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Saturday, May 25, 2013
Last month, Roanoke conservationist/anthropologist Jerry Moles — a living enzyme for local action — emailed from the Slow Money conference in Boulder, Colo., summarizing its well-grounded topics.
“There was a report on microorganisms. We’re just learning a few things in the soil but most are unknown.”
I’d read this a few years back, via biologist E.O. Wilson, in his dismay over the current high-speed extinction of species.
Wilson pointed out that we are destroying various microbe species without having ever known of their existence — or the vital, life-giving, people-enabling work they faithfully tended for millions of years.
Now here is a reason to slow it down — the money chase, the herbicide-slathering, our runaway minds that have never understood what’s underfoot in the first place — or what lies within us. Like those microbes.
Bacterial culture shock
Here, in these little-noticed, taken-for-granted local growers, begins the miracle that turns “dead stuff” into a strawberry, “dirt” into a divine, kitchen-steaming cherry pie, and rocks into people.
Indeed, these are the growers so local they live within you, constantly turning the compost you send down the pipe into the nutrients that feed your bloodstream and cells, immune system and eyesight, your dreams and life’s work.
So much for anyone’s illusions of being the “self-made” sort. No wonder the Hebrew psalmist said humbly, “I am a worm and no man.”
In fact the human body is lots of worms, countless microbes and internal flora — an entire community that works together for the larger being’s benefit.
“Human cells only make up 10 percent of our bodies,” Moles learned from one presentation. “The remainder are complex sets of microorganisms.”
I read his words in a combo of industrial-age skepticism and wormlike gullibility.
After all, when my immune system tanked a year ago, bringing about Bell’s palsy and shingles, local grower/chef Ron Dees of Max Meadows had “rotted” me up a batch of kimchi, full of microbes. I felt sure this pungent dish brought healing, via its internal medics.
In fact, probiotics are now a well-known immunity booster. But these microbes as a whopping 90 percent of our cells?
Indeed, says microbiologist Carolyn Bohach, at University of Idaho, though they would “only” fill about 2 quarts in size, because they’re smaller than human cells.
As microbiologist and internist Gary Huffnagle, from University of Michigan, has noted, these microbes spread throughout the body — beginning with birth, when the infant acquires its mother’s skin bacteria, and continuing through life, via soil, water and air borne organisms.
“Wait!” we might protest. Aren’t we supposed to be killing microbes, sanitizing the planet and exterminating bacteria as fast as we can spray things at it?
On the contrary. Not only do your own intestinal bacteria keep out the kind that don’t belong there, Huffnagle pointed out; all of these friendly microbes “truly represent another arm of the immune system.”
This is yet another reason to slow down our permitting of chemical applications that eradicate lots of unnoticed bacteria while we target one insect, pathogen or weed.
This month, a new review of several hundred former studies of glyphosate (the “killing machine” in Monsanto’s Roundup) linked its use to human gastrointestinal, heart and neurological disorders.
Glyphosate impairs CYP gene pathways, whose enzymes affect human hormones and detoxify carcinogens. The whole disruption causes tryptophan reduction and a chain reaction that triggers depression, weight gain and Alzheimer’s disease.
Moles had long suspected Roundup’s health consequence from his years helping the farmers of Sri Lanka, “where it is used to clear the paddy fields before plowing” and seems to be “causing kidney failure after many years of use.”
Now we know it’s killing soil organisms.
Robert Kremer, microbiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, confirms from extensive research that glyphosate (Roundup) “can have toxic effects on microorganisms,” immobilizing essential manganese and killing rhizobia (nitrogen-fixing bacteria), among other problems.
Don’t kill yourself
Meanwhile, back “inside,” we have countless antibacterial, triclosan-containing soaps, cosmetics, dish detergents (like Dawn and Ajax), baby shampoos and other household and personal products we daily plunge our faces, dishes and children into, ingesting and absorbing it internally.
Triclosan not only creates resistant super-strains of bacteria and increases allergies in kids, it’s a bio-accumulative toxin that’s deadly to phytoplankton and other aquatic life.
And because we’ve been sending it down sink, shower and laundry drains across the U.S., in the effort to be germ-free, triclosan not only pours down rivers and into the sea, but arrives in the sewage sludge now spread on land.
Thus, it’s showing up in earthworms — among the other local growers who keep us fed, including people. It’s currently found in the blood, urine and breast milk of humans around the globe.
Here indeed are reasons to slow down and think. The lowliest life forms are part of human life. “Humus” and “humans” really do have one root.
Liza Field’s column runs every other Saturday in Extra.
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