Monthly Archives: May 2013

Walked Upon

Clay soil Image via: Gardening Made Easy

Clay soil
Image via: Gardening Made Easy

When summer comes to my neck of the woods (which this year is looking less and less likely with every passing week of rain, but that’s another issue), the kiln of July and August bake the heavy clay soil of my garden to a hard surface that rivals a brick for impenetrability. Woe is me if I haven’t loosened and treated the soil around plants beforehand, or done my weeding. Whatever is in the ground will be encased until the next rains.

If you don’t get your fingers out into the dirt on a regular basis, you might not know just how different soil can be from place to place. Oh, we know about the chalky soil of the Champagne region, or the depleted soil of dustbowls, but soil is alive, both literally and figuratively. It’s alive, it develops, it changes, if affects the life in it and on it. It is a non-renewable resource.

The first ever Soil Atlas of Africa has been published, compiled by an international team of soil experts and edited by the European Union. It has some amazing images.

One of the soil maps in the Soil Atlas of Africa Source: European Commission – European Soil Portal

According to the release web page:

“Healthy and fertile soils are the cornerstones of food security, key environmental services, social cohesion and the economies of most African countries. Unfortunately, soil in Africa tends only to reach public awareness when it fails – often with catastrophic consequences (…)

In addition to providing the medium for food, fodder and fuel wood production (around 98% of the calories consumed in Africa are derived from the soil), soil controls the recycling of nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon and other nutrients. Soil reduces the risk of floods and protects underground water supplies. Soil organic matter can store more than ten times its weight of water while the soils of Africa store about 200 Gt of organic carbon – about 2.5 times the amount contained in plants.”JRC_africa_atlas_cover_s

The web site offers free downloads. Gorgeous images, and an insightful education into the true, often neglected value that soil represents, even if you don’t live in Africa.


The Guardian articleAfrica’s soil diversity mapped for the first time by Ben Appiah

Red Farms

Hutt Lagoon, Australia Photo: Steve Back Art

Hutt Lagoon, Australia
Photo: Steve Back Art

Back in the deeply-tanned 1970s, I knew someone who decided that he would augment his early spring paleness to get ahead of the season. Spray-on fake tans didn’t yet exist, and the bottled stuff was not only streaky, but considered to ‘unnatural’ for those groovy lentil-and-granola days. So what did he do? He ingested beta-carotine in the form of carrots. Not just some carrots; epic amounts of carrots. Within a couple of weeks, his skin color had indeed changed – from his normal olive-skinned pale to a sort of apricot-hued orange. There’s even a term for this effect. Carotenodermia. He stopped eating carrots right away.
Beta-carotine is an organic compound widely popular in nutritional supplements, food coloring, medical treatments and cosmetics. It can be found in red or orange-colored plants, some dark green plants (such as kale, but the deep chlorophll green masks the orange tinge of beta-carotine), and in the liltingly named Dunaliella salina, a kind of green algae that has its home in salt evaporation ponds.
So why is the green algae distinctly ungreen? For the same reasons that we value it – the red hue comes from D. salina‘s ability to survive intense sun and salt by using high levels of beta-carotene and glycerol as cellular antioxidants.
The photos above and here are of the largest beta-carotene farm in the world, the red salt ponds of Hutt Lagoon in Australia.

World's largest red algae (D. salina) ponds - a source of natural beta carotene  Photo: Steve Back Art Hutt Lagoon, Western Australia Photo: Steve Back via PetaPixel

World’s largest D. salina ponds – a source of natural beta carotene
Hutt Lagoon, Western Australia
Photo: Steve Back Art

This photo is from a salt evaporation pond in the San Francisco South Bay – as the salt evaporates and the water becomes ever more uninhabitable for most organisms, D. salina thrives and the red color deepens – until all the water is gone and the remaining salt itself is harvested.

Photo: Doc Searles via Wikipedia

Photo: Doc Searles via Wikipedia

Sideways Vessel

Design: Rosenbaum

Design: Rosenbaum

Well, this could save numerous trips to the recycling center as well as to the supermarket. Such a simple, elegant solution to urban gardening, something that is do-it-yourself and requires no land. The materials are readily accessible, the soil requirements are minimal. Even the tutorial offered by the Brazilian design firm that originated this vertical garden is simple and elegant.

