Today is World Microbiome Day, and out of all the commercial holidays that pop up, this is one we can get behind. According to the website for this joyous annual event:
“The 2021 theme is ‘Sustainability’ with a focus on how microbes can contribute to a sustainable future. Despite their ubiquity and diversity, the importance of microbes for maintaining healthy global ecosystems is often overlooked. Microbes already have a tremendous effect on the health and balance of the environments we live in.”
In lieu of throwing a rager or exchanging gifts, co-founder Kristy Moore-Jeffress asked Marie Veronique Nadeau if there was anything she’d like to say to mark this occasion. Here’s what resulted.
Where to begin? Biological life in all its infinite variety started with bacteria eons ago, and one of its experiments was a tool-using biped with a biggish brain and opposable thumbs. This experiment’s unique gifts led it to invent tools that allowed it to see marvelous worlds and galaxies (universes, even!) that were previously invisible to it.
Sadly these bipeds, while good with their hands, remain to this day astoundingly tunnel-visioned where it really matters. Even once they realized that microorganisms outnumbered all other cells in each and every physical body by a factor of ten—all aware, all living, all performing important tasks to keep everything (and everyone) alive, including the species observing them—their fallback position still tended to be “oh look, it’s alive, how can I kill it?”
Fortunately that paradigm is shifting as we go from the Founding Fathers to the Sustaining Mothers social model. I believe that microbiota are showing us by example that killing everything in sight does not lead to long-term biological success; on the other hand protecting and nourishing everything, with the help of everyone, does. Microorganisms are helping us evolve, as they always have—waaaay before the first life forms started crawling out of the ocean.
You know that inner journey that leads to enlightenment? (Some call it navel gazing—but hey, the navel microbiome is complex and fascinating and well worth contemplating.) Anyway, in my mind we’re all part of an evolutionary journey, and, like it or not, microorganisms have always been the drivers of the evolutionary train. Sooo... just a thought (that’s what humans do after all—think, or think we think, or think we think we think) but it just might be possible that communicating with the train operators will help us keep on track.
Humans think. Microbes are. (This insight comes straight from the microbiota by way of yours truly—I am proud to be their amanuensis. Speaking for them, they want me to tell y’all that they are excited at the prospect of further communication with bipeds, for whom they have unwavering affection. They eagerly await your follow up question, and welcome questions from our wider audience.)
Who do these microbes think they are? They are our teachers, and they don’t think it, they know it. It’s up to us to listen and learn.
For further reading—and some fun quizzes to test your knowledge on all the incredible ways the microbiome influences our lives—visit the World Microbiome Day website.