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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Look Ma! No Bacteria!!

It has been a little chilly in Ohio lately.

A good old-fashioned cold snap has moved in.  It was not unusual for early morning temperatures to be 12, 15, even 22 degrees below zero.

Taking the dogs out in the pre-dawn darkness has been somewhat invigorating, attired only in flannel pj pants, sweatshirt and crocs. Why the dogs insist upon wearing that, I will never understand. Neither they nor I dilly-dallied a great deal. Get the job done, gang-way… open the door!

So it was, while overhearing one of the never-ending weather related discourses at work, someone mentioned “At least this cold kills the bacteria outside. That is a real good thing.” Which started the wheels to turning…

Bear in mind, my degree is in History, with an English minor. I am neither a macro nor micro biologist. However, I do know the proper use of the semi-colon and the colon in a sentence.

At first blush, the concept of a bacteria free world sounds pretty good. No colds, no pneumonia, not even a case of upset stomach. We would not have to sniff the milk jug before pouring it on our shredded wheat; it would be perpetually fresh. No more “plastic container roulette” at lunch; is it green or is it edible?  It would always be good! In the words of Nat King Cole: What A Wonderful World! Oh yeah!

(If the reader has been paying attention, they would have noted in the above paragraph two examples of proper colon and semi-colon usage. But I digress.)

For several minutes, my mind ran unfettered in a bacteria free world! No hand sanitizers! No antibiotics! No worries about eating 4 day old left over pizza! Oh happy day!

Then, a little nagging thought began to worm its way to the forefront. “There are good bacteria, and there are bad bacteria” Little Nagging Thought was saying. Here now lay a conundrum.

Let’s suppose there were no bacteria at all. Think about it for a moment. The simplest biological task of digesting a meal would not be possible. Without going into disgusting details, take it from me; good bacteria are “good” for a reason.  If you doubt this assertion, just take too many antibiotics next go-around. You will come to greatly, may I dare say; dearly, appreciate good bacteria.

If there were no bacteria, the oceans, lakes and rivers would be clogged with the remains of un-decomposed fish and marine mammals. Our fields, woodlands, and lawns would be piled with formerly animate birds, deer, saber-tooth tigers, woolly mammoths, maybe even the stray Sasquatch or two along with every other critter which had traversed the earth.

It would be very easy to research one’s ancestors. All that would be needed is a trip back to the Olde Country, rummage around for a while, and voila: Great-great-great-great-great-great you get the idea Granddad Padric, twice removed.  You know, for a guy who died a few centuries ago, he looks pretty good. In fact, cousin Thaddeus has his nose!

Admittedly, this would be an anthropologist’s dream come true. No more speculation; this is what Cro-Magnon Man looked like, and Cro-Magnon Woman, and Cro-Magnon boy, and Cro-Magnon’s neighbors, his dog, his cat, the guy who did the stunning artwork on the cave.  There they would all be, just as pristine as the day they cashed in their chips.

Can you imagine a world in which every blade of grass, leaf, shrub and tree never decomposed? We would have piles of dead vegetation as high as Mount Denali! Worse, there would be no nutrients in soil from decomposing matter. The Great Plains were so fertile due to eons of tall grasses living, dying, and decomposing to provide nutrients for new grasses. This would make it extremely tough to grow crops or any type.

When someone says they are in…ahem… “deep stuff”, they would be speaking of fact, not a euphemism.

If there were no bacteria, you can forget about hopping into your set of wheels and firing that bad boy up. Forget using your gas range, or turning on a light bulb for much of the world.  There would be no oil or natural gas reserves. Coal would be something inconceivable. And, those little sparkly things most women desire, forget it. No coal means no shiny diamonds.

Soon, I was in a morass of chaos brought on by a bacteria free-world. The implications were mind-boggling. Just as I was about to cascade down a slippery slope into the gaping jaws of a long dead coelacanth, my desk phone warbled.


It was my boss, telling me if I didn’t get back to work, my career with the company would be extinct. And that , despite living in a bacteria ridden world, would land me in some really deep stuff!

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