Design: Rosenbaum

Design: Rosenbaum

I haven’t tried this myself, but I suppose the planting bottles drain out the suspension holes at the bottom. Certainly bottle color and size could be varied.

Design: Rosenbaum

Design: Rosenbaum

There are so many things to like about this, but what I would really like to see is what the garden looks like once it is mature. I imagine a wall of sweet pea plants would look very fine indeed.

Looking at this, if a gardener wanted to make efficient use of water. a drip watering system could be installed along the suspension wires to avoid waste and minimize exposure of the supporting wall to water damage.

And to anyone thinking of doing this themselves, I would encourage them to plant seeds bought from independent seed companies, or bought locally from nurseries. This would be a lovely way to support local seed varieties and producers. It’s even a way to feed and support pollinators like bees in an urban environment, provided that some flowering plants are included.

Finally, there’s this miniature version for any stray caps left over from all the bottle cutting.

Bottle cap planters with basil sprouts Via:

Bottle cap planters with basil sprouts

Peach Diversity

Peaches Photo:


When we first moved into the small French village where we live, our elderly neighbors brought over some peaches from their orchard. They weren’t peaches I’d ever seen – greenish-grey, furry enough to be mammal rather than plant, and upon pulling them open, they were burgundy red inside. They tasted like they’d been marinated in port wine then dipped in raspberries. A pêche de vigne (vineyard peach) variety local to France, and our neighbor’s family has been growing them for at least three generations.

The topic today isn’t biodiversity across all kinds of farmed livestock and produce (i.e. lots of different kinds of fruit or vegetables or cattle), but diversity within the same kind of produce (lots of different kinds of peaches, or eggplants, or sheep).

While there has been an increasing focus on ‘heirloom’ varieties of various kinds of produce in some areas, there is more to it than having a broader assortment of flavors from which to choose, or supporting organic farms. A single variety of a given plant is simply more susceptible to disease and climate variations outside of its optimum range.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES – an equivalent to the UN panel on climate change (IPCC) – has been discussing the decline in diversity among farmed plants and livestock breeds at the 7th Trondheim Conference on Biodiversity in Norway.

IPBES founding chair Zakri Abdul Hamid said there are 30,000 edible plants worldwide, but only 30 crops account for 95 percent of the energy in human food. This list is headed by rice, wheat, maize, millet and sorghum.

Globalization has led to more homogeneity and a narrowing range of food preferences and tastes, while local and traditional breeds of livestock (or varieties of plants) are exchanged for fewer varieties that yield more meat, milk,  volume, bruise less easily during transport, look like they’re ‘supposed to’, are the only ones promoted by a seed company, etc.

Like other plants and animals in the wild, domesticated plants and animals are undergoing a certain level of extinction due to climate change and lack of robust diversity. From Reuters: “Zakri said it was “more important than ever to have a large genetic pool to enable organisms to withstand and adapt to new conditions.” That would help to ensure food for a global population set to reach 9 billion by 2050 from 7 billion now.”

I don’t know how widely spread the peach trees next door are in France – I’ve never seen them in a supermarket here, but I do see the occasional market stand that carries them – and I always buy them.

After all, my neighbor only has one tree left, and a large family.

Pêche de vigne – Vineyard peaches
Tidy, nursery-bred versions of the woolly ones next door
The name derives from the late season variety – the peaches are ripe at the same time as the grapevines
Photo: Willemse France

A small history note on ‘heirloom’ peach varieties: Recorded history of peach cultivation goes back over 2000 years, in China. From there, the peach was brought to Persia and the Middle East, from where it was imported to the European region by Alexander the Great. It was a favorite fruit of Louis XIV, and we can thank both him and Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, Royal Gardener and French agronomist, for creating no less than 34 varieties of peach during the reign of the Sun King.


Reuters articleDecline in biodiversity of farmed plants, animals gathering pace by Alister Doyle

Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) website

Tronheim Conferences on Biodiversity website

Alien Goldilocks Zone

Image Credit: PHL@UHR Aricebo via Astrobiology Magazine

Image Credit: PHL@UHR Aricebo via Astrobiology Magazine

By now most people know that the Earth’s climate is just one small facet of all possible planetary climates. Most of the other climates along the spectrum of all possible climates are not what we – or life as we know it – would survive. But if Earth’s climate has been a long continuum of change, so too are those of other planets. And the study of those alien pasts might offer insight into our own past and future.

