Microbes-known to be unknown

What made the Black Death so terrifying was that people had no idea of what caused it. No concept of micro organisms like bacteria, viruses and fungi. So, short of a few prayers and rituals there was nothing to be done except hide or run away. Neither were of much use according to the mortality figures. Twenty first century people think we know so much more than medievals, on things like microbiology, physics, chemistry, technology, you name it. But, before you get all smug, are there vast areas of knowledge which we have overlooked? Or, more scarily-we don’t know that we don’t know, to paraphrase the thoughts of the immortal Donald Rumsfeld?

Take microbiology for example. The last year has been an object lesson in our ignorance of zoonotic diseses. If you want to know the cost of ignorance, ask your local finance minister. Now Patrick Greenfield of The Guardian raises the intriguing possibility that we know very little indeed about microbiology in general. It may be a serious omission. Microbes produce oxygen. They keep the soils and oceans working, recycling everything that humans and animals breathe and eat. Anyone who likes beer, wine, bread, yoghurt or cheese should be very concerned indeed about microorganisms. So even very small changes in theplanet’s vast microbial community could be very significant indeed. Here’s Patrick’s killer quote:

But despite their importance to human life and the health of the Earth, a new scientific paper has shown our “profound ignorance” of microbial biodiversity and how it is changing.

We at LSS rarely take a personal view. But for a long time, humanity has been extracting all kinds of poisons which were hitherto safely locked up in the rocks and spewing them into the environment, These include lead, cadmium, arsenic,mercury and chromium. All washed innocently into the land and sea, and all likely to have a deadly effect on our microbial chums. Could a little of the money used to buy football players be better spent elsewhere?

Microbes are ‘unknown unknowns’ despite being vital to all life, says study | Microbiology | The Guardian

Frontiers | Is Global Microbial Biodiversity Increasing, Decreasing, or Staying the Same? | Ecology and Evolution (frontiersin.org)

#microbes #bacteria #ecology #pollution #toxicmetals ##virus #fungi

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