Dealing With Bacterial Crises
Bonnie Bassler is a professor of molecular biology at Princeton University. She has made important discoveries about quorum sensing, or the process by which single-cell bacteria communicate with one another. She hopes to use quorum sensing to create anti-microbial drugs to counteract bacteria. For her work, she received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2002 and the National Academy of Sciences elected her one of its members in 2006. She wakes up prior to 6 a.m. everyday to teach an aerobics class.. because otherwise she would just be lazy.
Bonnie Bassler: The truth, when I read about these outbreaks of bacteria in the newspaper, in the cereal industry, in the alfalfa industry, tomatoes, hamburgers, my feeling of course is the same as yours, it is dangerous, right. I don't want to eat that tomato because I don't have any special property that makes me better at dealing with that bacteria than you, so I have that reaction. The same reaction i think anyone has when they read about those, except that I think the reaction that i don't have is the one where people think everyone is getting worse, there are all those pathogens, that's not true. These pathogens have been on this Earth, or these bacteria, for billions of years, and the reason we read about them in the newspaper is not because bacteria have changed and gotten worse, it is because technology or industry or the environment has changed and we are coming in contact with a bacterium that has just been hanging around for billions of years, but we're in contact with it and our immune system does not know how to deal with it. And, so, I think the E. coli 0157 is a great example of that. It used to be if a farmer's cow are E. coli 0157, and the cow got infected, and the farmer and his family ate it, it would be unfortunate, but it would not end up in a thousand hamburgers all over the country. That's because industry has changed, right, and so these sort of blips that we see are not because the bacteria are getting worse, and that is the thing I think that most people don't understand when they read in the newspaper about the salmonella or E. coli, it is just that the technology has changed that has smacked us up against them. And I'm not saying we should not fix it, we should, but I just wish people would see that bacteria are not getting worse and worse, that is not what is happening, right, that's been going on for billions of years.
Question: Can farmers prevent these outbreaks?
Bonnie Bassler: No, I don’t think that-- I would never, there is a whole editorial on how we how beef or things like that, right, which is not my expertise at all. So each of us makes personal decisions about the food we want to eat based on those things, but I think that, you know, we are not going to go back to subsistence farming, right? I mean, it was going to be industrialized, and so I do think that there are rather easy preventions by monitoring and spending money on surveillance and monitoring that can fix, for the most part, these problems. And so I think that each time that we have these unfortunate episodes, in fact, it does, except for the hysteria that happens, it does actually help us to strengthen the infrastructure to have better quality healthy food, and there certainly is a movement, you know, people are not going to tolerate that, right, and so I think that all of that works together. And the problem with it is that the bacteria gets the blame as opposed to how we humans are choosing to process food. And so that is the only, to me, like misconception about where the blame should land.
Recorded on: 6/17/08
Dr. Bonnie Bassler on global food outbreaks
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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