Ancient alien climates were the topic of the Comparative Climatology Symposium held at NASA Headquarters on May 7. In New Approaches to Climate Research, speakers discussed collaboration across the fields of climatology and astrobiology, suggesting that our understanding of our own climate could be aided through the study of the climates of Mars, Venus, Titan and perhaps exoplanets.

From “Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, said that when it comes to understanding where a planet needs to reside in its solar system to be habitable — the so-called Goldilocks Zone where the temperature is just right for water to be liquid rather than ice or gas — he commented that “the approach [to the habitable zone] is very Goldilocks in that it’s almost a fairy tale.””

As David Grinspoon, current curator of Astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science said, “it may be that conditions for life’s origin aren’t rare, but the hard part is the persistence of habitable conditions.”

In the past, we’ve separated our scientific disciplines along lines that seem like reasonable boundaries. But the study of what makes planetary climates is evolving like the climates themselves tend to do.

In this case, an interdisciplinary approach can only be a positive development in the quest to make our own habitable conditions persist for as long as possible.

For the next couple of days, if you’re lucky, you can catch a glimpse of what might be our climate past (or future) with a trio of planets visible in a rare compact planetary trio of Mercury, Venus and Saturn.

The evening planets – Mercury, Venus and Jupiter – as they appeared on May 24. From:

The evening planets – Mercury, Venus and Jupiter – as they appeared on May 24.

More: articleAlien Planets Could Shed Light on Earth’s Climate Future by Leslie Mullen – Three planets close in west last week of May

Champagne, Temporality & Spatiality

Infinite Bubbles Photo: Kath Fries

Infinite Bubbles
Photo: Kath Fries

It’s not that I can’t find my way around a given situation or place without champagne, because that is most certainly not the case. But I know for a fact that after a glass of champagne, I usually feel a bit more sparkle. It’s always gratifying to have my subjective feelings substantiated by science. In news that was gleefully reported, champagne – like red wine and blueberries – seems to be beneficial to various cognitive functions as well as maintaining a healthy heart.

From a article:

“New research shows that drinking one to three glasses of champagne a week may counteract the memory loss associated with ageing, and could help delay the onset of degenerative brain disorders, such as dementia.
Scientists at the University of Reading have shown that the phenolic compounds found in champagne can improve spatial memory, which is responsible for recording information about one’s environment, and storing the information for future navigation.
Champagne has relatively high levels of phenolics compared to white wine, deriving predominantly from the two red grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, which are used in its production along with the white grape Chardonnay. It is these phenolic compounds which are believed to be responsible for the beneficial effects of champagne on the brain.
Previous research from the University of Reading revealed that two glasses of champagne a day may be good for your heart and circulation and could reduce the risks of suffering from cardiovascular disease and stroke.”
There’s not much I can add to these few lines that would be better news for champagne drinkers (or, for that matter, the champagne industry, even if they probably already knew this intuitively). I hope champagne will help me navigate the world for many years to come.
Image: The Levity Institute

Image: The Levity Institute

MedicalExpress article – Scientists reveal drinking champagne could improve memory
Study published in Antioxidants and Redox Signalling – Phenolic Acid Intake, Delivered Via Moderate Champagne Wine Consumption, Improves Spatial Working Memory Via the Modulation of Hippocampal and Cortical Protein Expression/Activation by G. Corona, D. Vauzour, J. Hercelin, C.M. Williams, and J.P.E. Spencer.
Study published in Antioxidants and Redox Signalling – Dietary (Poly)phenolics in Human Health: Structures, Bioavailability, and Evidence of Protective Effects Against Chronic Diseases by D. Del Rio, A. Rodriguez-Mateos, J.P.E. Spencer, M. Tognolini, G. Borges, and A. Crozier

Neat, Please


Greta Garbo

Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed articles here and there that talk about women who drink single malt Scotch whisky as if this were some sort of elusive species, sighted only rarely at random watering holes, but suspected to be a much larger population than previously acknowledged.

Up until the 1960s, the drinks we associate with the preferred female bar beverages weren’t the the ‘girlie’ cocktails and white wine spritzers – beverages were unisex. It’s interesting to me that over the course of the decades in which women made progress in equal rights, certain alcoholic drinks were marketed as distinctly masculine to set them apart from the ‘feminine’ beverage (white wine or Bailey’s, anyone?). Single malt Scotch was one of the manly drinks that somehow lost its female base.

