing of “In Search of Balance.”

The inter-relationship between natural health and human health is part of the imbalance being addressed by this film and the panel discussion (Jane Cundiff and Barbara Pleasant) afterward.

The film is seen as an appropriate introduction to the first Floyd County Health Faire to be held at the high school on April 1.

My take-away from the movie that Jane and I reviewed a few weeks ago is this: the three realms consisting of human health, environmental health and the economy are circles that do not overlap. They should.

We should change our thinking to consider One Health: for people, planet and for profit–the so-called Triple Bottom Line.

By the way, the emerald ash borer has recently been found in the Roanoke Valley. So what?

Invasive species pose serious danger to humans | Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies 

“This study was based on a careful analysis of death records in counties with and without ash borers, before and after the borer invasion. The study found that invaded counties had more than 20,000 extra deaths after the borers invaded (but not before), even after accounting for factors such as income, age and ethnicity. The authors are quick to caution that this association does not prove ash borers caused people to die. It is just the obvious explanation.

How can this be possible? The borers don’t attack people, and the dead people weren’t killed by falling branches. Instead, the authors of the study suggest that extensive losses of ash trees caused beauty and environmental quality to decline in affected areas, which led to 20,000 extra human deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory problems.”

Because I know you are all planning to join us for the pot luck and movie and want to be informed at the git-go, you can look over my shoulder at the notes I took while previewing the film, and the links I’ve added to explore topics in greater depth.

Fred’s NOTES AND LINKS for Search for Balance