Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I recently had to write a paper on eubacteria as part of my studies in environmental education. I am not really a science type of gal….or at least I though I wasn't! I see myself as a yoghurt making, compost turning, veggie diggin’, chicken farmin, sore throat soothing, kid cleanin, gal.
As it turns out, I know more about eubacteria than I thought I did, and all along, it was right hear under my nose (and in my compost heap, and in my yoghurt).
Apparently we owe our very existence here on earth to the unicellular prokaryotic eubacteria (cells with no membrane enclosed nucleus and no organelles). Eubacteria in the form of blue green algae was all over the earth about 3 million years ago. Lucky for us, because, these little dynamos, using photosynthesis, added oxygen to earth’s atmosphere…the beginning of something beautiful. The rest (as they say) is history!
So, back to my yard, which, like the rest of the natural world, benefits from the presence of eubacteria. I can’t imagine what I would have done with out those little eubacterial helpers working busily in my yard helping to breakdown all that dead organic matter into useful, usable soil (with some help from my feathered friends). And while I’m in the garden, lets just talk about nitrogen fixing. While there are a few archaebacteria that will fix nitrogen (make it available for plants to use), once again, the responsibility of the whole “nitrogen fixing palaver” is generally left up to…yes, you guessed it, good ol’ eubacteria, known as rhizobia. Generally speaking, because of the “decompositional” role that eubacteria play, plants and animals could not get the nutrients they need to remain alive.
People are filled with fear when they read the word “E.coli” in the headlines of the morning newspaper. But fear not! E.coli, another helpful eubacteria, is not necessarily always the bad guy. It’s usually just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time! E.coli lives in our intestines, helping animals digest food. E.coli, along with other eubacteria (known as enteric bacteria) found in the human intestine, actually make vitamins, which we, without so much as a “thank you”, quite happily absorb. If we think we have a lot to be grateful about to the eubacteria residing in our intestines, well just consider those animals that have a stomach with four chambers, known as ruminants. Their very existence is highly contingent on the billions of eubacteria floating around in their rumen.
Now to yoghurt. I have tried making my own with some success (note to self…buy a candy thermometer). Here’s how it goes in theory. Warm milk to 200 degrees F., in order to begin the yogurt making process, this actually kills off any of those naughty bacteria in the milk. This done, cool the milk to 120 degrees F. This is the perfect temperature to add the good eubacteria (lactobacillus, bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus). In this lovely warm environment, this special eubacteria thrive. Just sit back and let them do all the work, voila, beautiful yogurt. Same goes for cheese and sour cream. The list of eubacteria associated with dairy derived products is quite impressive.
Whilst I don’t have any oil spills in my backyard, or in my pond, if I did, I could call on my friend the eubacteria (a specific strain called Alcanivorax), who could do the clean up job for a good price – cheap really! We do however have a septic tank in our backyard, which, surprise, surprise, uses eubacteria to help purify the water so that we can use it in our orchard.
Okay, okay, before we all “OOOH” and “AHHH” too much over the benefits of eubacteria, like us all, they do have an unwholesome side to them. Sadly, while eubacteria are responsible for life on earth, they are also responsible for hundreds of thousands of human deaths. Eubacteria can enter the body in several ways – on contaminated food or drink (E.coli, when it is at it’s evil worst, and it’s equally evil cousin “Sal” as in salmonella) through our lungs (tuberculosis and pneumonia), via wounds to the flesh, (tetanus, gangrene), being bitten by an infected insect or animal (malaria, the bubonic plague).
We are currently trying to rid our family of an unwanted eubacterial guest known as streptococcus. My teenage son was mortified when I told him not to share his eubacterial “cling ons” with any of his friends! “Aww mum, that’s disgusting!” Here, my daughter's throat seems clear of Strep!
Another bacterial infection, which should not be taken lightly, is bacterial meningitis, can be caused by a number of strains of bacteria. As for sexually transmitted diseases, eubacteria has it’s nasty little name written over many of these including Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Syphilis, just to name a few.
It is right and proper for this little organism, the eubacteria to have a kingdom all of its own. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in number and diversity. Eubacteria is my “new best friend”, and I have certainly taken a “personal interest” in it. Like a new best friend, I know that there is a dark side lurking somewhere, which should be respected, tolerated, and not provoked, in order for the friendship to flourish. “Eubaccy” and I are great friends and s/he is not at all offended by the almost obsessive hand washing behavior I now exhibit!