I remember when I first tried Scotch. Sure, I’d had plenty of whiskeys (bourbon) in mixed drinks, but the first time I tried a proper Scotch, I was on a hiking trip through the Scottish highlands with my husband. We had stopped off in Fort Williams, and escaped the drizzle in a local and very quiet bar. They had all manner of whiskies stocked on the shelf, and we asked to barkeep to pick out a couple for us, serve them neat, and off we went. Until then, my choice of booze drunk straight had been vodka or tequila, with the occasional brandy. But honestly from those first two glasses of Scotch, I was sold. I wish I could remember what we had. I just remember really liking it.

When we got back home, we were talking with a good friend who had spent a lot of time in Scotland – she recommended her house Scotch, the smoky Lagavulin 16-year-old. She brought over a bottle and from that point on, we’ve always had some in the house. That was almost twenty years ago.

It used to be that when I walked into a bar in New York City, where I often visit, and ordered a Scotch neat, the conversation around us at the bar would actually stop. I’d see several men’s heads crane around when they saw a female hand holding a glass of Scotch. People used to come over and ask what I was drinking, and then, ‘why’? Silly question. There’s a nice interview here with Heather Greene, Glenfiddich whisky expert, on why women and Scotch can be very good friends. Women have finer aroma sensibilities, etc. For me, the explanation is simple: it’s a good drink and a fun hobby.

And now? Ordering a neat Scotch might draw the attention of a fellow Scotch drinker, but that’s all. No craning of necks, no surprise. It’s become fashionable, although not ladylike, to drink straight Scotch.

And so, in honor of women who like a good whisky, one of my favorite strange singers singing Alabama Song, a great whisky song.

And in honor of the passing (on 23 May) of a great keyboardist, Ray Manzarek of The Doors, a different version of the same Brecht/Weill song:

Seasonal Reverse and Updates

The Jura ridge, morning run, 23 May 2013 Photo: PK Read

The Jura ridge, morning run, 23 May 2013
Photo: PK Read

I took the picture above on my run yesterday morning, 23 May. Usually around this time of year I can pull out the warm-weather running gear, shorts and a T-shirt, but yesterday I was still in long running tights and a jacket. Why? Because it was unseasonably chilly, and snow was predicted. The pictures below illustrate the next 24 hours after the first photo. So, since the season seems to be moving in reverse, I thought I’d use today to update a couple of my regular topics.

Dusting of evening snow, 23 May 2013 Photo: PK Read

Dusting of evening snow, 23 May 2013
Photo: PK Read

Update 1: Slippery Elvers

The prices for elvers, or American glass eels, aren’t quite as astronomical as they were last year in Maine (one of only two US states to issue elver fishing licences, the other is South Carolina), but they are high enough that the gold rush atmosphere is still feverish.The eel bounty of 2012-2013 is credited with boosting the economy of a state in which has seen some hard times.

This is one situation where the connection between local economics and environmental impact is clearly outlined.

Last year, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) which oversees fishing regulations for the Eastern Seaboard completed a benchmark study assessing the stocks of the American eel. Although the eels migrate from a northern limit in Greenland down to a southern limit in French Guiana, all American eels in this range are considered as belonging to a single population. And as outlined by the ASMFC, the population is currently depleted.

According to an article in the Washington Post this week, “The eel management board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission was scheduled to vote on proposed new regulations for glass, yellow and silver eel fisheries from Maine to Florida. But after a daylong discussion, the board instead decided to delay a vote until August and form a working group to gather more information about the glass eels, which are baby eels known as elvers. Options that were under consideration for Maine’s elver fishery included keeping the status quo, closing the fishery or setting a catch quota — or a combination thereof.”

Elvers have rescued some fishermen from financial ruin. Many local fishermen in Maine are opposed to further regulations, even as some admit that the boon can’t last.

The American eel population was once so robust that the small transparent elvers created a ‘wall of glass’ in their native rivers. My feeling is that increased efforts in education and collaboration between regulators and impacted fisheries would be the first step toward ensuring that the once abundant American eel can rebound.

The 2013 elver season ends 31 May, in one week.


ASMFC benchmark studyAmerican Eel Benchmark Stock Assessment

Washington Post articleRegulators postpone new rules for Maine’s elver fishery

Boston Globa articleEel fishing has been a boon to many in Maine by Jenifer B. McKim

Previous posts here, here, here and here

Snow on the Jura ridge, 24 May Photo: PK Read

Snow on the Jura ridge, 24 May
Photo: PK Read

 Update 2: Vernon Hugh Bowman (farmer) vs. Monsanto
In a previous post, I talked about the case of Bowman, an Indiana farmer who ran afoul of seed giant Monsanto. The case went through several courts, and this year, it was argued in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. It’s been a closely watched process to see whether the Supreme Court’s decision would include other patented self-replicated technologies (DNA molecules, nanotechnologies, etc.) as well as Monsanto’s soybean product, Roundup.
It’s a longish scenario, and you can check my post or the articles below for details. Basically, Bowman bought discarded seeds from a grain elevator under the assumption they would contain many discarded Roundup seeds. He then planted these seeds, harvested them (his assumption had been correct, and he had been able to use Roundup weedkiller on the soybeans without destroying them), and he replanted the results of his harvest for eight seasons. Monsanto sued him for patent infringement.
Last week, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor Monsanto, but kept the decision narrow, focusing only the specifics of the case at hand rather than the larger patent discussion.
From a New York Times article: “Bowman’s lawyers argued that Monsanto’s patent rights stopped with the sale of the first crop of beans instead of extending to each new crop soybean farmers grow that has the gene modification that allows it to withstand the application of weed-killer.
Justice Kagan disagreed. “Bowman planted Monsanto’s patented soybeans solely to make and market replicas of them, thus depriving the company of the reward patent law provides for the sale of each article,” she said. “Patent exhaustion provides no haven for such conduct.”

Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety, said the ruling was wrong. “The court chose to protect Monsanto over farmers,” Kimbrell said. “The court’s ruling is contrary to logic and to agronomics, because it improperly attributes seeds’ reproduction to farmers, rather than nature.”

But a soybean growers’ association said it was the correct decision. “The Supreme Court has ensured that America’s soybean farmers, of which Mr. Bowman is one, can continue to rely on the technological innovation that has pushed American agriculture to the forefront of the effort to feed a global population projected to pass 9 billion by 2050,” said Danny Murphy, president of the American Soybean Association.

This is such a complex discussion, too long for this post, but for the moment I leave it with these thoughts:

For the moment, whether or not one sides with Monsanto (and the US Supreme Court) on this argument depends less on what one thinks of Mr. Bowman’s case and his individual actions, and more on one’s views in terms of the notion of patenting living organisms, structuring agricultural practices to fit intellectual property laws that cover these patents, and to what extent one thinks that patenting is the best way of fostering innovation.


US Supreme Court decisionBowman vs. Monsanto No. 11-796

New York Times articleSupreme Court Supports Monsanto in Seed-Replication Case by Adam Liptak

Huffingtonpost article (AP) – Supreme Court Rules For Monsanto In Patent Case by Jesse J. Holland

Daily Finance articleBowman v. Monsanto: The Price We All Pay for Roundup Ready Seeds by Eamon Murphy

The CERN globe (Geneva, Switzerland), spring flowers in the front, snowy Jura range in the background - 24 May Photo: PK Read

The CERN globe (Geneva, Switzerland), spring flowers in the front, snowy Jura range in the background – 24 May
Photo: PK Read

Living Archive

Photo: Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

Photo: Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

If you’ve ever had the good fortune to walk among ancient trees like the giant sequoia of Yosemite Park (some over 2000 years old), or perhaps seen The Sisters grove in Lebanon (an olive tree grove estimated to be over 5000 years old), or even an old-growth forest, then you know that there’s something special about a grove of trees that has been on the planet for centuries, or longer.

The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive project aims to reverse the loss of the great trees before they are gone. Founded by a family-run nursery in Michigan, the project first succeeded in creating clones of some of the oldest, largest trees that were felled over a century ago in Humboldt County, California. Some of the stumps of these trees still produce large basal sprouts. The Archangel team took cuttings of these sprouts and after thousands of attempts, were able to grow cloned offspring of what they call ‘champion’ trees.

Champions, for the people at Archangel, are those trees which lived for over 2,000 years before being felled, and which may have particular genetic characteristics which would allow them to survive all manner of harsh conditions. The non-profit group hopes to plant champion trees around the world to help combat deforestation and its effects through the addition of super trees into existing forests and near facilities that can study the trees as they grow. Given that more and more research points to plants and trees communicating with one another in previously undiscovered ways, perhaps it isn’t far-fetched to think that having particularly strong trees in a given ecosystem might improve that system’s overall robustness.

Micropropagation process Photo: Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

Micropropagation process
Photo: Archangel Ancient Tree Archive

Thus far, the group has cloned 75 species of North American trees, and they are now expanding to include trees from other areas around the world.

In celebration of 2013 Earth Day, the group organized a global planting project in which thousands of volunteers planted 18 inch (45cm) cloned ancient redwood saplings in forests in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany.

The mission of the tree archive, according to their web site, is to “propagate the world’s most important old growth trees before they are gone; archive the genetics of ancient trees in living libraries; and reforest the Earth with the offspring of these trees to provide the myriad of beneficial ecosystem services essential for all life forms to thrive and to fight global warming.”

Whether or not champion trees have special genetic traits which make them particularly long-lived, this seems to be a remarkable and positive undertaking that honors the interdependence of ecosystems with the great trees that still live among them.


Archangel Ancient Tree Archive website

New York Times book review of The Man Who Planted Trees, a recently published book written by Jim Robbins on Archangel co-founder Dave Milarch. It is available for purchase on the Archangel website and the usual outlets.*

Co.Exist articleAn Archive Of Ancient Tree DNA Will Help Us Clone The Ones We Destroy by Ben Schiller

Out of the Fog blog post – Reforesting Earth, one clone at a time by Chris Palmer


* There is another book by the same title which looks at famous tree planting advocates.

Tiny Warriors

T7 Bacteriophage

A T7 Bacteriophage

We’ve had a previously undescribed immune system right under our noses, and we never noticed. Or rather, in our our noses and any place else we have mucus membranes. And not just humans – all animals that have mucosal surfaces, from sea anemones to humans to, presumably, gnus and geckos.

Bacteriophage are viruses that infect and destroy bacteria, and most bacteriophage are specifically attuned to just a couple of bacterial strains.

A promising new study out this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that bacteriophage on mucosal surfaces – often the entry way for infectious bacteria into a host – provide an effective and powerful barrier against those bacteria. The bacteriophage form bonds with the sugars in mucus, causing them to adhere to the surface when they might otherwise have moved on. Experiments introduced bacteria and complementary phage into host tissue samples both with and without mucosal surfaces – the rate of cell death among the host tissue without mucus was three times that of the mucosal surfaces with phage protection.

Bacteriophage Adherence to Mucus (BAM) model, where bacteriophage adheres to mucus layers and provides immunity against invading bacteria.  Credit: Jeremy Barr via:

Bacteriophage Adherence to Mucus (BAM) model, where bacteriophage adheres to mucus layers and provides immunity against invading bacteria.
Credit: Jeremy Barr via:

The study, carried out by a San Diego State University research team led by biology post-doctoral fellow Jeremy Barr, proposes Bacteriophage Adherence to Mucus—or BAM—as a new model of immunity.

“The research could be applied to any mucosal surface,” Barr said. “We envision BAM influencing the prevention and treatment of mucosal infections seen in the gut and lungs, having applications for phage therapy and even directly interacting with the human immune system.”
The role of bacteriophage in fighting bacterial infection has been known and researched since the early 20th century. In Russia, ‘phage’ therapy became widespread while the West focused on the

Electron micrograph of bacteriophages attacking a bacterial cell Image: Dr. Graham Beard via Wikipedia

Electron micrograph of bacteriophages attacking a bacterial cell
Image: Dr. Graham Beard via Wikipedia

development of antibiotic treatment, following the first human use of penicillin in the 1940s. Who knows how much more quickly this would have progressed without the Iron Curtain of the Cold War blocking the open exchange of scientific research? This could be another entry in my posts about What We Talk About When We Talk About War, but I’ll leave it at that.

What I like about this, besides further evidence of interesting symbiosis, is the potential for alternatives to the massive use of antibiotics around the world. Beyond the treatment of human disease, surely there must be potential for applications in livestock farming, which is responsible for the vast majority of antibiotic use.


Original study published in  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – Bacteriophage adhering to mucus provide a non-host-derived immunity by J. Barr, R. Auro, M. Furlan, K.L. Whiteson, M.L. Erb, J. Pogliano, A. Stotland, R. Wolkowicz, A. S. Cutting, K.S. Doran, P. Salamon, M. Youle & F. Rohwer article – New immune system discovered by Natalia Van Stralen